The Wind and the Windmill

For a few glorious moments, the bright blue, hand-carved blades and heavy turbine of Ken Foster’s latest “windmill” stood poised high in the sky, nearly vertical. Ken was manning the winch. At the other end of a very long, heavy-duty steel pole, his brother Roy was busy clipping branches off of nearby trees, to clear the way as the complex assemblage of cables and galvanized steel, turbine and blades, gradually rose into the sky. I was the self-appointed photographer, marvelling at the perseverance and ingenuity of my friends. This wasn’t Ken’s first stab at a wind turbine, and brother Roy was busy acquiring parts for one of his own.

I’ve known Ken since we were classmates in medical school some 40 years ago. Ken is a skilled surgeon. He and his wife Winfer spent years providing surgical services in chronically war-torn Afghanistan, where the ability to ‘do it yourself’ was a necessary life skill. Ken is not the kind of guy who’d hire a contractor to install a factory-made wind turbine. He relishes the engineering challenge, and fortunately he has both a patient wife and a brother with a myriad of complementary skills.

When I was a kid, I had a tiny electric motor. I delighted in connecting its wires to either end of a battery, which made it whirr and spin, electricity converted by a coil of wire and magnets into mechanical energy, or movement. Wind turbines employ the same process in reverse. The turning of blades shaped to catch the wind (movement) is converted into electrical energy, badly needed to supplement the rooftop solar panels and help power the water pump, the internet, and other essentials of modern life in the Fosters’ off-grid house.

But it wasn’t to be. Not today. At a critical moment, a gust of wind caught the blades, and like a midway ride carefully cresting its peak then abruptly plummeting down into the abyss, the entire structure teetered over the top of vertical and came crashing down in a complex catastrophe of tangled cables and steel. The heavy turbine hit a soft spot on the ground and survived its fall, but one of the blades was smashed beyond repair.

A momentary error. Disappointment, and a mess to clean up. Could Ken muster the fortitude to replace broken parts, carve another blade, reassemble his wind turbine, and try again? Later in the evening, he confessed he was too invested in the project to give up. I say, that’s the spirit, Ken! When you rise to a challenge, reducing your personal carbon footprint by harnessing the power of wind and sun, it gives you climate change credibility. You become an example to your friends and medical colleagues. That makes you a Health Care CLIMATE hero in my eyes.