“Come look here.” Tom grins and walks over to the lamp on the kitchen counter. It’s late afternoon and he has been working hard here all day. He reaches for the lamp plug and leans over the counter to one of the new virgin outlets he’s installed over the past weeks to electrify this old off-grid hippy house.
“Is this IT!?” I say, and then run out onto the lanai to call the Bearded One. “Electricity!” I holler, and the Bearded One leaves the site of Moby Dick (the downed cedar he’s making into a jungle gym for little kids) –
and all the hugelkultur beds (dirt atop rotting tree limbs) –
he’s constructing from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Iselle’s debris to witness the birth of the first electricity to travel through our new wiring.
Snap. The dining room is bathed in light.
The dark tongue and groove wood of the room glows. But the most amazing thing is the silence. No generator is on. Silent light. This electricity is from four bright-green solar batteries under the house which cost about $500 each and come charged. They will last 15-20 years if we take care of them well, not letting their charge get below 75% and adding distilled water to them monthly.
“IT WORKS!” Tom says. We clap and hug and decide to celebrate the moment sitting around the vintage wooden card table I bought at a garage sale last week for $15 —
and drink Coke (the Bearded One), Mountain Dew (Tom) and potable water (me) and bask in the color and the quiet.
Tom sat here earlier on this long hot and humid day with his computer, studying electrical connection diagrams. Now he sits back and stares off into space. Sweat streams down our faces. It’s the tropics.
A breeze rustles the palm leaves outside and then fingers its way through the screens and across the room. “The trades are coming back,” Tom says and the Bearded One and I both pray he’s right. In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve experienced the first direct hit hurricane in 150 years, a volcanic eruption and lava flow slowly descending Kilauea toward our closest town, and the hottest, muggiest September since the 1940s.
Tom tells us he’ll be back tomorrow to hook up the big new propane generator, which will fill the four bright-green solar batteries on rainy days.
Our nine solar panels are installed on the roof, but not hooked up yet. A needed part was shipped Fed Ex priority, but ended up on a barge for 4 weeks, so we’re living on batteries (juiced up with a big generator an hour or so a day) without solar panels.
This is okay. The Bearded One and I are saturated with new information at each increment of this path. Now it’s learning to nurture batteries for a long life.
Tom packs up his tools and by the time he says good-bye, it’s close to 6pm and getting dark. The Bearded One and I sit down again and are discussing how batteries and fancy electric cables are now a fact of life and that he must get another propane tank since we have another mouth to feed (generator), when there is a loud knock on the door. The Bearded One hops up. It’s Tom. He charged his computer in his truck all day, and then ended up staying longer than he thought.
He just stands in the doorway for a long moment, looking mildly flummoxed but still grinning as he asks, “Got any jumper cables?”