The nighttime Kansas sky defines dark. The day’s endless acres of golden cropland and the blue sky meld to envelop the landscape and reveal stars never seen in a near-city sky. Traveling along I-70, I watched as the sky blackened. With an eye toward the darker eastern horizon, I saw what, at first, I thought was an optical illusion.
In the west, the countryside laced by the interstate system reveals the countless repeater towers we don’t notice among the trees in the east. At night these towers stand like soldiers with vertical blinking red buttons. The lights warn errant aircraft of collision dangers.
Coming over one of the rare hills in Kansas the repeaters were clearly visible, but other red lights dotted the horizon in a low irregular line. Had I not been west on the same road just two weeks earlier, I would not have known that these were the red warning lights installed on the hubs of the hundreds of windmills that turn on the scarce ridges of Kansas to harness the wind for household power.
The windmills scatter randomly to avoid wind shadows on any of the mills. The effect in the dark looks as though a giant tossed out handfuls of glowing cherry jawbreakers – that blink. Or, perhaps they were really enormous red monster eyes.
As we got closer, the light grew bigger, and their glow reflected back in the cup of the enormous blades closest to their axes. This field of blinking red lined both sides of the highway, but the north side had an extra light.
Nestled on the ground a translucent orange circle flattened on one side contrasted with the brighter staccato of the mills’ lights. It lay there momentarily then slowly, ever so slowly it began to move, up. As the ground made itself visible between the field and the lower edge of the glowing almost sphere, I began to piece together the scene. The waning gibbous moon had chosen this spot to rise into the night sky.
As it ascended, it danced with the windmills. The blades on each windmill twirled a pas de deux with the rising lunar balloon; the enormous backlit blades gracefully flitted across the face of the man in the moon like so many brobdingnagian fairy wings.
We began to anticipate each traverse of the blades looking for the red light that would hit the middle of the moon as our car moved eastward. We oohed and ahhed as we were rewarded with near centered swipes of the blades.
Finally, the moon rose too high in the sky to catch the windmills, and eventually we ran out of windmills. As the last red light disappeared from my peripheral view, I turned around and looked at the now western horizon. The red eyes randomly strewn over the hillside behind us looked back at me, but the fairy wings had disappeared.