Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Corvallis Radicals

   
        One of the best things about living in Corvallis is the number of people who are working for change. We have Mr. Eager (yup, Eager), a retired OSU professor whose wife remembers pre-war Germany, who is interested in solar energy. So, they set up a two different systems of the roof of the passive solar house they built in the early nineteen seventies, to test which was more efficient on rainy days. If you visit, you can climb up to a rickety viewing platform to examine the panels closely, then drop down to the garage and see his records. And he’s considered fairly normal around here. Last Sunday, Mark and I hung out with two Corvallis radicals, each working on the local level for global change.

            First, we rode over to Jonathan’s house to see his new rainwater catchment system. Jonathan is so far ahead of the curve, he gives early adopters inspiration. A born tinkerer and engineer, he built a solar bike light a few years back because he could. His house is a model of sustainable living. First, it’s pretty darn small—about seven hundred square feet, with a garden in the back yard. Jonathan was one of the first in town to install light tubes and LEDs, to build a solar electric system to sell energy back to the company, to turn off his answering machine when he came home. He has solar hot water, runs his truck off of solar panels on the garage roof, and just decided to store some rainwater. It’s a cool system. One thousand gallon tank in the front of the house and two one hundred and fifty gallon tanks on the side. The plumbing is fairly straightforward—gutters direct the rain into the tanks-- but he has a leaf catcher and a first flush system so that what lands in the tanks is fairly clean. Then he assembled an aerator to keep the water from growing stagnant. It runs off of a solar panel on the roof and has all of it’s parts in a hand-made wooden box he found at Goodwill. All of the tanks are interconnected, so, as the big one fills, they all fill. And he just added a “leveler”, which is a weight hanging outside of the tanks to indicate water level. They were about a quarter full when we visited. We left feeling both very impressed and way behind the curve.

            The same day, we went out to Sunbow Farm for dinner. Harry, who was one of the founding members of Oregon Tilth and just ended a stint on the Board, is working on GMOs in the Willamette Valley, as well as The Bean and Grain Project, experimenting with what beans and grains will grow here as the climate changes. The talk at dinner was the GMO fight. They are putting forth a ballot measure for Benton County that gives rights to nature and takes way the rights of agricultural corporations. (Check out Benton County for Community Rights  for more info!)   Biologists, and farmers, and writers were all thinking about how and why to ban GMOs locally. Interesting work and dinner conversation.

            At the end of the day, I felt pretty thankful to be living here and now, in the Willamette Valley, in Interesting, and challenging, Times. There is a great deal fundamentally awry in the world, but I am surrounded by people who, rather than despairing, are leading the way in working for change. AND I get to eat dinner with them.

 

 

Deeply Rooted Split Pea Soup


Cook three cups of split peas in eight cups of water for several hours. The crockpot works really well for this!

Coarsely chop and add:
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1 onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • half pint jar of roasted tomatoes

Season with: cumin, allspice, salt, pepper, and thyme.

Cook for another hour or so. You could puree it, but I don’t. Eat with sturdy bread and salad. For Days.



            

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Oregon Winter Begins

Oregon Winter has begun.

 When the clocks are set back, I walk to school at sunrise and home at sunset. On a good day, the sky glows with fading sunlight; one a bad day, it is cold and rainy, but the air always smells of the ocean forty miles away. Someone has already hung colored Christmas Lights along the eves of the house; they balance out the pumpkins rotting on doorsteps. Seasonal transitions.

I read “Oregon Winter” to the class last week. Heads all nodded at the line “There will be months of rain.” Freshmen dream out the window during Thursday afternoon study hall, remembering warm sunshine on bare legs and long summer dusks. I know, because I am thinking of the same thing. At lunch, a junior puts down his physics homework to ask me if I have ever been to Ollallie Lake and we indulge in half an hour of trail and road talk.  When an absolute downpour passed through last week, we all stopped to watch the rain blowing sideways. The Christmas Cactus is in full bloom and the Swedish Ivy is dropping spent white flower petals on unsuspecting heads. The small white lights that I strung under the plant shelf warm the space—and make it possible to read near the windows on a dark morning. The scent of someone’s poptart lingers in the air. The room feels safe and colorful, if not warm (I have the coldest classroom in the building.).

At home, the house glows against the darkness. I’ve trimmed away the front plant hedge and raked up the fig tree leaves, which opens up the front of the house. The new fence is bright in the fleeting sun; it’s color reflected in the dying asparagus ferns and the hazelnut leaves. As the leaves fall, the catkins are revealed. Chickens and rabbit dash around the backyard when we come home before their bedtime. Pumpkins and squashes are stashed all over the house; the tablecloth has fall leaves and green grapes printed on it; my mother’s orange candleholders grace the mantle. We have a fire in the evening.
The sun is leaving; we bring the light inside and snug down for the winter.


Corn Chowder—total comfort food


Chop and sauté a medium onion in butter and olive oil. A leek is also nice.

Chop and boil until almost done a couple of cups of potatoes.

Add potatoes and potato water to the onions. Add a bag of frozen corn, some salt, pepper, and thyme. Cover with milk. Some days, I add some dried milk to thicken.


Eat with muffins.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday Night Suppers-- October

Broccoli, tomato and potato casserole

Applecake, pickled beets and cucumbers--Potluck Fare

Potato and black bean burrito with salsa verde
Autumn Minstrone and muffins

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pumpkin Spirits

     
      Pumpkin Spirits guard our house on the thinnest nights of the year. 

            The first two spirit guards are the big pumpkins, carved with faces. We light them in the house and carry them out  the  front door. We walk around the house—North, East, South, West, through two gates, asking the spirits to protect the space for the winter. Mark places his in front of the dining room door; it is a face made from leaves this year. I carry mine to the front steps; a huge smile and a third eye watch the night.  Gaurdian Spirits.
            The second  two  are carved gourds from Sunbow farm, with thick skins. The designs are simpler—triangles and slits let the light through. These leave via the back door and  round the house as well. As I walk, I remember all of the fruits of the gardens—grapes, raspberries, flowers, figs, tomatoes, greens—and we place these in the back veg garden. Mark’s is on the bridge, mine under the collard patch where the rabbit likes to hide. Garden Spirits.
            The third spirit gourds are actually two votive holders of pumpkin faces that have been in the family for years. I gave my mother one for her birthday when I was twenty years old; I just liked the smile. We carry these small figures out of the dining room and around the house, still heading clockwise. One sits on the potting bench; the other watches from the thick wooden plank in front of the fireplace. They look towards the house, leading spirits in. I tuck my mother’s glass pumpkin into the strawberry plants at the feet of Saint Francis. Guiding Spirits.
            At night, before we climb into bed, I look outside. Small golden lights gleam in the darkness.

Cornbread—the ideal potluck food


We had a potluck last weekend and I am always paranoid that there will not be enough food, so I make cornbread. This doubles nicely.

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
.25 c of white sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt

1 egg
.25 c of oil
.75 cup of milk

handful of berries

Mix dry together. Mix wet together. Mix the two and throw the berries in. Bake in a 350 0ven until done using the toothpick test.