So many people have said to me, that solar power is the first thing they would have done. How did we manage to go two years without it?
But we didn’t really want to install solar power. It wasn’t something we already knew how to do, and it also wasn’t in either of our categories of Things We Love. No sawdust for Nick. No green leaves for Esther. No familiarity for either of us to lean on, nor the kind of eclectic individuality that we so love because it covers all faults. I mean, who’s going to tell us we installed our bike powered washer the wrong way? Really, I dare you.
But solar power is a real thing. A real scientific thing, interacting with a field of knowledge and research and production. Also, money. Solar power always felt to me a bit like building an actual off grid house. Permanent. Committed. Responsible.
Which makes me feel inexplicably nauseous and motivated to eat a lot of salty snacks. For, you know, maybe…about two years.
But even the littlest children eventually grow up. We’re calling this install our “Phase One” solar. It cost about 1000 dollars, plus Nick had to make a structure to hang the panels on, and a box to hold the batteries, which he made out of scraps from his spring cabinet job. It’s a lot of money, but not more than running a power line to connect to the grid.
It’s phase one because the install we did this weekend won’t power our whole lives. We still are using the gas-powered generator to run tools, and although our 4 100-watt panels have no trouble powering my computer all day long (and fueling my YouTube habit!) we will still be very stretched in the wintertime, lighting darkness with minimal sunshine.
Still. We feel like kids who just got a diploma. Or something. We feel sheepish, that we didn’t do this two years ago. That instead we drove our cars more than we might have, to get to places where we could “plug in.” And sometimes we ran a ferocious gas generator just to charge a computer or run a single fan.
Then again, I’m glad that we experienced having no power at all. It gives us perspective to appreciate it in the quantities we can harvest ourselves. It gives us perspective to appreciate just how dramatically our modern/contemporary/first world/dominator lifestyle depends on fossil fuels and combustion engines. When I run the generator…or I don’t, these are two different lives. I’m glad I’ve seen it, and felt it, and know it from the inside instead of just in my head.\
But maturity is, what? So often a journey into the gray spaces between. Leveraging 1000 dollars worth of financial resources into a system of moderation, in which there is a something, maybe even something enough, that is neither excessive nor thrown to the wind. But somewhere in between.
Personally, of course, I’d rather have the salty snacks. Also I write poetry. And commune with nature. The deep meaning and the deep avoidance live next door to one another. The off grid/back to the land life has always had a Peter Pan quality, for those who never want to grow up. And that is not something that I am here to slam. Growing up is, in so many ways, a terrible idea.
When you’re grown up you have to be proactive about how you allocate your resources. You have to think ahead, and ration things, make silos for the famine years. In our culture of domination and competition, it’s overwhelmingly hard to engage choices like this, without simply giving over to an ethic of each man for himself and take what you can get. I respect, in myself, and in others, the temptation to run away to the woods and try not to think about it. I think that can be a genuine expression of compassion.
But then…where does one get the salty snacks?
This is how it happened, that this week Nick and I installed our first solar array and got 20,000 grown up points. I feel a bit like a high school graduate, which is to say I am not without nostalgia for my teenage party days, of pretending a problem away rather than making an imperfect move to solve it.
But also I feel overwhelmingly, almost inappropriately, proud. For a wandering girl who likes to live in a tent without running water, this move is stunningly mature, Very Grown Up. I feel great. Just don’t tell me I’m done with poetry.
Some of you are interested in the details of our solar install. If that’s you, here’s the Mountain Man doing a five-minute video tour. (Extra points if you can identify all the creatures making noise in the background.)
Now who’s next? Let me know when and how you do a solar install of your own!