June 20th, 2006

planet

driving from a float trip, wildlife museum, windmills

The annual Mikey float trip was relaxing as usual - the weather was unexpectedly nice, it only rained for about 10 minutes when we were on the river. There were seven of us in a ten man raft so we were able to pass out comfortably for a good two miles of the trip.

There was an unidentified blue striped tank top in my dry bag when I got home. Also, Sarah, you left $13 in Marc's wallet, so thanks for breakfast :) just kidding. when we visit you in Lawrence to go hang out and party, first round or two will be on us.

Usually the morning after the float trip I pack everything when the sun is barely up and jet home without stopping for anything, but I told marc that I've always thought of making some stops on the way home and he thought that sounded like a good idea. I wanted to stop in Springfield, MO to go to Bass Pro Shop, so we did, and we went to the wildlife museum next to it. They have giant saltwater aquariums with sharks and coral reefs and schools of big shiny fish that swim laps in groups - it's amazing. There's a freshwater pond too with giant catfish and turtles and beavers. We spent about and hour walking through it all. Marc got to touch a starfish at this random saltwater petting-zoo type tank they had set up... I didn't really want to touch anything in there, it all sorta creeped me out, the starfish moved funny. There's a tank of jellyfish that mesmorized us for quite a while too, I've never seen a jellyfish before, and they were glowing and swimming in this blacklight-illuminated water. That was definitely my favorite part.

We ate lunch at a taco bell across the street and then got back on the road and drove some more, and Marc said he'd like to stop at the windmills. Here's the story on that... I've made the drive across Kansas on highway 400 a bunch of times over the last few years, and last weekend for the first time I noticed 100 or so windmills standing up in the middle of the plains, an hour or so east of Wichita. I was certain they'd never been there before, and I was right... we did some research last night and they were constructed in January.

It was almost 6:00 when we saw the windmills and we were dead tired of being in the car, but there was a turnoff into Beaumont, KS that looked promising and Marc had really wanted to see them so we went for it. We drove through Beaumont (that took almost five minutes) and then the roads turned to gravel - we found out that the windmills almost have that mountain effect, you know, when you see something and just figure you'll drive to it but you have no sense of scale so it ends up being a lot further away than you'd ever imagined? The roads turned around a bunch and finally we got to them, turned off the car and walked outside into the sun.

We were all alone. The sky was absolutely blue with no clouds, and the sunlight poured down through it, and the only shadows that moved across the road was of the windmill blades. The wind moved fast there like it always does - one of the ways I recognized the area is that there's a bridge over a valley nearby with a sign, "CAUTION - HIGH WIND CURRENTS" and driving across that bridge is always weird because you can feel the wind on your car. I held my hair back and clothes so it'd be a little quieter and I could hear the windmills but there wasn't much to hear. The generators worked with a barely noticable high-frequency noise, and you could hear the blades turning with this repetative whoosh through the air, but you had to concentrate.

There was something a little creepy about it, but to an extent being alone is always sort of creepy. We'd come from a river, teaming with fish and surrounded by bugs and trees and other animals, and before that we'd been in a city, surrounded by people like we always are. Out here it was just us, and the blank canvas of the flint hills, and these giant, white, machines from the future.

Apparently there's been a lot of debate about whether to put windmills on the flint hills. Kansas doesn't need more power sources, we have a nuclear plant and several coal-fired ones that already supply more than enough for our state. The flint hills make up a huge, untouched piece of land used only for pastures and ranches, since the limestone formations make farming impossible. They're beautiful. You can see for miles. The sunsets are amazing. But after seeing these 100 windmills I'm fairly certain that another 900 of them would be a good idea. They're beautiful, in their own way. They're contributing valuable energy from a renewable resource. And the flint hills are HUGE. 1000 windmills will not make a dent in the vastness of that area.

Wind power is just a wonderful thing, and I really wish now that people would losen their grip on the "not in my backyard" reaction to building anything that contributes power. The windmills are a distraction on the horizon, yes. But I've seen a coal power plant, and it's worse, I assure you. I've seen strip mining in the colorado mountains and it's sickening. These were all the issues I thought about walking around with Marc watching cattle graze between the windmills, unbothered by the energy production around them.

There's always this looming question, "Why should we do better?" And the answer should be, "Because we can."