Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back from the Black Abyss - Life off the Grid

After two dark, wind-free weeks, the batteries storing the last of our solar and wind power were finally tapped out, and we were left in the dark. It is not unusual for us to have a day or so where we have to be aware of our power usage, but two weeks felt oppressive. Kurt and I have been carefully alternating between our cottage and the Mercantile; we would do vital things (like grind coffee beans!) in whichever had a smidge more power.

But by last Saturday, the entire village was on “black power.” Green power is when the batteries are full, and electricity is plentiful. From there it goes to yellow, to orange, to red, and finally to black, when the inverter (essentially the on/off switch) is shut off. I opened the Mercantile in the dark, wrote out our monthly food order from the natural foods distributor huddled by the glass-paned front doors, and did everything I could think of while there was still weak daylight. By 5:00 p.m. we had the candles lit.

We’ve learned many tricks to living without power and by candle light – taller tapers are much better to read by than pillars, for example. Three tapers surrounding one’s book on the table (one on each side, one at the top) provides plentiful illumination. But we both find ourselves getting sleepy earlier, and are often in bed by 8:30. (Oh, how they party at the Ecovillage, she says sarcastically!). Additionally, we've got spots of wax everywhere - all over the table cloth, on books, on end tables, even on our shoes (carrying a taper in an elegant glass candleholder to the bathroom and back is often hazardous to one's footwear). Ack!

More problematic are things like the water pump – we have plenty of water in the cistern, but it takes electricity to get it from there up through the filter and into the faucet. Things we take for granted suddenly became things we were forced to consider.

I went to Rutledge and bought three blocks of ice. One went into the fridge in our house (which we had turned off), turning it into an old fashioned “ice box.” The other two went into the Mercantile freezer, which was the only thing plugged in over there.

For dinner, and for potlucks, I made items that did not require a mixer, a blender or a food processor. I had memories of my grandmother who always baked from scratch and never used a mixer – she beat the butter and sugar together BY HAND, and then added eggs and beat them in BY HAND. Whooeeee. I never knew what a powerhouse of an arm she must have had! I tried it for a batch of no-knead bread and it was just about all I could do – I was worn out.

When we moved here, I did not sign up for a Little House on the Prairie life. I am not looking to create a "simpler" time with no power. I'm more into being comfortable in a way that feels more sustainable than how I lived in a city. I enjoy lights, computers, and my KitchenAid mixer.

And then the winds came. Like the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness receiving manna, or the pioneer Mormons welcoming the seagulls to eat the crickets devouring their crops, the bit of sun and fierce, blustery wind have come to save us. For two days now the wind has been raging, sending our wind turbine into paroxysms of activity. We gleefully watch the numbers on the trimetric box (which shows the percentage of fullness of batteries, and the amps coming in to the system) climb higher and higher – we are currently at 87%.

So we are grateful. And humble.

That’s it for now – I’m going to go jump up and down outside in the sunshine and wind!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heckety said...

When we packed to leave East Africa people laughed at me packing our kerosene lamps- 'you know they have electricity in Ireland', sez they. Well they do, and I still can't take it for granted!

MichelleMermaid said...

I think this is a good example of the benefits of being hooked up to the grid. If you are making your own electricity most of the year, who cares if you use from the grid during rough times in the middle of winter? You've earned it!
You make a good point that you aren't wanting to go back to Little House on the Prairie times, I don't either. The point is to get enough people producing their own electricity so that it does have an impact on the system as a whole.
Nice blog. I enjoyed reading it. :)