Let there be light

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When we moved here three years ago, our power tool collection consisted of one battery-operated drill driver. Now, our collection of things that cut, nail, shape, dig, heat, blow, pump, and spray is well into double digits. All of them have to be either plugged in or charged, and that requires electricity.

Until yesterday, we used a Guinnessworthy collection of heavy-duty extension cords to run them because our only electrical outlets were in the house.

Most of our construction happens in and around the garage, which is a good hundred feet from the house, so we often have a bright orange cord snaking out one of the guestroom windows and along the side of the driveway. All winter, we use a heater to keep the chicken’s water from freezing, which means there’s another hundred-foot cord stretching from the porch to the coop.

Almost since the day we got here, Kevin’s been talking about running electricity to the garage. This week, he did it.

As luck would have it, my brother-in-law Marty is an electrician. He learned his trade years ago, in the Seabees , the Naval Construction Force (can do!), and he can wire just about anything to light up like a Christmas tree. Marty’s been visiting this week, and when he wasn’t out catching striped bass (one of the many he caught was 44 inches), he and Kevin were bringing the magic juice to our outbuildings.

Consumption junction

Yesterday, we had liftoff. Or lightup. The switches switch, the saws saw, the pumps pump. And the circuit breakers don’t break. Let’s hear it for Marty.

As I lifted my pen in triumph, to chronicle the heroic efforts of my husband and brother-in-law, I happened to notice a new post by my friend Paula, at Weeding for Godot, entitled “By Hand.” She tells a story about, of all people, Vanna White, who was asked to name her favorite wrong answer on Wheel of Fortune. Seems that some poor guy, who had almost all the letters for “Gone with the Wind,” guessed that the answer was “Done with the Hand.”

I figured that post was going to be right up my alley, as power tools have, for me, rendered hand tools all but obsolete. I am definitely done with the hand.

But Paula read it differently. “Done with the Hand,” for her, means “Made with the Hand,” not “Absolutely Positively Through with the Hand,” and her post was about how much pleasure she gets from working with high-quality hand tools.

Oops.

To be fair, I should mention that Paula does a lot of finish carpentry, and less outdoor construction, so hand tools are a better fit for her than for us. Still, over and over, it comes home to me how resource-intensive our efforts here are. The electricity, the gas, the propane, the oil. The sheer quantity of tools, and supplies, and machinery. Not to mention trucks and boats.

Three years in, though, I think we’re whittling away at the resources-to-production ratio. As we get a little bit better at doing the things we do, the ratio gets a little bit smaller. We’re getting more chickens, so we’ll have more eggs in the same coop, using the same water heater, the same wood chips, the same straw. We’ll need a little more food, is all.

We’re doing turkeys again, but six instead of four, and the equation is similar. Same housing, amortized over more birds – including our six ducks, who are keeping it warm for the turkeys.

The plants in our hydroponic system seem to be thriving, and our hoophouse has extended our growing season by several months.

We’re getting better at fishing, and there is a huge pile of striped bass filets in the freezer to prove it. If our hunting skills improve commensurately, maybe there’ll be venison in there by the end of the year.

Still, it’s probably good that nobody’s adding up all that we consume and weighing it against all that we produce. That reckoning would be a big job, and I’m sure not going to do it. But, on the off-chance that someone out there wants to undertake it, I will point out that you can now work far into the night, in our well-lit garage.

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Comments

  1. Congrats on your new electricity. We have been talking about the same thing for years. The winding extension cords are not very attractive and potential fire hazards in the dry summer months.

  2. I think it’s way cool that you guys have juice in the garage- their is no substitute for power where you need it: in the workshop, in the car, in your arm, in your writing. No substitute.

    I have dropped the finish carpentry for more construction-type assemblage, because the darn chicks are growing a LOT faster than I expected. The coop is going up at the back of the yard.

    And you can bet I’m running an extension cord out there.

    Congrats on your new possibilities.

    Is the garage roof a good place for solar panels?

  3. Oh and good lord- I hope we’re not tallying up consumption vs. production. Mine would look like the national debt (relatively speaking).

  4. martha in mobile says:

    Oddly enough, my husband had yet another interpretation of ‘Done with the Hand’ — he was laughing too hard to elucidate.

  5. Now all the garage needs is a radio for classical music while working, and a keg cooler dispensing your favorite adult cold drink. Sometimes things don’t go well out in the garage, and creature comforts like those kep on the path to prayer and mediatation, as opposed to swearing and medication. What happens in the barn (garage), STAYS in the barn (garage).

  6. Last year I got myself an inverter for the car, so I can plug in some electrical items. Useful if you travel for work and sometimes wish you could plug you laptop in when stopped by the side of the road to send one of those I-can’t-believe-I-forgot-to-send-yesterday emails. Also useful to plug in battery operated items, (I’m particularly fond of plugging in my battery operated fan in summer). This way I get the comfort of battery operated tools and whatnots with the smugness of not weighning down too hard on the resources side of the ratio.
    Javier