On a warm, cloudy day one May, my husband and I were exploring an absolutely out-of-the-way, non-touristy Dutch village in Friesland, a region in the north of the Netherlands. Our trajectory from the canal where we left our boat was unquestionably toward the slowly revolving arms of a large windmill in the distance. Walking along brick paths and cobblestone streets, we passed bakeries and cafés with window boxes filled with—no, not tulips—wild masses of geraniums, vinca vines, and Sweet William. I hate to say it, but Disney couldn’t have created a more perfect Dutch village. It was adorable.
The windmill creaked as the large blades swung around near a small door with a handwritten sign propped against the doorjamb. “Come up” was all it said in English.
I grabbed the handrails of what was more like a ladder than a staircase, and climbed up three stories until I came upon a miller smiling broadly and covered in flour. Happy to have visitors, he educated us about his 30-year contract on the municipally owned mill where he made his livelihood grinding wheat, barley, and hops for local breweries and bakeries.
The technology for windmills may have been brought to the Netherlands from the Middle East by the Crusaders in the 13th century. While that can’t be proven, it is clear that the Dutch fully developed the windmill. They built their economy and their lives with the help of the wind, making the Netherlands a major world power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Believe me, their lives still benefit from the wind. When we left the mill, we went to a flowerbox café for some local brew—and we could taste the wind in our beer.