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Ah, the simple life: partaking of the beauty and bounty of nature. Free as a breeze.

Gary hoping for no wind as he installs the turbine

The breeze—our new Air Breeze wind turbine, that is—is neither simple nor free, as it turns out. The tower was free; friends in town happened to have an old one. Gary hurried to dig a three-foot hole before the first hard freeze and fixed the tower’s base in cement.

We knew we were in trouble as we struggled to get the next 10-foot section of this metal tripod settled onto the base, which topped out at about seven feet above ground. Heavy and unwieldy, it waved awkwardly in the air and threatened to crash before we got it settled. Gary thought better of simply trying to muscle up the next 10-foot section; he affixed a pulley rope so I could assist. The tripod had to be lifted up above the 17-foot target, then down very carefully. Gary looked awfully vulnerable even tied in as he was to the tower and ladder. We decided three of the four sections would have to be enough, and counted ourselves lucky to get that third one fixed without a major mishap.

That turned out to be the easy part. I tried to find something useful to do near, but not too near, as Gary hooked up the turbine. Ella was nervous too, and I couldn’t distract her even with a game of fetch. Eventually we discovered the turbine didn’t work, and Gary had to take it down. He was not happy. After failing to get anything more helpful than a ticket number from customer service in response to our e-mail on Monday, we drove into town Thursday to call tech support. We got someone live, but after running several tests this past Friday, we were back in town again on Monday to ship it back for repair. It will take weeks to get it back. Meanwhile, we’re losing about an hour of sunlight every week, so we ordered a second turbine and are having it delivered to my cousin Glenn, who will bring it this weekend when he comes to close up his cabin for the winter.

The complexity of the simple life didn’t escape my former colleagues. When I was planning my move, the logistics of daily life were a staple of conversation at work.

A couple of months ago in the lunchroom, Ashley asked “What about energy? You have a back-up generator, don’t you?”

I knew we had solar, but I hadn’t heard anything about a back-up generator. Now I know: we have solar panels on the roof, propane for the stove and refrigerator, propane and battery-powered lamps and, yes, a gas back-up generator. In addition to the new wind generator, Gary‘s expanding the solar array; he also bought a larger gas back-up generator. We use wood for heat.

Some of you have heard the story about the wood. Dave, the gas-delivery guy, told Gary that someone named Mel might deliver logs out our way. Mel has a phone but no e-mail; Gary has e-mail but no phone. So I called Mel from San Francisco back in July. We talked a few times about the price, delivery, and the mix of birch and spruce, settling on 75 percent birch, which burns hotter, and 25 percent larger-diameter spruce Gary could mill for lumber. Mel needed to know if he’d be able to pull in and turn his 60-foot trailer truck around on the property, so I called Dave, who had just delivered some fuel.

Ella checks out the wood delivery

“Tell Mel he’ll be able to turn around fine,” Dave told me.

Mel was happy to hear it and confirmed, “That will be $2,100 cash. We should be there Tuesday or Wednesday next week.”

“Cash? As in a check, or would that be cash-type cash?” I asked.


“Oh. OK. I’ll make sure Gary will be ready for you by Tuesday.”

New woodshed under construction.

There’s an ATM in town an hour away, but no bank. It would take Gary several trips to town to withdraw that kind of money. So what else could I do? I got the cash, put it in an envelope, put the envelope in a magazine, put the magazine in another envelope, and sent it.

But wood, source of warmth and light through the ages, that’s still one of the simple things in life, right?

Here I am tossing split wood toward woodshed for stacking

Well, Gary had to build a third woodshed, which at 8-feet by 16-feet now looks to be too small by half. Every day he cuts logs with his chainsaw until it runs out of gas and then splits the wood with an axe. My job is to toss it into the truck bed, drive it to the woodshed, and stack it. It’s all ready to use–well, it will be next year, after it’s dried. This wood was just logged and is still green. Since we can’t wait until next year, we’ll use Gary’s supply of well-cured spruce to get the green birch burning.

Next time: In Part II I’ll talk about the complex simplicity of some of the other logistics of daily living: water, washing and (for those of you eagerly awaiting or wanting to avoid the topic), the whole outhouse thing.

Sights and Surprises

We went to town Monday to mail off the defective turbine; then on to the local bar/café to do some laundry and—since we were there—take a shower. There’s a whole story for another time about our experience in what is one of the least likely places for any sort of exercise in cleaning. That ordeal over, we dropped in on some of Gary’s friends. I’ve met about three percent of the town’s population now; these are wonderful people with a culture of real hospitality.

At the first home, our host warmed our coffee with whiskey—to help me warm up from the near-freezing shower. By the time I finished my second cup I was plenty warm. We stayed on for a hot and spicy bowl of chicken soup, and I noticed a Canadian Jay and several birds I didn’t recognize at the red feeders hanging just outside the kitchen window. Suddenly I realized that one of the feeders was a rib cage, maybe 18 inches long, and the other looked to be the vertebrae of the same animal, whatever it was.

The next home we visited was small even compared to ours, but our friends—Gary’s friends, my new friends—somehow found room for a banana tree, which had survived many winters in its indoor garden.

It was after 8 that evening when we got on the road to go home.  Gary had told me that the sure way to see a moose was to leave the rifle at home.  He did, and we did! An enormous moose cow crossed the road right in front of me. No risk of an accident, though, at the slow pace required on our little highway!

Sunrise: 7:34 am
8:04 pm
High 55 °  Low 35°
Cloudy morning, sunny afternoon