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.