Windmills And Sunsets

When I look out across my front yard I see an old windmill standing there like an old friend.  Yesterday I watched the sun go down behind it as I 
viewed the most incredible sunset that I’ve ever seen…well, except for 
that pinkish-purple one last week with the storm clouds above it and maybe 
that bright orange one the other day.  All right, I admit it would be 
rather impossible to choose the most beautiful sunset because 
each one is unique but some are more impressive than others. 
The sunsets of the Midwest are incredible and as a backdrop the windmill 
across from our house makes a beautiful sight.  When it comes to nature’s beauty, 
it is true that some of the best things in life are free and colorful sunsets 
present themselves almost every evening for us to enjoy. 

Even as a child, I used to climb up on an old board fence beside our barn 
for a better view of the sunset and I was never disappointed.  I still enjoy 
sunsets and many evenings I have the privilege of watching the sun 
go down behind the old windmill that stands next to where I now live.

Across this great country we live in, we still see these old windmills that 
were put there by our predecessors.  In this area, many have been 
abandoned because water is now accessible in other ways but when 
this land was first settled, one of the main concerns was water. 
The early pioneers who settled the land needed a source of water 
and if they didn’t live close to a spring or a stream, water was a problem 
and so they began to dig wells.  However, it was difficult to bring up 
enough water with just a rope and a bucket, especially 
when it came to watering livestock. 

These pragmatic pioneers often had to use what was available to them. 
History shows that many of the early pioneers built sod houses when the 
very earth they walked upon was the only material they had to 
build themselves a shelter for safety from the elements. 
In the same way, our ancestors had to come up with a way 
to obtain water more readily.

The wind often caused the pioneers a lot of trouble because it brought 
with it storms and tornadoes.  It was sometimes a lot of work just to 
keep things tied down securely.  The wind was often their adversary and 
what usually happens to people is that either they run from or they 
face their adversary. The early pioneers not only faced their adversary but 
they harnessed the wind by building windmills to bring up the water 
from their wells to the surface. 

The early settlers did find the answer to their water problem 
and as the song says, they literally found the answer “blowing in the wind”. 
It is interesting that what often seems to be an overwhelming obstacle 
can become the means to survival.  Our ancestors persevered in 
the face of great obstacles.

The first windmills were made of wood because that was the material available 
to the early settlers.  However, these windmills were too big and were not 
able to withstand the high winds on the plains so they needed constant repair. 
Some of the early windmills had no tails to stabilize them either 
so that their vanes would stay pointed into the wind.

In 1854, a man named Daniel Halladay invented the first all-metal windmill. 
He made windmills that had controls that would turn the vanes away 
from the wind if the wind became too strong, and it also had brakes 
so that the windmill could be brought to a complete stop. 

Most of the windmills that we see today have the metal blades at the top 
even if the rest of the windmill is made of wood.  You can still see working 
windmills around the country, but mostly only where there is no electricity 
readily available or other water supply.  In many areas today, the windmill 
has been abandoned.  We see them standing rusty with broken blades but 
they still stand like stubborn sentinels reminding us of another time. 

There is something about windmills that have always intrigued me and 
I sometimes wonder why I like them so much.  It may be that it is a reminder 
of the past but yet I think it is more than that. 

The windmill that stands near our house has been there a very long time. 
Sometimes I feel like that windmill, a little battered and rusty with 
a few broken places. There is something about the way the windmill stands 
strong and tall both in peace and in adversity.  The windmill accompanies 
the song of the wind when it blows without complaint and yet, it knows how 
to be still when the wind stops blowing.  As I watch the sunset behind the windmill, 
I know there are many lessons to be learned both in the stillness and in the storm.

Pamela R. Blaine
© June 2004