better than tv

IMG_8473Oh, my, the days have been gray around here lately. So gray. This morning, after chores and breakfast I sat down for a precious moment at my spinning wheel and I’m certain the already very gray light coming in the windows got even grayer. I mean, I am pretty aware of the fact that a visit to the eye-doctor is probably in my near future, but my eyesight isn’t that bad. I practically needed to turn on a light just to be able to see what I was doing at the wheel. It was probably ten in the morning… not typically the darkest hour of the day!

So, the days have been gray. And since we are drawing near the winter solstice, the nights have been long. If you read between the lines here, you might gather that sunshine is at a premium. Remember also that I live in a solar-powered house. When the sun doesn’t shine, there is no power. So our solar system is getting the double whammy of 1) no sunshine, and 2) more power usage because the daylight is less and we are therefore using lights for more hours each day.

Over the weekend, our solar system’s battery bank was about to crash. Knowing that precious little sunshine was expected in our forecast, Eric made the move of hauling our batteries over to our neighbor’s shop building where there is grid-tied electricity and where we happen to have a battery charger. (Let me just say that It is no small feat lugging the eight seventy-five pound batteries from their moorings in the bench on our front porch, down the steps, into the back of the mini-van, and out our very long and rough driveway, out of the mini-van and into the shop, and then to reverse these steps to get the batteries back home.) In order to get any charge on the batteries at all, they needed to stay on the charger for at least 24 hours. That left my family completely in the dark for one evening. Eric and I lived for years without any electricity at all, but now that we have it, we’ve gotten kind of used to it. We still don’t use very much power, but damn, an 8 watt light bulb is an amazing thing. And with three busy kids who all have their own agendas, an evening in the dark could easily turn nightmare-ish.IMG_8495

But the evening did not leave me cursing under my breath at the frustrating inconvenience of not having any lights. The evening was lovely. Memorably lovely. We lit candles and sat close to one another on the couches reading stories with our one functioning flashlight. We talked about things and ideas and plans and re-capped what the day held for each of us. Eric and I declared that we need to be without lights more often! Even when we do have adequate power, television is not an option for my family, as we don’t have one. Sure, sometimes we allow the kids to watch a movie on the tiny dvd player that we have, but overall our evenings are never spent in front of the tv. During this precious candlelit evening, I was reminded of why I have made the choices I have made for my family. I chose to exclude television from the scene of my household. I chose to not let the flow of my brain be determined by someone else. IMG_8498This evening, we turned our bull, Goldie, loose with five heifers. He’s an old feller. Never in any big hurry. Incredibly calm and gentle for a creature of his size. Before today, he has never even met the young ladies we put in his paddock, other than the subtle whiffs of their scent carried on the wind. We partially unrolled a round bale of hay for Goldie and his new girlfriends, and then just stood there, leaning comfortably on the bale, taking in the sights and sounds. It was fascinating to watch the body language of the cattle. The way they would lower their heads and turn their bodies slightly sideways to appear as large as possible. The smelling. The kicking up of heels as the excitement of the new situation set in. The munching sounds of hay being chewed. The loud bellowing. This was my deep breath. This was my evening entertainment.

I feel so thankful that my days hold so many of these beautiful, visually rich and stimulating, albeit very peaceful, moments. Real life in real time is way better than tv. IMG_8491

big north

The river between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario is wide. When we crossed over into Canada, one of the first sights to reach my eyes was a cluster of solar panels laying on the roofs of some otherwise nondescript houses. Welcome to Canada. A couple of miles outside of town we started seeing the big arrays. We had never seen such large solar arrays anywhere in the sunny southeastern United States.

Then the windmills came on the horizon. They seemed to be turning perpetual cartwheels, doing a graceful syncopated dance along the horizon, lining Lake Erie. They are enormous, with long blades, like skinny arms. We saw some standing still, and some laying flat in the fields, waiting to be put together.windmill1

I’m not one to believe that there’s some panacea for the energy situation the human race has created. I know there are issues with every solution, but my preference is definitely towards harnessing that which shows no signs of diminishing, like wind and sun, as opposed to methods employed at the Athabaskan tar sands or in deep earth fracturing and hilltop removal for the sake of coal. There are a great many devils in the details, and all we can really do is get as educated as possible and make a decision. I am heartened to encounter a collective will in a nation to invest in the direction of renewable energy.

In many ways, Canada is not very different from the United States. Strip malls abound in the outskirts of Toronto, full of little shops, surrounded by big box stores. There are lots of folks in puffy black coats on the sidewalks. It is a little colder than we’re used to down home. One of the things I love about crossing the border is noticing the little things that ARE different. Like gi-normous solar panels in huge arrays by the highway. Like the fact that the authorities will seize your car and charge you $10,000 on the spot if you get caught speeding over 50 km beyond the speed limit. Like a year-long mostly paid maternity leave. Less McDonald’s, more Tim Horton’s. The deer are half again as large as the ones in our woods. There are differences, and we relish them when we come up for vacation.

I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people we’re going to Canada on vacation in November, but you know, we all have to do what works.snow crystals

Visiting my Fellow Man’s family is important for us. And the down time is precious. At first, it is almost uncomfortable to have so little to do. No phone. No internet. Our bodies and minds slowly unwind to this different pace, and different place. There are different angles to my thoughts and emotions, now that there’s more space and time to feel them.

And then there’s the general hilarity of a vacation with children. In this regard, we would be better off at a warm beach. The kids act like southern children. It snowed one night. Nothing major, just a serious dusting – enough to be exciting for people like us. The kids were ecstatic. They ran out onto the powdery white deck, in bare feet. They came howling back in and Levon didn’t want to go out for the rest of the day.

footprints in snowSocks and sweater suggestions are met with resistance each and every time. If we stayed long enough, I’m sure they would adjust and wear appropriate clothing. For a week’s worth of away-time, they’re content to get some of their ya-yas out in the living room of the cottage.barefoot in snow

So, here in the south end the Big North, the sky is deep and large and reflects its mood on the cold lake. The wind whistles strange harmonies in the evergreens, and makes interesting ripples in the water. Otters splash in the bay, and there are beaver chew marks along almost every lakeshore. Only one other house light shines in our view each night, far across the water.lake

We are basking in the quiet, the bare trees, and the break from our version of normal. As good as it has been, it only takes a week of buying groceries, even just filling in the blanks of what we didn’t manage to bring with us, to help us remember why we have chosen the life we have, and make us grateful to head home.sun on lake

thankful

Today, I’m thankful for the safe and effective installation of some new solar panels, which will bring us a little more light in the dark winter months.

fragileFirst, we had to convince the delivery driver to come down our road.  Some do, some don’t.  Between the heft of the package and the amount we paid for delivery, we were fairly determined to get it delivered to our door, and our determination worked.  Whew.

half way there

But that was really the easy part.  My Fellow Man built a simple frame, attached the panels, then strung them on a stout rope.  We got them half way up, to the easy part of the roof.

getting there

Then I had to climb up.  Heights aren’t my thing, and I wasn’t very helpful, but the panels didn’t fall off the roof, and neither did we.  panel down

Isn’t that great?  I’m thankful.