Sunday, 17 June 2012

Setting myself a challenge Day 3 – Wind (and cats)

Yesterday, June 16th 2012 it blew a hoolie and I think that could explain why this morning as I woke, the two ideas spinning around my head were wind, with a side order of cats.
As I hinted at before I’ve always been drawn to extremes of weather, with wind being the one I love the most. I just find there is something invigorating about wind. I feel the air is being scoured clean by a blast from upon high; a stagnant atmosphere displaced by the fresh elixir of ion enriched oxygenated air, especially if one is at the coast.
It is 05.45am as I write. Outside it is hard to believe that yesterday it blew and blew, all is calm, all is still. I drove from Somerset to Wiltshire yesterday and stopped for a while at Rockley near Marlborough. Here in the vast landscapes of the Marlborough Downs the wind was blowing waves of energy through ripening corn on the hillside. Scudding clouds moving rapidly aloft momentarily transformed the scene from a blanket of mid-green to a kaleidoscopic brilliance of sunlit emeralds. Streak after streak of brilliance shot across the corn which, in return, seemed to bow and curtsey in thanksgiving for this blast of light. Wind can of course have its cruel side. It can be disastrous for farmers at this time of year where cereals can be flattened never to recover, making harvest difficult. I saw such a field as this near Crooks Peak in Somerset on Wednesday, just the tram-lines stood proud amongst the devastated crop.
Likewise storms are to be respected. In the 1980s I was on a passenger ferry returning from a summer holiday on the Isle of Arran in a force 9 gale. This huge ferry was coping well although it was rough. Mid-crossing the Captain informed us via the ship’s tannoy that he had to divert to assist in the rescue of a yacht; this meant turning sideways to the waves. I have never been so frightened in my life; we were being tossed about like a child’s toy but eventually reached the stricken, now capsized yacht. By then the Lifeboat had somehow made it to the yacht and we were stood down, finally returned to the mainland 3 hours behind schedule. My overriding memory of that experience was of the car-decks. Due to the motion of the ship, many vehicles had moved about, body panels were damaged and there was a lot of glass from broken wing mirrors.
But wind, which after all is simply a movement of gas from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure, is unseen; that is until its effect on a physical object can be detected. As I look out of the bedroom window here, I can see Wilton Windmill high upon the hill a mile or so away. Built in 1821 this is the last working Windmill in Wessex and I love walking up there on a summer’s day just to take in the view. But of course it’s there because of wind and for over 100 years wind encountered and then turned its sails, powering the mill to feed the local population, until its usefulness waned with the arrival of mechanical milling machines. Thankfully it is now fully restored and open on Sundays throughout the summer.
We may sometimes forget in this petrochemical combustion age how vital wind was for human endeavour. The likes of Columbus, Cook, and Megallan were all dependent on the wind to assist their exploration of the Globe, so much so that a term still in use today “Trade Winds” were so named after 16th Century explorers recognised the benefits of these constant winds in assisting their preferred direction of travel. From our cosy modern lifestyles there is often something romantic about seeing a ‘Tall Ships’ out at sea, but we forget voyages were long and arduous. My grandfather went to sea at the age of 14 and for the first years of his career worked on sailing ships, often away from home for 2 years at a time. And this was just 100 years ago or so.
An often quoted saying is “what goes around comes around” which is apt really for wind, as it never really goes away, it is just blowing somewhere else. Renewable energy has thrust wind, in the shape of wind turbines, back into the modern age.  I have to say there is something beautiful about wind turbines in the landscape. I know this will not be welcomed by many, but that juxtaposition between sleek modernity and an ancient landscape appeals to me. Turbines also receive bad press for their effect on wildlife. Reports of dead birds at the base of the blades are regularly in the news.
I have recently been researching wind turbine effects on wildlife and it is quite interesting. Birds have become entangled in the blades, but it seems the actual building of the turbines has a greater effect on birds, in the form of disturbance to ground nesting species, than when in operation. Similarly recent research discovered a phenomenon called ‘barotrauma’ which affects migratory bats. In simple terms, when the bat passes the rotating blade, it is able to avoid physical contact, however next to the blade, air pressure drops dramatically and this causes the internal organs of bats to collapse, fatally. This it seems explains why bats are found at the base of turbines intact but dead. Another interesting discovery was that upto 100 meters downwind of a turbine, habitat change can occur due to vortex airflow. More research is needed on all of these effects, and with an ever greater need for electricity, I cannot see wind turbines going away.
But wind for me is something to be embraced and enjoyed; something which pets seems to love too. Ever noticed how when the wind is fresh but the sky is blue, cats such as our Molly, will scoot and rush about the garden in mad chaotic zig zags.
It is like the devil is after them. Or should that be a dust-devil, which in Arabia are called fasset el 'afreet, or ghost's wind….

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