I’ve got cleaning! No, there is no smiley. I’ve got gardening! (okay, bit of smiley). So here’s something past. In Maine Metaphor R. is called Allen. (In case you are wondering.)
“The Overgrown Road” is the name of a chapter part of which tells of our visit up to Paul’s place. If one is not possessed of a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle, one huffs and puffs her way up his hill. As we neared the top, Allen and I saw the stone and cedar-shake house through white spindly birches. From here it looks like a modern spacious Middle American home. But, as we gained the summit, a difference appeared: His stonework is rustic, made of glacial till from his gravel pit. It’s not the precious professional masonry found in upscale neighborhoods. The sunny house, sitting above the surrounding garden plot, and circled by the pale green of spring trees, had its roof raised by friends and neighbors on a Saturday morning.
Paul’s house is not hooked up to CMP, Central Maine Power. No network of wires connects it to an erector-set substation or the nuclear generator at Wiscasset. Commercially generated electricity hasn’t made it to this part of the township. When he first built up here he used an eight kilowatt wind generator. But a bolt of lightning followed the cables into the basement of that first structure—a wooden one. His handbuilt house was burned to the ground.
Today we pass photovoltaic solar panels glinting in the yard. These provide power to light his lamps and run the refrigerator in the new stone house. Keeping food fresh up on this hill is no small feat. Five hundred watts worth of panels produce power even on cloudy days. He uses storage batteries to save up the day’s sun. Several batteries in series provide 120 volts of direct current. He uses an inverter for non-DC appliances. It converts the 120 volts DC into 120 volts AC, a difficult electrical trick. The alternating current is an imitation of the pure sinewave which the electric company produces. According to Allen (an electrician by trade), the imitation is produced by turning DC on and off in stepped sequence: first in one direction or polarity, then in the other. The result is a jagged-looking sinewave. Filter capacitors then smooth out the jags enough to trick motors and AC appliances into thinking they’ve got the real thing, CMP’s thing. Having an iced drink at Paul’s house is a feat. It signifies patience and a willingness to deal attentively and effectively with the astronomical source of all our energy and food.
We found Paul around the corner of the house, working on an old roto-tiller, having a time getting it started after a winter’s idleness. It was the first week in May and the garden was waiting. He smiled and stopped work instantly upon seeing us. As Allen and he talked about the vagaries of post-winter roto-tillers, I looked around at the surrounding contour of hills visible through greenly budding treetops on all sides.
entry part of MAINE METAPHOR, used with permission of Wipf and Stock publishers.