Thursday, July 12, 2012
Back to Nature
Frankly, we don't even know what we don't know. It's been part of the Great Forgetting. And, we've forgotten quickly - in about two generations. Our grandparents were nestled into Nature, like hand in glove. Our parents were less so. And, then there's us - who have spun out into differentiation so far that any real memory of being part of Nature is pretty shadowy. Vague. Dim.
Most people today wake up to the buzz of an alarm clock instead of the morning rustle of their livestock - or the crowing of a roster. Breakfast is wrapped in plastic or poured from a box instead of farm-fresh eggs and something from the garden. And, work is somewhere else rather than right on their land or property. Neither is their job a simple bike ride or walk away. It's somewhere that they have to get to - fast! - by petro-fueled vehicles, moving at about 60 mph. Rule out any chance of sniffing a neighbor's roses as a part of the commute. Once they are there, it's fluorescent lights, air conditioning and bottled water. Sans sunlight, fresh air or water. Lunch is prized for its long shelf life. And, at the end of the day, the whole process is reversed (with, perhaps, a quick stop at the gym, en route) and repeated. Daily life is an exercise in immersion in man-made culture. Even people's clothing is made from petrochemicals and flame retardants.
Such has been the high cost of civilization.
My children would tell you that I never really got civilized. My son, in fact, good-naturedly tells people that he was raised on "sticks and twigs" - meaning wild-crafted herbs and greens. He was. And, he was also raised to wake up with the morning rustle of the livestock. And, you can be sure that he never needed a gym membership. None of us did, because we were all sufficiently exercised, as a matter of course, by the end of the day.
I don't own an alarm clock. I still get up when the chickens and horses start to move around. When the sun comes up, a new day begins. Since going solar, I've gained a deeper appreciation for the sun. It's fair to say that, like millions of other people, I had taken the sun for granted. Since going solar-powered, I see it differently. I notice when it comes up and when it sets. I notice how quickly it cools off when the sun ducks behind a cloud. I notice that my garden grows better, and my chickens lay more eggs, when the sun is shining. I notice that my line-hung laundry dries in no time when Ole' Sol is out.
I also have a real appreciation for exactly how many kilowatts every one of my household appliances uses---which has prompted me to replace most of them with retrograde, non-electrical models. One of my best friends - who thinks I'm pretty quirky, but puts up with it - has developed a zeal for scouring the area thrift stores for non-electrical kitchen appliances. He's gifted me with rotary egg-beaters, hand-cranked blenders and cordless flat irons. I use an old-fashioned crank radio for catching the weather and news on NPR and, if I'm so inclined, a bit of classical music.
I also use a solar oven to cook. Pies, breads, casseroles and stews all turn out perfect. But, this means that I've learned exactly what times of the day the sun is the strongest. I can get my home-built solar oven up to 350 degrees F. if I utilize the morning rays, which are much stronger than afternoon sun. This is the same observation I use in planning where to plant vegetables and fruits. All sun-rays are not equal: morning sun gives me twice the bang for my buck as afternoon sun. That, of course, works inversely when dehydrating. When I put herbs and vegetables in my solar dehydrators, I don't want to cook them - just dry them. So, I choose afternoon hours, when the rays are less potent, for getting those outside. Afternoon is also the best time to move the horses over to the sunny paddock. Those old gray mares don't need the intensity of the morning sun.
Then, of course, there is the solar shower. Those big black bags take about five hours of direct morning sunlight to get sizzling hot. But, they cool off about twice as fast as they heat up! This means that showers are, ideally, early afternoon. It's an odd time to shower, by mainstream American standards, but it's perfectly aligned with the rhythms of the sun.
All of this saves the kilowatts that I sun-generate for the bigger jobs like powering lights, the well-pump, computer, and so forth. Taking this a step further - if I run those machines at peak sun hours, I utilize my off-grid component way better than if I run them when "it's convenient". Solar noon-- the moment when the Sun transits the celestial meridian - roughly the time when it highest above the horizon on that day - differs seasonally. That's when my system is cranking out the most juice for me - and when I should use electrical needs. This means that I am on the sun's schedule instead of "my" schedule. What happens, of course, is that after a while, the sun's schedule becomes "my" schedule.
And, almost magically, that little, insipid sense of self dissipates into the grander scheme of Nature.