Monday, August 26, 2013

The Language of Windmills

This wasn’t what I had planned for today…but after the Dutch Prince Friso unexpectedly died two weeks ago, I switched gears.

The short version is that after being buried by an avalanche while skiing in Austria a year ago February, Prince Friso went into a coma and never regained consciousness.  He was 44 when he died.  Besides leaving behind his recently “retired” Queen Mother (now Princess Beatrix), his King Brother Alexander and younger brother Constantijn, he also left behind his wife and two adorable girls, ages 8 and 7.

It so happens Prince Friso was Protector (“guardian angel”) of the Dutch Windmill Association (just like his father Prince Claus before), and, out of respect to him, all Dutch windmills were at “standstill” from his death to his funeral this past August 16.
The “standstill” position of a windmill is what you see above from our De Hoop windmill here where we live.  It’s the eleven/five o-clock position--the position marking death and mourning.  It would be similar to hanging our flags at half-mast.

Not all windmill language is about death, of course.  In fact, far from it!

First of all, windmills in the Netherlands turn counter-clockwise when you face them.  I say “when you face them” because from the backside they’re turning clockwise.  It’s the way they’re designed, mainly for right-handed millers who will furl/unfurl the sails with their right hand.  [Ireland is the one country where they turn clockwise.  Maybe Catherine knows why?]

It’s a huge thrill for me to see a windmill turning because it means IT’S  WINDY.  But did you know that to maintain status in the windmill association, you hope to God it’s windy because your windmill is required to make 200,000 revolutions a year, whether it’s a working mill (draining water, sawing wood, milling grain) or for show!  So, yes, a meter counts out the turns.  If you make the mark, you receive subsidies to keep your windmill painted and in working order, which is of utmost importance to a country dependent on the charm of this historic icon.

When the windmill is not turning, the sails are left standing in one of 4 positions, more or less telling you what’s going on in that miller’s life:

  1. If the sail is in the one/seven-o’clock position, the message is JOY.  It’s in the so-called “coming” (yup!) position before it reaches the highest point and usually signifies a celebration:  Marriage.  Birth.  Graduation.  Birthday.  A flag often accompanies this position from the highest sail.
  2. In the midnight/six-o’clock position, or the vertical/horizontal position, the windmill is at “short rest” during a work period, like in milling grain, and will turn again as soon as the wind picks up.
  3. After passing the highest point, midnight, the sails are then “going” and reach the eleven/five-o’clock position of death and mourning, as in the case of Prince Friso above.
  4. In the ten/four-o’clock position, with sails at a 45-degree angle to the vertical, forming a St. Andrew’s cross, the mill is at “long rest,” allowing the miller to perform maintenance chores in and around the mill, often during the summer months.

There are 1150+ Dutch windmills in working order as we speak, more than any other country in the world, and with a database giving details on every single one.  They are still turned to wind by hand and use canvas sails.  None are motorized.

I always knew windmills were soulful to me but…talk about Vision and Verb!  Who would have thought a windmill could say so much!

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