A Conundrum

As fishermen glide along Middle River toward the light mist rising along the banks in the early morning light, Mt. Diablo rises over its marine layer cloak to greet the day.

“One oil well would eliminate all those wind mills and you could make it look like a tree.”

After enjoying the quietude, beauty, and splendor of a California Delta sunrise a while back, it came to my attention that one person’s interesting feature of the landscape is another person’s eyesore and I’m left wondering if there’s a solution.  

It’s almost a rare occurrence in the Delta to have a sunset that is not stunning in some way. Sunrises, however, can induce a wonderfully different mood, both in the quality of light and my own temperament. There’s an intangibly different aura that early in the day. 

On this poetically beautiful daybreak there was a quiet stillness and a soft, nearly invisible, gossamer vapor rising from the oil-smooth water at the reed-covered banks. Of course the air is cooler but the light is a different temperature, too.  The air has had time over night to settle much of the dust of the previous day’s doings, often causing the sun’s rays to be bluer shade of red. Pretty darn nice, I’d say.  

The silky light an hour and a half or so just after sunup on Middle River adjacent to Lower Jones Tract yielded some nice images of our beautiful Delta. The serenity, wildlife, anglers, color, and light all teamed up to make my brief stay utterly enjoyable.  

A sparrow pauses only briefly at Middle River’s edge.

The audio portion of the visit included the faint indistinct voices of chatting fishermen carrying across the still water, small ripples gently nudging reeds near the levee, and an occasional airliner gaining altitude heading east. I can’t see them but I hear the high pitched calls of red winged blackbirds singing their melodic tune from the tules across the river.  The faint aroma of freshly cut alfalfa added to the ambiance of this visit. 

Interesting how an image of wind turbines on the hills west of Tracy at sunrise would spark a political discussion.

About that conundrum – I chose the photograph above from that day’s take to share in social media because I like the smooth texture of the rolling hills and the marine layer dissolving at the crest of the hills west of Tracy. As a photographer who strives to find beauty where possible, I see in this picture a subtle exquisiteness in the shapes of the hills and the — as viewed from this distance — delicate wind turbines.   

The photo got a number of ‘likes’. One friend commented “Love!” and another, “Used to be beautiful” to which I responded, “At least it’s not oil wells, so it could be worse.”

His reply was, “One oil well would eliminate all those wind mills and you could make it look like a tree.”

“There are no perfect solutions to our energy needs but the last time I drove through Bakersfield it was less than pleasant — both the views and the aromas,” I responded. 

I must admit that when I made this shot and decided to share it I was only thinking about the aesthetics and not the politics. Downsides to all forms of energy production exist. But aren’t wind turbines cleaner form of energy than fossil fuels – and a renewable source?

People who oppose wind farms argue that turbines’ major disadvantages are that many birds are killed every year and the landscape is unnaturally altered. Wind turbine blades do indeed kill birds and bats, but their contribution to total bird deaths is extremely low, as these three studies show. And fossil fuel, nuclear power plants, and cats (feral and domestic) actually cause more bird deaths than wind power by far. Of course there are other pros and cons we could spend hours discussing. However, the wind turbine industry is working with wildlife researchers on promising technologies to reduce bird and bat mortality, which sounds encouraging.

Unfortunately there will always be disagreement on the esthetics. One person’s interesting feature of the landscape is another’s eyesore.  

So, here’s the quandary for me. We all want our cars to run, our refrigerators to work, our TVs to entertain and inform, and our airplanes to get us where we’re going without sudden unscheduled stops. Not to mention so many other things that we’ve come to depend upon in our daily lives. Don’t you hate it when you’re in the middle of some important computer work and the power is interrupted? 

How we can have abundant energy in both an environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing manner?

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below. 

As I’m about to conclude my visit this day, a slight breeze comes up causing reflection-altering ripples as a float-tube fisherman tries his luck near a patch of Middle River reeds.

Story and photographs © Rich Turner


Chapman, Simon, and Fiona Crichton, Fiona book, Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Communicated Disease.

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  • The Eiffel Tower was considered an abomination when it was built: so mechanical compared to the grand stone churches and other buildings of Paris. How aesthetics changes. Let’s just make it work.

    Chris Gilbert

    • Thank you, Robert. Hopefully stories and photographs of the Delta will show that it is precious. If we love something, we protect it.

  • Rich: It is a conundrum. I have a number of pictures from Montezuma Hills area that I took before the turbines that can never be repeated. However, I have many with the turbines and fine you can get some beautiful pictures. However, I support more use of alternative energy sources. Petroleum should die out because it is polluting our beautiful earth, including oceans and air.

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