ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Approaching the Solstice

The Earth is leaning ever so slightly toward the Sun, if you are lucky enough to be in the Northern Hemisphere. Our southern neighbors are on the short end of that stick, but the time signature of the year is dictated by the circular route we all take around the Sun. The long days and short nights have influenced farmers, lovers and poets through the ages. Even though we know more than ever about the hows and whys of the process, the mystery of it still captures our collective imagination. even though, or perhaps especially because we live modern lives that are noticeably out of balance, just realizing that the earth leans as far one way as the other during the course of the year can give us a sense that everything is alright.

This year, we are headed North. It will be the furthest north I have ever been for a Solstice in my entire life. As a consequence, the day will be the longest that I have ever experienced. The night will be the shortest as well. Friends along the shore of Lake Superior have told me that because of the extra daylight hours, they can catch up with their southern farming friends because the extra hours of growth each day far outweigh the weeks of extra frost and cold that they get in both the Spring and Fall. I have been along the South Shore of Lake Superior for several July Fourth celebrations and the fact that they needed to wait until nearly eleven o'clock at night before it was dark enough for fireworks made me realize in a very profound way, that we are on a massive, spinning sphere.

When we seek to understand the world around us, we often forget that the location we are in has a profound impact on what we see, who we share it with and what sort of neighbors we may, or may not have. In the North, we may get to hibernate a bit longer, but working dawn to dusk will more than offset any rest that we may have during the cold times of year. It is quite odd to look to the northeast after midnight and to see the sky starting to lighten, even before we go to sleep. Often, when I camp out, I like to be up before the Sun. The further north we go, the earlier the Sun will reappear each morning of the Summer. Creatures of the night must have a bit of difficulty during these times, just because they have to get their foraging done between sunset and sunrise.

Each year on this weekend, the one closest to the Solstice, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association  hosts the Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. It is one of the greatest events. Typically there are about 40,000 folks who are interested, curious, passionate about and committed to renewable energy, sustainability and taking care of the planet for the next seven generations. I have been going to the fair nearly since the beginning. It has been an annual event for over twenty-five years. Although there have been many technological advances over that time, the basic intent has not changed. Those of us who have continued to work for positive change have seen remarkable things occur over that time.

In my own home, I still don't have much that runs on solar energy or wind power, but my electricity and fuel use have been steadily reduced to the point that i probably could sustain myself on solar panels and a small wind spinner. My rental, which absorbs a large part of my time, money, attention and cash flow has had a solar panel for several years. It produces about 1/3 of the heat for the building and has been adapted to provide hot air for the dehydration of food during the warmer seasons. I continue to give thanks for the opportunity to to utilize our closest star for heat. Even at the winter solstice, as long as the clouds are thin, we pull eighty degree air out of the panels and duct it into the living space. The entire unit runs on a very efficient squirrel cage fan.

One of my favorite ECO-Tours is to take guests on tours of the renewable energy systems that I have installed, explain their components, show them how they work together and share a bit of the love I have for these technologies with others, pointing out how simple they are and how we can each live a little more lightly on the planet if we just learn the difference between wants and needs, how to meet our needs at the least cost and with the least throughput and waste. It is empowering to help begin the process with others that we must each tackle in our own way to make sense of the tools and techniques that are available for living sustainably and begin to figure out what makes the most sense for our unique situations.

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