Rain and Cold

This is the biggest one of its kind I've ever found--and don't worry, I really, really know how to tell the edible from the Death Angel!

This is the biggest one of its kind I've ever found--and don't worry, I really, really know how to tell the edible from the Death Angel!

I’ve been a Bad Blogger—neglecting this page for far too long.  All I can say in my own defense is that sometimes other aspects of my life get a bit overwhelming, and if I’m writing intensely on a larger project it’s often hard to come back to the computer and write a blog post at the end of the day.

But today my friends are in Copenhagen protesting at the Climate Change Forum.  I’m in Cazadero, doing my bit for climate change by trying to get my microhydro system working now that the rains have come.  I’ve also been doing some work with Transition USA, part of the worldwide Transition Network that supports ordinary people to organize their towns and neighborhoods to  plan from a transition to a low carbon future.   Among other things, I did two webinars—online seminars—on decision making and group process.  They’re recorded and you can view them at:


I offer them as a resource for any group trying to organize around anything, so please feel free to use them.  They are part of one of those long-term projects—a book on the same subjects that I’m working on now.

The transition here from summer to winter is dramatic.  From drop-counting water scarcity, suddenly we’re in abundance.  The streams are flowing, the water tank is full, the hills are green.  Water is pounding on the skylights and dripping through the roof (well, that’s not so great!)  We have a dearth of sun for our solar panels, but will momentarily have an abundance of electricity, as soon as I get that system running again.

I get a bit obsessive about my hydro.  Perhaps this is something to take into account when we consider the transition to a carbon free future.  My solar panels require no attention.  My batteries require careful monitoring and regular watering—they’re a bit like having a pet.  But my hydro is like having a cranky child, that only  I truly understand.  It needs burping.  Occasionally it’s little valves need to unclogged and cleaned out.  The intake needs desilting.  It only works when the stream is flowing—and really it could drive you mad except that when it works, it works 24 hours a day, churning away, making that sweet electric current that lets you write posts about climate change with such a sense of smug superiority.

My hydro system when its working...I didn’t quite get there.  I arrived, after having been away for a couple of weeks, after dark in a rainstorm.  Buck and Greg had followed my instructions the day before and turned the system on, but reported that it wasn’t making electricity.  I clambered down to look at the pelton wheel which required climbing over two fallen trees in the dark, getting my jeans wet, and first thought the problem might be a clogged nozzle, because the pressure gauge said the pressure was way up.  The pressure gauge hasn’t actually been working accurately—but I’d adjusted for that.  So I clambered back over the fallen trees, getting wetter, went and got the hex wrenches from the house, climbed back over the trees again, and stood out in the rain, flashlight in my mouth, to unscrew the four difficult-to-reach screws that hold each nozzle into place.  It took a long time to unscrew them—and I am always afraid I’ll drop one and lose it in the stream, but I finally got the nozzle free and inspected it.   Nothing was clogging it.  When I turned the system on, a thin trickle of water dribbled out—no more.

I came up with a new theory—the nozzles weren’t clogged, but the pressure gauge was lying and the problem was clearly lack of water pressure.  Perhaps I’d forgotten to turn the system on up at the intake?  I screwed the nozzles back in—which also took some time because by that time I wasn’t thinking real clearly and it took me a while to remember that I had to turn the wrench clockwise.

Then, in the pouring rain—and this is the mark of true obsession—I decided to hike out in the dark to the intake and turn it back on.  The intake is up the stream, down a dark path through the woods exactly 1700 feet from the pelton wheel.  (I know, because we had to buy, lay and bury that much pipe!)  So I clambered back over the trees and headed up along the stream, getting even more wet, slipping on mud, ducking under other fallen trees and pushing my way through the branches of trees which had planted themselves in the midst of the old logging road which constitutes the path and had unaccountably grown to block the road.

Getting wetter and wetter, I finally reached the intake—only to find that the valve was turned on, but the pipe had slipped out of a fitting and was sticking up into the air.  That explained the lack of water pressure, or even water.

I’d seen the break earlier in the year, and Tina and I had attempted to shove it back together.  It was a bit beyond our strength.  I had gone back up to glue it with Charles and Rain.  Charles will be coteaching our permaculture course and his strength is as the strength of ten because his heart is pure, or because he’s a young, wiry male who thinks nothing of heading out into the wilderness alone for months at a time paddling his way across the Northwest Passage or some such thing.  Anyway, I had no doubt Charles could shove that pipe in—problem was, we couldn’t find the break.  It had disappeared, and every connection we tested seemed tight.

But here it was.  I considered my options.  I was all alone, in the dark and wet, and I probably couldn’t get it back together on my own.  On the other hand, what did I have to lose by trying?  I could hardly be wetter than I was.  So I waded into the stream, grabbed the pipe, flashlight in my mouth again, and heaved.  Three, four, five times.  I got the end in, but not very securely.  However, I hoped that it might hold for long enough to save the batteries from energy starvation.

Dripping, I bushwacked back along the path.  It occurred to me that I could actually get lost in the dark—and indeed at one point I found myself climbing the hill above the path.  It occurred to me that cougars hunt at night.  I figured I was making so much noise, any respectable cougar would be scared off.

I stopped at a standpipe halfway down the line which we put in so we could open it up and bleed out trapped air.  I did, and the air hissed out for about ten minutes which seemed much longer in the pouring rain, before the water began to flow.

I was very happy to get back to the cabin.  Now, because our line is so long and shallow, airlock is a constant problem.  The way we deal with that is to backfill the line with water from our house line, which comes from a higher point and is therefore under higher pressure.

At this point, I’m sure you’re saying, “Stop, Starhawk!  This is Too Much Information!  I don’t really care about your stupid hydro system.  Don’t you have a life?”

Shut up—I’m nearly done.  Share the pain.

Me and my hydro

I hooked up the hose into the standpipe at the house, turned it on, and went inside to stoke the fire, change out of my dripping clothes, and get warm.

At midnight, I turned the hose off, clambered back over the wet, fallen trees, and turned the system on.  Slowly, slowly the numbers began to climb…and then stopped.  I woke a couple times during the night, checking them with my solar-charged flashlight I bought at the Green Festival.  No change.  The pipe must have slipped again.

What’s the point of all this?  It was wet and dark but kind of invigorating.  I felt alive—wrecked, but energized.  My friends are in Copenhagen getting cold and wet in the streets, and hopefully not beaten or arrested.  Making the changes we need to make won’t always be easy.  Sometimes it might mean getting wet and beat in the streets—sometimes it might require a nighttime tramp through the woods.

But if we do, we’ll have a world of flowing streams and wild mushrooms and cougars and lively streets and sweet, pulsing electrical energies.  So let’s get on with it!

3 comments to Rain and Cold

  • I’ve shared the pain and truly laughed out loud while reading thisone! Loved that you included photos too, I’ve never seen a hydro system… and pictures really help to get-it !

  • Of all the blog posts you’ve written, I enjoyed reading this the most! It contained tidbits of useful information (That your hydro system requires more tinkering than you other stored energy systems), a wonderful story, and a sprinkling of witty turns of phrase (His strength is as the strength of ten because his heart is pure…).

    Thank you so much, reading this fed my soul.

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