4 Jan 2013

Notes from a Low Country

     I was born and raised in The Netherlands. Not Holland. ‘Holland’ refers only to two of the twelve provinces. The Netherlands is a small country in Europe. It is a little over 41 thousand square kilometers (or 16 thousand miles). That means that you can get almost 17 times its size out of the state of Texas!
    A few hundred years ago the country was even smaller. It lies at the  western edge of Europe, where big rivers flow into the sea. Much of the country is very low land and has often flooded. In fact, most of the country is under sea level and the lowest point in The Netherlands is an amazing 7 meters (20 feet) below sea level! 

Even its name tells you a lot: ‘Nether’ means ‘low’: low lands.
    Some 700 years ago people decided to use windmills to help drain the land. Not only did they use windmills to pump water away from flooded lands, they also started using them to reclaim land. They built dikes around a low lying area and then used the windmills to pump the water to the other side of the dike, into a river.
    Only twenty years ago, the country added a whole new province to its size by reclaiming land from the sea. There used to be a large bay, the Zuiderzee. People built a huge dike to dam it off from the sea, and then started pumping water out of the bay until the land laid dry. The new province, called Flevoland, added 1,400 square kilometers to the little country!

    Many windmills are still standing throughout the country. Some are used for pumping water while others use the power of the wind to grind grain and other crops. There are many different types of mills. Sometimes the miller even lives inside the windmill. Can you image living in a house that is round or octagonal, that shakes and creaks in the wind?
    One spot in The Netherlands is especially famous for its beautifully preserved windmills. On a sunny day you can sometimes see 19 windmills happily turning their huge arms in the breeze. Not only do they still pump water away from the low-lying polder land, they also attract thousands of visitors who come to see the spectacular sight!

Nowadays, new wind mills generate power by harnessing the wind. The new type of windmill is altering the landscape but helping to generate power from a renewable resource. The amount of power generated by a new windmill depends on the strength of the wind and the number of days of wind per year. The average Dutch household uses 3.400 kWh per year. A smal 'wind park' (several windmill turbines together) produces 21.900 MWh, enough electricy for some 6,000 households!

BTW: Wooden shoes have been used in The Netherlands for hundreds of years. You can best compare them to rubber boots: they are handy to use when it is muddy in your yard, they keep your feet dry and they come off much easier than boots!
It is not true that everyone in The Netherlands wears wooden shoes: just some farmers or gardeners choose to use them. But they have become a tourism symbol for the small country!

Margriet Ruurs is the author of 27 books for children. Her book Children Around the World will be published by Kids Can Press in 2014.

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