Tilting at Windmills
What is it about Windmills that captivates the imagination? Are we fascinated at harnessing an invisible power? Do the spinning vanes lull us into a sweet hypnosis? Are we nostalgic for childhood fairy tales with tulips and wooden shoes? Is there a connection to a deep past when these machines performed life-giving tasks like grinding grain and pumping water? Old agricultural wind pumps near my home in thickly settled Connecticut may suggest a languishing reminder of simpler, more rural times, but the rise of giant pinwheels to spin electric turbines has thrust windmills into contemporary controversy. Tilting at windmills no longer seems as quixotic as it once did.
Driving a narrow road through a scenic precinct of Fairfield, about fifty miles from New York City, I hit the brakes hard when an eighty-foot-tall octagonal tower sheathed in fishtail shingles came suddenly into view. Situated at the pavement’s edge in a neighborhood dominated by large, historic homes and sprawling lawns, I got out and let the structure carry my eye upward to a dizzying blue sky dotted with fleecy cumulus clouds. Although the rotating vanes (or sails in technical lingo) were long gone, a small hand painted sign announced the presence of the Bronson Windmill, built in 1894. Later I learned that it was erected to supply water to a dairy farm and substantial mansion. A large water tank was within the tower and a cistern beneath it. Although windmills were once familiar sights in the area, this was the last one standing in Fairfield.
Save for my frequent mini golfing forays, where cute Dutch style models are a standard feature, I hadn’t given much thought to windmills. But having seen the Bronson tower, I was suddenly fascinated with these once essential engineering marvels. Frankly, I was obsessed.