Ready to Install

Solar Panels ArriveToday is the day!  Our solar panel installation begins. It somehow seems fitting that it begins on a new moon day. A few days ago, the solar panels were delivered to our back yard.

Meters

Then Central Maine Power came to install a second meter–one records what we use and the other records what we send to the grid.

Yesterday afternoon, the scaffolding was set up so they are ready to go this morning.

The installation generally takes about three days, including putting framing and panels on the roof and the electrical work inside. It is hard to believe it is finally happening after all these months! I promise to post more pictures as the work progresses.Solar Panels ready to go

Solar Energy

Solar Energy LeavesToday, as I walked in the woods, I was suddenly seeing all the leaves budding open as if they were little solar energy panels for the plants and trees–only much more beautiful and efficient than the solar energy panels we humans are able to make.  We are in those weeks when the plants are waking up and starting their solar production once more.  And our own celebration is to make a decision about solar energy, so that panels can be put on our roof as soon as possible.

Last week, we had a roofing company come to replace all the worn shingles, so the roof would be ready.  Then we read solar proposals and asked questions, and tried to decide between some great local companies who are installing solar panels in our area.  That was the toughest part of the decision.  We also took into consideration the total life cycle environmental impact of the panels themselves, and that helped us to choose SolarWorld panels which are made in the United States, and score high on all measures of environmental accountability and worker treatment.  Who knew there were so many factors to consider?

Meanwhile, my time has been very busy with church work, and I am sorry to have neglected this blogging.  Yesterday, I preached on a topic related to Faith Climate Action Week, and found this quote by Gus Speth, a U.S. advisor on climate change:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

It is good to be serving a congregation that is interested in such a cultural and spiritual transformation!  They support the changes Margy and I are making, and many other families are also asking how they can lower their carbon footprint.  We give each other hope and strength.

Paper

Innu Ally Work filesIn my sorting and packing and decluttering quest, I was all set to start tossing old file folders from the basement into the recycling bin, but it is proving harder than I first expected. I haven’t looked at these papers for at least ten years (since we moved into this house). Because of my allergies, I would have to wear a mask and gloves to go through them.  So the simplest thing would be to just toss them out.  But when I start to take a peak, they are like windows into the history of my life as an activist.  Here is a whole file cabinet about ally work that I was involved in, related to the struggles of the Innu of Nitassinan in Quebec, most of it from when I lived in Boston.

Boston Political workThen there is the box I haven’t opened in over 16 years, with this evocative label: “Boston/and Peace Camp Time: Political Groups /Resources/Issues/Conferences.” I am guessing I threw stuff in there as I was packing to leave Boston, but I don’t even know what it might include.

I also have a box from over 30 years ago, simply labeled “Politics, Etc.” from the time I lived in Grand Rapids and Chicago in 1980 to 1984.  I’ve moved it so many times.  My intention to simplify is crashing into my interest in the older stories of my life.  When I look at these artifacts, I remember activities and connections and struggles that I had almost forgotten.Grand Rapids Political work

I think about moderately famous authors and activists whose collections of papers end up in libraries and archives.  But I am not famous, and who knows whether any of this would have any value for anyone besides me.  Do I really want to carry around boxes and boxes of old paper? I want to live in a small house, and keep doing activist work in the present rather than to document the activist movements of the past.  But I just recently read about how one of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, saved everything.  Her papers are now available for research use in a library in California, I think.

When we give ourselves to the work of social change, we are “one in the number” (as Ella Baker said) of thousands of ordinary people lending our strength to a new vision.  Are our ordinary activist stories an important part of a history that someone may want to write in a future we cannot yet imagine? Or will that future itself be the only record of our work that is needed?

I do have some boxes of paper that I have already labeled “Archives.”  I would probably sort things differently if I had time to do it today, but when we moved to Maine, I made some filing and sorting choices about what to save and what to toss.  It is just that that sorting never gets finished, and some things came along without that kind of careful attention.  The boxes I always feel absolute clarity about saving are the boxes of my journals and writings and poetry.  During our last move, I even purchased archival quality boxes in which to store my old journals.

When I go deep inside, I know it is okay to let go of some of this paper; but perhaps it is also okay to wait, to bring along some of these old boxes, stash them in another basement or attic, and revisit them in a quieter time.  I don’t know.  What do you think?

We are planning to move in two and a half weeks.

