A dozen miles east of our farm there is a geological formation known as Buffalo Ridge. Stretching from southern North Dakota to northern Iowa, these rolling hills are a continental divide. The relative elevation of Buffalo Ridge creates the boundary between the Mississippi River basin to the east and the area drained by the Missouri to the west.     
     The land on Buffalo Ridge has mostly been used for agriculture – that is, until recently. Buffalo Ridge is being slowly yet inexorably invaded by an army of giants, metallic monsters who stand more than 50 yards tall. The one-legged leviathans take up residence and just stand there, silent and patient. They are so huge that even the slightest breeze will cause their colossal arms to move.     
     These giants are actually humongous wind turbines. In the ultimate fulfillment of a hippie’s dream, power companies are erecting numerous such turbines on Buffalo Ridge to harvest the energy of our incessant winds.     
     This development should not have come as a surprise to us locals. We have long regarded the wind as our constant companion, a relentless force that continues to have a huge impact on our lives. For instance, on still days all of our chickens fall over.     
     When homesteaders first arrived out here on the prairie, one of the first things they probably said was, “Holy cow, it’s windy. Which reminds me, never stand downwind from the cow.”     
     Hoping to tame our unremitting winds, the pioneers planted groves of trees. Upon discovering that the trees would only have a small effect, the homesteaders said, “OK, fine. Have it your way.” They erected windmills to pump water for their livestock. They were no dummies.     
     On the rare occasions when the wind held its breath, pushing a pump handle was the only way to obtain water. This arrangement went a long way toward cutting down on wasteful water usage. It probably also explains why many of the early settlers were so frugal regarding their bathing schedules.     
     It really was not such a bad deal. I wonder how many TV shows I would have mindlessly watched if I were required to work a pump handle for the privilege.     
     The settlers quickly learned that the wind was their master, not their slave. During dry summers, the wind became a blast furnace, a vampire that sucked precious moisture from their struggling crops. During the frigid winter months, every gust would tear at their clothing, its icy fingers probing greedily for warm flesh.     
     Like my ancestors, I have acquired a healthy respect for the wind. I have learned that an east wind is likely to bring rain. I know that when it is -20 and the wind is blasting at 35 mph from the northwest, there is no point in consulting a wind chill chart. The air is simply so cold that it will take your breath away. Exposed flesh freezes almost instantly and gloved hands quickly become numb.    
     But I have also learned that the wind has distinctive moods. On balmy spring days, a passing breeze might gently riffle the leaves of our cottonwood trees. If you listen closely, the zephyr may speak to you, whispering secrets about the warming soil and new grass. The wind is benevolent, soft, giving comfort, murmuring intimations of a boundless future.     
     But in the wintertime, the wind often becomes a fanatic. It howls and shrieks through our denuded grove like a parent searching hysterically for a lost child or a sailor’s wife who has just been told her husband has been lost at sea.     
     When I was a boy, I would lie in bed on frigid winter nights and listen as the murderously cold wind moaned through our trees. Sometimes, I would sneak a transistor radio into my bed. With the sun on the other side of the planet, the ionosphere would balloon outward, enabling me to receive radio stations from well beyond our horizon.     
     Sometimes I would hear broadcasts from as far away as Texas. I would listen to those strangers speaking with their strange accents and feel a small thrill from the idea that I was eavesdropping. I wondered if the wind in Texas blew so hard that it made farm kids feel lonely and cold even though they were buried under a deep pile of warm quilts.     
     The old windmills that the pioneers built are mostly gone now. What few are left have outlived their usefulness, electricity having proven to be a more reliable source of power.     
     But a new breed of windmills are sprouting on Buffalo Ridge and technology has taken us full circle. For it seems that the wind is once again pumping our water.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.