My First Summer In The Sierra Club, By John Muir

[Inspired by Sierra’s latest whole-issue paean to wind power, especially this piece.]

One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed occurred in December, 2017, when I happened to be exploring one of the tributary valleys of the White-Water River. The sky and the solar arrays and the wind turbine pylons had been thoroughly rain-washed and were dry again. The day was intensely pure, one of those incomparable bits of California winter, warm and balmy and full of white sparkling  insolation, redolent of all the purest influences of the spring, and at the same time enlivened with one of the most bracing intermittent wealths of wind resources conceivable. Instead of camping out, as I usually do, I then chanced to be stopping at the office of a major donor foundation. But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the wind turbine facility to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature, LLC has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a moldy old tree.

It was still early morning when I found myself fairly adrift. Delicious sunshine came pouring over the hills, lighting the tops of the nacelles, and setting free a steam of summery renewable portfolio standard eligible power that contrasted strangely with the wild tones of the storm. The air was mottled with pine-siskins and violet green swallows, that went flashing past in the sunlight as the  spinning blades batted them. But there was not the slightest dustiness, nothing less pure than high-tensile-strength composite resin, and ripe power purchase agreements, and flecks of withered habitat. I heard birds falling for hours at the rate of one every two or three minutes; some splashed brightly, partly on account of the loose, water-soaked condition of the ground; others broken straight across, where a turbine blade tip had, by the deft hand of God, stroked the exact right  spot. The passionate gestures of the various birds made a delightful study. Young Sap Suckers, light and feathery as squirrel-tails, were knocked altogether  to the ground; while the grand old patriarchs, the eagles and the Con-Dors tried in a hundred storms, spiraled slowly from the site of impact, their long, arching wings streaming effluent on the gale, and every feather keening and shedding until its owner disappeared out of sight beyond the incidental take search radius. The white Pelicanus, with long plumes drawn out in level tresses, and underparts massed in a gray, shimmering glow, presented a most striking appearance as they struck the whirling blades.

But the turbines were now the most impressively beautiful of all. Colossal spires 350 feet in height waved like supple pinwheels chanting and bowing low as if in worship, while the whole mass of their long, tremulous scimitars were kindled into one continuous blaze of red warning light fire. The force of the gale was such that the most steadfast turbine of them all rocked down to its roots with a motion plainly perceptible when one leaned against it. Industry’s capture of Nature was holding high festival, and every carbon fiber of the most rigid giants thrilled with glad excitement.

I drifted on through the midst of this passionate music and motion, across many an access road, from ridge to ridge; often halting in the lee of a truck for shelter, or to gaze and listen. Even when the grand anthem had swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual turbines — GE, and Vesta, and Iberdrola, and Siemens — and even the infinitely gentle rustle of the withered red bromegrass at my feet. Each was expressing itself in its own way — singing its own song, and making its own peculiar gestures — manifesting a richness of variety to be found in no other factory I have yet seen. The California wind facilities are made up of a greater number of distinct makes and models than any other in the world. And in them we find, not only a marked differentiation into special nameplate capacities, but also a marked individuality in almost every turbine, giving rise to storm effects indescribably profitable.

Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through corpses of hazel and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the facility; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the turbines to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the aeolian music of its avian radar beacons. But under the circumstances the choice of a turbine was a serious matter. After cautiously casting about, I made choice of the tallest of a group of Siemens that were installed close together like a tuft of dead grass. Though comparatively new, they were about 500 feet high, and their lithe, bony blades were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb turbines in cleaning entrails from the blades, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender blades fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, swirling round and round, tracing indescribable repetitions of  curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like an orphaned hawkling in an aerie.

In its sweeps my turbine blades described a radius of from fifty to sixty yards. I was safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited facility from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the puny hills and dales as over miles and miles of gold mine, and felt the red warning light flashing in ripples and broad swelling undulations across the blades from tower to tower, as the reflective carbon fiber was stirred by corresponding waves of air.  The quantity of light reflected from the turbine blades was so great as to make whole nacelles appear as if covered with blood, while the black shadows beneath the turbines greatly enhanced the effect of the blinking, hellish splendor.

5 thoughts on “My First Summer In The Sierra Club, By John Muir

  1. Ken

    No, Chris, no. Too sad, to dark even for me. I couldn’t finish the read. You are a brave heart, and I’m a chicken shit about this deep sadness. I’m gonna get Ed Abby angry about wind power, thinking about the Wyoming Red Desert.

    “Within light there is darkness,
    But do not try to understand that darkness;
    Within darkness there is light,
    But do not look for that light.”
    -Identity of Relative and Absolute

    Appreciate your work, Chris!

  2. chascpeterson

    A herd of cattle grazed quietly around the base of a nearby turbine.

    When we tug at a single thing, we find it attached to what’s left of the rest of the world.

    nicely done.

  3. Jon Boone

    Great post. For those who’d like to know more this issue, consider reading my essay, The Sierra Club: How Support for Industrial Wind Technology Subverts Its History, Betrays Its Mission, and Erodes Commitment to the Scientific Method:

    As long as people think wind technology is a viable substitute for any conventionally fueled machine, especially fossil fired electricity generators, the wind scam will abide. “Energy” experts should begin any discussion of wind and fossil fuels with a strong dose of reality: In most areas of the world, wind REQUIRES fossil fired machines to be enabled in the modern world–but imposes such substantial inefficiencies upon them that nearly as much or more fossil fuel is required than would be the case without any wind at all. These same experts should ask their audience to name any coal plants that have closed because of the 60GW of installed wind in the USA. They should ask too for a correlative link between more wind production and less fossil fuel generation (a causal link is too much to ask). Perhaps the punch line should be: all things being equal, the more wind, the more coal.

  4. Suzanne Albright

    It is not necessary to add to Jon Boone’s excellent comments, so I will not be redundant. I have contacted Sierra Club with similar information, and asked for their reply on multiple occasions. No response… Our intelligent, accurate, scientific information regarding the oxymoronic support of industrial wind manufacturing and usage falls on deaf ears. The question is, WHY? Why does Sierra Club support such a toxic waste of our mountain ridges, forests, and seas? I simply do not understand. It is contradictory to their mission. Have they been “bought”? I can think of no other reason.