When I was fifteen, weighed down by concerns about high school – algebra tests, term papers, girls – there was no better spot in the world to silence the mind than on top of a 35-foot windmill at my uncle’s farm. In the spring, it was heaven up there on that platform. To the north I could see hundreds of black angus cattle dotting the new grass of irrigated pastures, a scene fitting for Van Gogh’s brush. To the south, way south, there were citrus orchards. The southern breeze blew in the sweet smell of orange blossoms. In the brushlands of south Texas, that was the second harbinger of spring.
The first I could see to the west, the new sheen of emerald green covering miles of mesquite. The huisache trees, too, were adding their bright golds to the mix.
Just a few days before it had been a bleak, brown landscape, but overnight, nature turned on her lights and from the platform high above it all, as birds sang with greater enthusiasm, and butterflies fluttered among the bluebonnets far below, I could witness the world being born again.
And the windmill turned and squeaked. I think a windmill squeaking may be the only squeaking in life that is comforting. It’s soothing somehow, perhaps because it is the sound of life itself being pumped from the ground.
We used to keep metal coffee cups on hooks down by the water tank so we could get a fresh drink of water, delivered pure and cold from deep in the earth, whenever we wanted.
I think photographs of windmills are the pictures Texans seem to love most of all. There is something romantic about them. The giant turbines are not loved like windmills, perhaps because they are so enormous they overpower rather than blend with the landscape.
And windmills stand alone, never in groups of twenty of forty. Windmills seem independent and solitary, historically symbolic of the Texas character. They have a unique place in our heritage. They transformed much of the land from arid to vibrant.
This reminds me of a poem by the great cowboy poet Mike Moutoux. He makes this point about windmills far better than I can.
A FITTING MONUMENT
by Mike Moutoux In the dry land stands the monument of a dreamer
It is a testament to hope; to years of yearning
Standing tall above the grasses, rocks and scrub oak
Below a cloudless sky and sun so brightly burning
No babbling brooks cross here, just silent sand arroyos
Few linger here at all; fewer still would stake a claim
Only fools and dreamers could love this barren land
It does not suffer fools; dreamers love it just the same
‘Twas the Homestead Act that brought him here to dream and sweat
It was the solitude and grass that it made it feel right
But there were months when precious rains were non-existent
Each cloudless day brought another worried weary night
All that changed when the Aermotor windmill was delivered
The well was dug, the tower raised; each rod and gear in place
The wind blew as always, but now it turned a shiny fan
And both the cowman’s heart and dreams begin to race
The cowman would talk about that day for years to come
How the blades spun, the rods creaked, how he paced and paced
And then water, precious water, poured from pipe to trough
Giving hope a thing a man could actually taste
Within weeks trails appeared around the water trough
As thirsty critters, one by one, found the water there of course
Not just cows, but the antelope, fox and deer drank there
The tower, a beacon, led them to their water source
The story of the dreamer is old but not forgotten
The tower still stands although its working years are spent
A testament to one man’s hope and all those years of yearning
For a dreamer and cowman, a most fitting monument.
For more of Mike Moutoux’s work, go to www.mikemoutoux.com
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Stories From Texas, UTRGV Digital Library, The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. Accessed via https://scholarworks.utrgv.edu/storiesfromtexas/
© 2018 William F. Strong. Uploaded with permission of copyright holder.