I'm proposing to set up four thirty-foot high windmills that will be visible from Caltrain and/or Highway 101. The windmills would be made from bamboo, sewn muslin and bicycle wheels. They would be positioned near or in the lagoon that drains into the Bay near Candlestick Point.

map of proposed windmills

concrete & bamboo footing

Three of the windmills would be positioned in water, close to shore. These windmills would be anchored by cast concrete weights, with bamboo running through them.

I have made bamboo windmills at Tire Beach on the San Francisco Bay and at Burning Man. They respond to the natural speed of the wind ~ by spinning at varying rates, turning to face each gust, and by swaying in response to the slightest change of wind speed or direction. The windmills have drama, illustrating the conflict between the relative stability of the ground to the unceasing motion of the wind. They relate the earth to the sky, and make weather visible on a close-to-human scale. Travelers moving at "artificial" speeds will be able to observe "natural" speeds. They provide an alternative frame of reference for observers.

Windmill 1 near the tracks.

windmill 1, by the caltrain tracks

I have had two experiences in nature that help to illustrate the function of the windmills.

Once, I was cross-country skiing on the edge of a steep mountain meadow. I was standing under a pine tree, laden with fresh powder. From across the meadow, a towering miniature tornado of snow meandered toward me. It was maybe twenty or thirty feet tall; weather, but close to human scale. As it came nearer, I felt increasingly in awe of its power. I held my ground under the pine. When it came to where I was, it dumped all the fresh snow from the tree's boughs onto my head, and all around me.

Windmill 2, in the lagoon near the tracks.

windmill 2, near the tracks in the lagoon

Another time, when I was on a dry lake bed in the desert with a friend, we chased a powerful dust devil on our mountain bikes. We caught it, and entered the vortex, circling in the same direction as it was circling. It was effortless riding, exciting, but not blustery. We kept pace with the swirling dust and bits of litter, traveling across the desert floor. We then attempted reversing directions; circling in the opposite direction to the wind. It was hellish, we were fighting against a brutal dust storm.

Windmill 3, in the lagoon near 101.

Windmill 3, in the lagoon, near 101

In both of these experiences, I encountered nature on a close-to-human scale. Standing before one of my windmills is a similar (if less dramatic) experience. The windmill's swaying and bobbing illustrates and exaggerates the movement of the air masses. The turning of the blades demonstrates the power of a force that is usually invisible to us.

As we travel in cars or trains, we see nature as though it is frozen in time. We move through the landscape too quickly to see the changing of colors, the movement of trees or the clouds'; endless dance. The windmill acts as an anchor, hugging the ground, entering the sky, responding to the restless movement of the air. A commuter would see how the air is moving relative to the ground, even in the short amount of time available as s/he whizzes past at a speed unimaginable even two hundred years ago.

Windmill 4, in the Bay near 101.

Windmill 4, in the Bay near 101

It has always seemed to me that the best way to gage how fast one is moving and where s/he is moving to is to use a different frame of reference.

Larnie Fox