The Windmill and the Whale


I wish we’d bought a map, Anna says.

Don’t worry, I mutter. Look on the phone. We have Google maps.

Dawn. Driving through west Texas. Somewhere southeast of Lubbock. This entire corridor is given over to energy production.

It once was energy for people, energy in the form of cattle. Solar energy harvested by grasses, concentrated into bovine fat and flesh by the gut of a steer, then rendered for our consumption.

Then the land was given over to extracting energy for things: factories, cars, lightbulbs, plastic juice bottles. And the energy came mainly in the form of oil. Ancient solar energy harvested by cycads, velociraptors, all manner of antediluvian life, then rendered by heat and pressure and time into thick black goo.

Biological life condensed into energy to give life to mechanical things.

West Texas wafts with the acrid smell of crude. this morning we drive for miles and can’t escape it.

Until we hit the turbines.

Sixty. One hundred. One hundred and twenty miles of horizon to horizon wind turbines. Solar energy heating the air that then moves in currents and drafts around the planet, to be harvested by windmills to once again feed…things.

There ain’t no farms here. And not much in the way of people. Farmsteads or ranches that once held purchase on thousand acre spreads are now abandoned, crumbling at the ankles of these Cervantian giants.

Those homes that still remain resemble more minuscule bacteria cultures lodged in the creases of the flesh of some great beast.

Any advocate for (or future victim of) wind energy should check this place out.

But it’s clean energy, Anna counters. I think it’s beautiful.

But I think of an unadulterated horizon. Of ranch hands dead and buried. Of migratory birds and raptors, of insects. Of virgin life. Of consequences of which we have no foreknowledge.

And clean energy for what? For things. For this rough beast. For Google server farms. And Google maps.

What, I wonder, would happen if we chose to have no energy? Those turbines power some Leviathan that evades our comprehension, though it is in part of our own making. What if we chose to abandon our devices and starve this thing?

Abilene. Where do we turn next? Anna asks.

Look on the phone, I say. But too late, we’ve missed our exit. I wish we had a map, she says.

It’s going to be a bit longer to Austin today.

Posted from my iPhone

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