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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Community of Fire

“Last year you’d point somewhere and ask me if I see the tuft of Indian Grass,” said my friend Doug as we walked the prairie last week.  “But this year?  Just look at it.”  And borrowing his breathless awe, I did look.  Feathery plumes, raised head high on their slender stems, waving in the prairie breeze.   Not just one or two, but acre upon rolling acre.  And to think that four years ago this November, each plume was but a seed, embraced by the earth, an earth we hoped still remembered what it meant to be a prairie.  And by prairie, I don’t mean just grass or even wildflowers.  The Land had that already. 
By prairie I mean the community of fire.    Or more specifically---since all landscapes are defined by how often they burn---the community of frequent fire.  150 years ago our prairie vanished, along with all the others, not only under the screeching plow but under the silence of misunderstanding.  With fires extinguished, the trees, brush and fire-averse European grasses rolled across the landscape.  The prairie grasses, the fire’s fuel, suffocated.  And with the grass so went the community of fire.  The wildflowers, unashamed to show their colors.  The writhing horde of soil creatures (outweighing everything aboveground they say).  The hoofed migration, rumbling herds of elk and bison matching the loudest of the African savanna.  Some say that 2% of the prairie remains.  I’m afraid they’re referring to a mere collection of plants.  No, the community of fire is gone.  And I’ll never be able to convey my grief at its loss.
But I do hope to convey my gratitude for emerging Indian Grass.  How brave!  Yes, we planted some seeds of hope.  We returned the community’s spark of life:  fire.    And though the plow could return or the fires extinguished, still the Indian Grass dares rise to the sun and dance in the wind.  “You inspire me Indian Grass!”  And why not? 
We have so much in common.  Within our solar-powered Home the Land Built, I’m beginning to glimpse what the sun---the source of power for nearly everything---really is.  We too harvest the rain.  We too return our humanure to the soil.   Less obvious but even deeper, I wonder if our spirits share a similar past.  Like Indian Grass, mine too had withered somewhat under the screeching plow of monetary pursuit and the silence of life-postponed.  “I’ll start really living one of these days.”    Then grace planted within me a single seed.  A spark was lit.  And when the flames roared skyward, scorching the dry remains of my stagnant and withered ways, a new and courageous spirit rose from the ashes.  Perhaps I too am a member of the community of fire. 
Now, as I gaze out the bank of south-facing windows---swallows zigzagging between sunset-lit Indian Grass---I can feel it: the pulsing life in the floor of the sky   This is the life I’ve dreamed of.  This is the life here for me now; all I need do is reach skyward.  This is the life of the community of fire. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rainwater Harvest

Home the Land Built harvests the abundance of the Land:  boxelder for warmth, sunlight for electricity and hot water, and now, finally, the rain for our water.   
A year ago, had you asked which alternative system would be the most challenging, I would not have answered rainwater harvest.  It’s just water off the roof for goodness sake.  Then again, had I really thought about it, there are more components in the rainwater harvest system than any other. 
There’s the steel roof for harvesting (collecting an amazing 1000 gallons per inch of rain).  The gutter, buried  pipes and cistern pump for transport.  The cistern and water crock for storage.   Three filters and the first flush diverter for cleaning.  Still, most of the components are fairly simple.  Except, as I found out, for one.
The Clean Rain first flush diverter---attached to the bottom of each of the three downspouts--- is sometimes called a roof washer.  By diverting the first 50 gallons of rainwater away from the cistern, we avoid harvesting everything that’s collected on the roof and gutter since the last rain:  bird pooh, stagnant gutter water, dust and pollen.  I saw a couple systems where they accomplished this manually, simply by turning a valve a few minutes after the rain begins.  But the Clean Rain does this automatically, and very cleverly I might add.  Spongy washers swell, pressing a ball over the diverter pipe thereby directing water down the cistern pipe.  At least that’s the theory.  Our reality, since installing the rainwater harvest system in May, is that the Clean Rain never worked.  It diverted all the rainwater away from the cistern and out into our yard. 
I’d problem-solved with the friendly folks at the Rainharvest Store, but to no avail.  During my last call, both sides felt like maybe it’s time to give up, take out the Clean Rain and install a manual system.  Quite depressed, neither of us had any more good ideas.  Fortunately fate did. 
When Mike the Mason came to lay the limestone over our concrete porch walls, he said the east porch diverter was in his way.  As I removed the diverter, I saw my big ah-hah!  There was another filter---a filter I didn’t know about it---and it was plugged.  “Water could never get through that and into the cistern”, I thought.  Now I was excited.  I removed the next diverter.  “Same problem!” I told Linda.  One to go.  And when I tore that one off and found it’s filter clogged I jumped onto the website.  Mosquito filters!  Sure a mosquito might survive in a backyard rain barrel, but not in our cistern.  I ditched the filters and reassembled the diverters.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited. 
Then, on Saturday morning, it rained.  And rained.  And as it rained some more I rushed out onto the east porch.  Water was gushing out of the downspout and into the diverter and only a little seemed to trickle out of the downspout.  “I think we’re harvesting,” I shouted to Linda.  “But there’s only one way to know for sure.” 
With herculean strength I could have slipped the manhole cover off the cistern and peered down but instead I ran to the bottom of the hill.  And there, where Excavator Steve terminated his overflow pipe---designed to carry water away from the cistern when its full and overflowing---gushed water.  Rainwater!  Glorious harvested rainwater bubbling like a spring.  Since we'd just paid Milk Truck Dustin to deliver 5000 gallons of city water, the newly harvested rainwater represented an overflowing abundance.
An hour later, umbrella in hand, I went to look again.  “What are you doing?”  Linda asked as I sloshed back inside.  I was in denial.  After all this time I just couldn’t believe it was working.  And that now, the whole house was working.   I felt so grateful for Home the Land Built, harvester of wood, sunlight and now, finally now, the rain.