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Down on the Farm: Sacred ground

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Eleven years ago, I spent a September in Europe. First, I took the train around England. The countryside is “lovely,” as the Brits say, groomed and prim.

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Then across France, Switzerland and Italy. I stayed in cities, but enjoyed the farm country—at least when those bullet trains slowed down enough for me to see the scenery.

Then, out of the blue, I got homesick. Bad. I was thirty-nine years old, yet I got the same sick feeling in my gut as when Mom dropped me off at the babysitter who only served alphabet soup when I was three.

I had traveled before and never gotten homesick. But this time, I crashed hard. The two weeks until I returned to the States looked insurmountable.

I called to see if I could change my ticket. No luck. I was stuck.

I recovered enough to stumble through the remaining two weeks. However, the experience led me to believe that homesickness should be classified as a mental illness to be treated with powerful psychoactive drugs.

It was with great relief and the urge to kiss the tarmac that I returned to the Minneapolis airport. I drove north during a sun-kissed, golden late September day. I left the freeway at Rothsay, and joined Minnesota Highway 32.

Over the next twenty minutes, I arrived at a conclusion: The rolling hills south of the little hamlet of Rollag, Minn. are the prettiest place on earth.

It occurred to me: I had only been gone a month. What must it have been like for the boys when they returned from Europe after years of fighting a war?

My biggest struggle had been ordering off a menu written in German and arguing with a porter who claimed I was on the wrong train. The boys dodged Axis bullets. For years.

When the soldiers finally approached home again, can you imagine the emotions?

Those rolling hills south of Rollag became sacred ground for me. When I drive  Highway 32 on the way to or from the big city, I remember how glad I was to be nearing home and how glad I am for home.

And I understand why many veterans who fought abroad have absolutely no desire to stray that far from home again.

Last week on a blustery day I headed south to the big city. I took the route through Rollag just to see the rolling hills, the darkening ponds, the patterned fields, the dark, gnarled oak woods. I was in for a rude shock.

Of all things, right on my sacred ground, they have erected thirty-two 260-foot tall windmills! Ugly, industrial windmills!

On trips west, I enjoy the wind farms. There is a massive one on the plains of central Colorado. I stopped and took pictures. There is another one about 80 miles east of San Diego.

I like the idea of clean energy and harnessing the wind, so seeing those big blades go around makes me wonder: how many homes does each turbine supply? How could we store excess energy to use when the wind calms?

I was a wind power enthusiast, dreaming of putting windmills everywhere with a strong breeze—until they put up thirty-two of the massive towers on my sacred ground! This must not be allowed, I thought as I pounded the wheel.

My first thought: Environmental impact study. We’ve got to make them do an environment impact study. How many ducks will those blades kill? Will the hum of the turbines interrupt frog mating calls?

Maybe I could file a lawsuit based on the sacred ground issue. They hadn’t asked me, and I consider the area sacred. It is a religion of one, my Rollag Hill religion, but isn’t the Constitution supposed to protect my religious freedom from windmills? By the time I hit the DQ in Pelican Rapids, I had calmed down. We have no choice in life but to adjust. A butterscotch dipped cone speeds the healing process immensely.

I’ll work to enjoy the unwelcome mixing of two of my favorite scenes: a big wind farm, and the Rollag hills.

Maybe one day artists will paint the wind farms on those hills, like they paint those old Dutch windmills. Maybe the windmills will grace the side of potato chip boxes.

Or maybe I’ll find some new sacred ground.

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Eric Bergeson

Eric Bergeson is the third generation owner of Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, Minn., a business started by his grandfather in 1937. He also writes a weekly column for several newspapers in northwestern Minnesota. He has published four books, including most recently Pirates on the Prairie, which the Minneapolis Tribune called "a Minnesota cultural and historical treasure." You can read more from Eric at his website, The Country Scribe

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