 

Heat Pumps are In

Heat Pump Final TouchesYesterday, the final connections were made, and the heat pumps were up and running.  The outdoor unit sits 30 inches above the ground, so when it snows, it is up above the snow line.  But if snow blows into the unit, it is smart enough to know when to start defrosting itself. In fact, these machines are smart in many ways.  Our installer oriented us to all of their many features.  You can program them to sense a human being in the room, and either blow conditioned air toward them or around them.  Not that we need that feature.  But maybe on a hot day, when they are cooling the air?

You can also set them to efficiency mode, and they’ll figure out how to keep the air at a comfortable set temperature all on their own.  A wonderful feature of heat pumps is that they do both heating and cooling.  One of the symptoms that Margy faces from her chronic illness is a severe incapacity to tolerate heat. So it is a wonderful relief that our home will be safe and comfortable for her in all weather.  Heat pumps are efficient except when the outside temperature goes to 5 below zero.  For those very few ultra cold days, we have back up heat from the very efficient Buderus boiler that was already in the house.

We were chatting with the installer about the irony that, right now, with oil prices being so low, it may actually be less expensive to heat with the oil furnace than with the heat pumps which use electricity.  But once we have installed solar panels, we hope most of our electricity will come from the sun.  That is what will make these heat pumps an important contribution to our search for greener housing. For us, it isn’t just the price, but the desire to move away from fossil fuels that put too much carbon in the atmosphere.  For now, we set the thermostat to about 50 degrees, until we finally get to move in.

Heat pump in living room

The Blower Door Test

Blower Door Test

Today, Margy and I are working with our realtor to do the paperwork and photos to put our current house on the market. Lots of de-cluttering and packing up work to accomplish in a very short time.  So to give myself some extra energy for the day, I want to quickly write about our blower door test at the new house yesterday.  This technology measures air-exchange in the house, and thus, how well sealed and insulated your home.  One test is done before doing any work, and a second test after the work is done.  Our house passed with flying colors!

And here is why–last week they raised the level of the attic floor by eight inches, sealed cracks, and pumped in a whole bunch of insulation into the attic, and created an insulated hatch cover.  This might be the most important step we have taken for greener housing! It is good to remember that goal in the midst of all the hard work involved in making a move.

Attic Insulation

Cellulose insulation is also under the raised boards.

hatch and cover

The hatch box showing the eight inches that was raised up, and the hatch cover to the side.

Icicles

Icycles

Here is what a house looks like with NO insulation.  Icicles and potential ice dams.  We got a snow storm the day after our home performance company took out the old insulation, and then they had to wait a few days before they could put in new insulation. (Mold discovered and then remediated.)  Today they brought the big truck with a long hose and blew in cellulose insulation.  Almost done.  Hopefully, during the next storm there will be no icicles.Insulation hose

 

Contradictions

Maple on BirchwoodIn our search for greener housing, we’ve come upon a paradoxical sad choice. There is a large tree next to our new house, whose branches stretch dangerously over the roof.  If the branches get covered in too much snow, they might break and fall on the roof.  Also, they will block morning sun to our future solar array which is so important for our ability to stop using fossil fuels.

It turns out that this tree–we believe it is a maple–is on Portland Water District land.   At first we thought we could just prune the branches that were over the roof, but this would be quite a severe pruning.  I did some research online and learned that mature trees do not handle severe pruning well: pruning it as needed would likely cause the tree to deteriorate and eventually die. I never knew that before. The PWD doesn’t like the idea of pruning because it would cost as much as cutting it down, and then they’d have to come back later and deal with it at some point in the future.  I had a chat with the PWD right-of-way person today, and we’ve decided reluctantly to let them cut the tree down.

I am someone who listens to trees, and earlier, when I asked the tree about what to do, the tree expressed a willingness to sacrifice itself for the purpose of our moving into greater harmony with the earth.  It seemed so easy and gentle about it all.  But I feel so sad about it all. I love old trees. I love that this tree has multiple trunks and I can squeeze in the middle of them–though I also learned that multiple trunks are not as healthy for a tree.

I am not asking for advice here–just expressing the contradictory feelings that come up for me as we try to navigate our way forward into greener living. We plan to plant many trees on this land–most likely fruit trees and nut trees.  So we will give back when the season arrives.  We may be able to keep the mulch that is created by the process, to use in future gardens. But today, I just want to honor this grandmother tree, and her kindness and serenity and openness to the sincere and contradictory journeys of human travelers.