“What should I get first, solar hot water or solar electric?”
By now, nearly six hours into my first Solar Home Tour, my ringing ears struggled to hear, let alone discern who, amongst a cellar-full of the off-grid curious, actually asked the question. Part of me knew it was a good question, the kind of question I love. But unlike the solar electric batteries on the far cellar wall---refilled to an amazing 99% under a brooding sky---my own batteries were unable to tickle my enthusiasm. “Ummm…solar hot water,” I finally said, no longer capable of responding as she deserved.
I stumbled upstairs and plopped down on the window seat next to Tori, our tour helper. Apparently there’s a gage on my face similar to the invertor’s battery depletion status. “You need a cookie,” said Tori. So right! I’d paid better attention to the electric’s battery than my own. I grabbed a Mundt’s Bakery chocolate chip cookie off the serving plate.
I don’t know how we would have managed without Tori and her solar-knowledgeable boyfriend Nic. They greeted the steady stream and showed them around until joining the next Linda or Mike tour. We never dreamed so many people would drive so far---40 minutes from anywhere if you can find it---just to hear us babble about our off-grid, rainwater harvest, composting toilet, masonry heater home. Many were drawn by the excellent article on our house in the Winona Daily News. But that’s not the only reason.
I sensed so much enthusiasm! They loved our house. They loved what we were doing. And yes, they loved our toilet, even when packed like sardines into our modest bathroom; the surprise hit of the tour. My only regret was not getting the time to hear why they’d really come. I could see it in their faces. They were witnessing something here that they wanted. Beyond PV. Beyond well-charged batteries. Beyond a composting toilet. Had I not been so in need of a chocolate chip cookie I might even have taken a moment to draw it out.
“Solar hot water or solar electric?” my better self replies now in a daydream. “I don’t think there’s one answer to that. In the end, solar panels are just stuff. Cool, maybe even sexy, but stuff nevertheless. What matters is what this stuff does for our lives. Linda and I birthed Home the Land Built to enable our connection to the Land and welcome family and friends. All this stuff just helps us do that. So if you would, please share why you’re really here today, aside mere curiosity about our edgy lifestyle. What burdens would you wish lifted? What dreams do you dare approach? Then perhaps we could talk about solar hot water or solar electric or LED bulbs or composting toilets and see which of these make sense for you.” With that kind of conversation, and a couple chocolate chip cookies, I could have gone for another six hours.
This afternoon I walked my own private Solar Home Tour. Down Pheasant Run, autumn-blazed prairie grass waving fronds over my head. Past the ever-falling limbs of mother tree, alive now with migrating sparrows, whose names I seem to know though not their species. The cool October air, finally cleaned of harvest dust by the first rain in a month, soothed my anxious lungs. Overhead, the gray dome felt now like a comforting blanket. What glory! those tumbling clouds, their droplets warmed and lifted from distant oceans by the sun. What glory! the autumn-blazed prairie grass, the ruin of mother tree, their each and every carbon molecule electro-chemically nabbed out of thin air by the power of the sun.
Solar hot water. Solar electric. I love my solar home.
I’m a lucky man!