When Locus Architect Paul showed us his first crude drawings I knew---or imagined that I knew---that Home the Land Built would connect me to the rhythms of the sun. How could it not? There’s the solar panels, generating power whenever the sun shines. And the bank of windows, all seven facing south where the sun lives. Even the 2.5 foot overhang above the windows, shielding us from hot summer sun, inviting in the light when the sun is low and cool. Yet there is one solar connection I’d missed entirely. Perhaps Paul knew it. Or perhaps he too will be surprised to hear what I've learned. We’re breathing ice. We’re breathing fire!
All because of passive solar, that low---supposedly anemic---November sun slanting through the south-facing bank of windows, painting the concrete floor, warming us like a greenhouse. By 11AM, even though its only 15F outside, its raised the temperature inside from 68F to 76F. “Ah summer!” I say, stripping down to shorts and a t-shirt. Just when I was contemplating a refreshing umbrella drink, I hear a party-ending groan.
“I’m so-o-o-o-o HOT!!!”. It was Linda. Poor Linda, barely 2 weeks after having both hips replaced. Confined to the now sun-scalded recliner, her ravaged and drugged body regulates temperature with the skill of a block of concrete. Mostly too cold. No longer.
Almost puking she begs, “Open a window. Please? Open a window.” OK. I’ll admit I hesitated. I loved the heat. And besides, I’d just had an epiphany. We only needed one masonry heater fire a day, not two, when the sun shines. Not that I mind starting fires. I mean what could be more thrilling than a roaring inferno in the middle of your home? But this passive solar was just way too amazing. Who would have thought that here in Minnesota, the sun could play a major role in home heating, without anything fancier than efficient south-facing windows?
Pop! My passive solar bubble burst. Of course I’d open a window. I might be an imp, but I’m no demon. I could see how truly miserable she looked there in the chair. Cranking open the lower window in front of her, I felt the bite of the incoming air falling upon my feet. She still looked miserable. Off to the bathroom, I flicked on the exhaust fan, sucking a cool breeze past the recliner. Past Linda. “Ah-h-h-h!” She felt better. And just as slight disappointment rose within me---the end of my passive solar heating dream---a new thrill filled my lungs.
Fresh air! It’s winter outside and I've not only got a window open but---like a hot summer day---I've got a fan going. Not that there’s a shortage of fresh air here on the Land. There’s a greater abundance of fresh air than anything. I've never let the cold fresh air just pour in. My epiphany was this: Instead of burning less wood when the sun’s fire heats our home, what if we pull the cold air in? Inhale the Land. Breathe the winter’s ice. Breathe the sun’s fire.
And I guess that’s been the trick of Linda’s recovery. Ice and fire. Literally she’s wrapped in ice right now, trying to shrink both her swollen legs and her surgical pain. And before icing she fired up her legs muscles, dutifully performing the exercises, strengthening her cut and reattached hip muscles. Then there’s her Zimmer implants. Once cold and lifeless, they’re now being transformed---one breath at time by oxygen-guzzling mitochondrial fires---into Linda.
And then there’s our life. Her bone-on-bone arthritic hips were descending her, and me at times, into a winter. Not only the constant pain, but the nearly frozen hip joints slowly isolated her from the Land, forcing her inside. The air became stale. We knew we needed to open a window but how? There was only one way.
Add a lot more heat! Scalpel, drill, hammer. Neighbors, family, friends. Faith, focus, fire.
Now our days---though spent inside, mostly in front of the bank of windows--- feel anything but stale. As I type, she’s working an old puzzle on the dining table: Minneapolis, 1984, the year we were married. Exhale the old. Breathe in the new.
My is she feeling new. “I think I want to try walking outside today.” Why not? November’s morning clouds are finally breaking. The firelight of the sun, slanting through the bank of windows, is beginning to warm Home the Land Built. Soon she’ll back away from the puzzle and groan. “Open a window.” And I will. Breath of ice. Breath of fire.
And as the sun warms our greater home, perhaps we’ll open the door, and walk out onto the porch, onto the driveway. And breathe. Ice AND fire.