Oil Spills and Quixotic Windmills to Build a Dream On

18 Jun

This was my first blog post.  I sent it to the Chicago Tribune on a whim, and, to my disbelief, it was published in early May, sandwiched between Garrison Keillor and Clarence Page.  Seriously.

I’m not asking you to accept Chenoa, Illinois as the Crossroads of Opportunity, even if it is on Historic Route 66.

But as I drove down country roads last Friday, thinking about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Chenoa suddenly seemed like an OK place to be.

Whatever unspeakable ecological catastrophe looms, won’t we always be able to raise a few chickens or goats in the heartland, in towns with names like Chenoa or Strawn or Forrest?

That was a consoling thought on my solitary drive through central Illinois last week.

And, yet, not so solitary, really. I had Louis Armstrong with me, singing A Kiss to Build A Dream On; and it’s damned hard to think that things can turn out badly with that kind of soundtrack.

I even found myself thinking that rural Illinois might be more than just a homey place to fall back on when the world goes to hell. As I wended my way from Sycamore to Bloomington, Illinois, I passed great expanses of wind farms. If you haven’t seen one in person, I will tell you that they have a kind of clean and stark beauty.

Giant white birds against the grey clouds. Lithe, stylized acrobats endlessly turning cartwheels across the plains. There is a beauty here independent of utility, I think.

And, then, it’s not just that their arms/legs/wings are turning and turning in the wind, leading to the inescapable, happy conclusion that we’re creating our own energy here on the plains. That’s lovely, of course.

There’s something even better: For me, the idea that some Illinois farmer took the leap of faith to build windmills on his land makes me think that we will find a way to move beyond oil, no matter what my apocalypse-touting east coast friends say.


Windmills. I thought of Don Quixote’s windmills, and the imagination invested in them. And now our Illinois farmers with the same wild, wonderful capacity to dream and imagine. And that, I thought, is precisely what I admire in a progressive (dare I say liberal) approach to the energy debate: It dares to dream.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re still doomed. Maybe it’s too little, too late. Maybe, as someone will inevitably point out, Quixote was a fool.

But on that Friday afternoon, those windmills, with the help of Satchmo, dimmed the image of gushing oil in the gulf and gave me something to build a dream on and fed my hungry heart.

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6 Responses to “Oil Spills and Quixotic Windmills to Build a Dream On”

  1. Andreas Kluth June 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Congrats for such a swift entrance into the writing world! First blog post = Newspaper story: Millions would love to repeat that feat.

    • jenny June 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

      Thanks. Take away my very own misgivings about what I wrote and insidious fears about success as an imposter (ahem!) and I’m almost ready to celebrate. But, yes, thank you. 🙂

  2. Mr. Crotchety June 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

    This is great, Jenny. Congratulations on your article. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking for a safe place to rant a little about ‘the spill.’ May I? I’m just saying.

    Reading the news, at least two lines deep, everyone agrees that the spill is a bad thing. Even the most cynical would shed a tear for the loss of all that valuable oil. But (but), our conventional routes for expressing dissatisfaction (think, baby boomer) are irrelevant. The President is a lawyer, not an engineer. I think that there are only, like, two people in Congress with a technical degree. There’s the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the West Wing, but who ever heard of them? Where is the Atticus Finch of engineers?

    A great deal of the public response is protest and indignation. “Why isn’t the government doing more?” How much money must BP set aside? Fine. Considering the long view, lke more than six months: Infinite monetary compensation based on credit will not spontaneously create shrimp (or any other food). A march on Washington will not create new ways to generate electricity. A walkathon and a ribbon will not sequester carbon. There is not a water purification App. If we choose to keep driving to work, build baseball stadiums with air conditioning and eat fresh tomatoes in January, we have some very challenging technical problems to solve. Money only sort of helps. Otherwise, we might as well get our Bibles and pray for a miracle (text your donation to Sarah Palin, now).

    If the U.S. were my child I would say, there will be no dessert and no TV until the math homework is done. No debate.

    • jenny June 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

      You are so right when you say that our conventional routes for expressing dissatisfaction are irrelevant–including self-indulgent op-ed pieces for Midwestern newspapers. And that is exactly why I began to feel so uneasy about having written this thing in the first place. (Thanks for reminding me.)

      The fifteen or so minutes that I spent staring out the window in dreamy contemplation of the Atticus Finch of engineers? Also not very useful.

      Hell, we need a Manhattan Project for green energy!

      And I agree with you that we desperately need to change our habits. I think you’re making it too easy on me though. Yucky January tomato imposters and the American love affair with the automobile were always loser ideas in my book. As for baseball, I’m strictly a Wrigley Field gal. Air-conditioning? Are you kidding?

      But (but)–I adopt your phrasing here to curry favor–I do like to propel myself to New York or Paris or Moscow from time to time on a big nasty jet plane. Now what?

      Lots of folks in my very conservative town (who drive to work and eat wedge salads in January with that lonely quarter slice of “tomato”) would say that my gas-guzzling wanderlust should be the first to go!

      And right there is a little slice of the American culture wars.

      How hypocritical (and a little crotchety, really) for me to begrudge the pale January tomato as I place my carry-on luggage securely in the overhead compartment…

      PS–Thanks for stopping by. I feel like the new kid in town who dares to have a party, and then (check it out!) all the cool kids show up!:)

  3. Andreas Kluth June 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    @Crotchety says: “If the U.S. were my child I would say, there will be no dessert and no TV until the math homework is done. No debate.”

    Equals: Pay a friggin’ carbon tax (ie, more for gas) now, as they do in Europe. And stop whining.

    Notion hereby endorsed.

    (Oooh, what a huge difference we will make….)

  4. Phil June 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    “……Pay a friggin’ carbon tax (ie, more for gas) now, as they do in Europe. And stop whining……..”

    More to the point, stop subsidising the oil industry.

    How many are aware that the oil industry is directly and indirectly subsidised by the American taxpayer, to the extent that to remove these subsidies would mean a charge for gas of at least $15 per gallon at the pump?

    Even more to the point, removing these subsidies would bring closer the day when we will all have solar heating in our homes, have wind generated power, and battery-run cars.

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