We’re in-between. Sometimes warm. Sometimes cold. Sometimes bright. Sometimes dim. Back in my 4140 life, I had little awareness of this shoulder season, perceiving only that there was indeed a brief period between too-hot-to-sleep and too-cold-to-sit-on-porch. We called this often-pleasant time fall or autumn. We programmed the thermostat for 68F daytime and 60F night and the natural gas powered furnace warmed us as needed. And electricity---consistently available as ever---was forgotten really, except for the monthly auto-pay notice. I thought even less about hot water. It was just there, like my jacket in the hallway.
No more! Grabbing me by the collar, Home the Land Built shakes me and shouts, “Its shoulder season!”
We learned last April---during the other shoulder season---that the masonry heater becomes useless. By the time I got the heater really going, a good 4 days, it was warm outside. “Turn that thing off,” complained Linda as she stripped down to t-shirt. Though I’ve stacked wood in the garage, we’ve yet to fire up the heater.
We rely on passive and active solar, sunlight through the south-facing bank of windows and excess solar water pumped through the concrete floor. Strangely, Home the Land Built experiences the temperature range as 4140: 60F to 68F. But the 68F is fleeting, felt only for an hour, late in the afternoon on a sunny day. And I mean a sunny day. Not diffused light through high thin clouds. Not passing popcorn clouds. Not sunny until 2 and then clouds. Of these differences---unable to perceive at 4140---I’m now hyper-aware.
And in the fading light, both electricity and hot water are noticeably less. While the sun still does a far better job of generating electricity than hot water (we’ve used the backup LP hot water but not the backup generator) my mind is far more on the electricity. As it spit rain today, I must have checked the battery status hourly, actually clapping my hands when it reached 100% on a late afternoon sun rally. Why does the electrical steal my attention away from the hot water? Because when low, the electrical requires me to do something: start the tractor-powered generator. The hot water automatically switches to LP when the sun fails to heat the 80 gallon water tank above 100F.
When Linda and I asked architect Paul to design a home which connected us to the Land, we “thought” that solar might do it. I mean there it is, beaming right into our batteries, windows and hot water tank. But now I learn that it matters whether I’m involved or not when the sun fades away. The mere “threat” of needing to start the generator engages me more, connects me more to the Land, than an automated hot water backup that is actually being used.
I didn’t say that I always like this connection, this heightened awareness of real solar energy. At work I used to tell my mentees that the secret to success was becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. And now so must I. If it rains tomorrow I will don a raincoat and walk amongst my teachers in the prairie. “How do you do it Indian grass? You love warm. You love sunny. For gosh sakes you eat the sun! What secrets can you share?” But I wonder if even the sun-wisdom of Indian grass can help my fully connect.
You see, I’ve been grabbed by the collar and not-so-gently informed of another shoulder season. Three weeks from today is election today. Important? I suppose. But not compared to the next day, Wednesday November 7, the day of Linda’s double hip replacement. That day is now close enough to feel, like a cloud approaching from the horizon. Yet we cannot see the cloud nor know for sure what it portends.
I’m very hopeful. Hip replacement seems the closet thing there is to a sure deal. Its worked miracles for everyone we’ve known. Yet the process seems complex and automated, that I struggle to connect to it.
So, in these challenging shoulder seasons, my connection remains with the sun, where so much light lives. And with Linda, where so much love lives.