When the lights went out and peace came in

Our solar electric system went on the fritz and
that brought us some unexpected blessings 

Our house is “off the grid”—the only external input is a refill of propane gas every two or three months—and the system worked well until last Friday afternoon when our solar electricity rig crashed, taking down with it all appliances and electronic gizmos. 

We bitched and fretted as Stew tried unsuccessfully to fiddle with the system’s inverters and controllers. And so we just went to sleep on a blessedly cool, dark and breezy night.  

The inverter (DC>AC) and the three controllers. 

Lying in bed we marveled about the total silence. No whirring clocks, whooshing ceiling fans, humming refrigerator, no music or radio announcers to go to sleep with and most important, no internet as the WiFi router also went dead. 

It amazes how much electricity-generated noise there is in a house. 

No news either. Trump could have been blowing up the world while we laid in bed our eyes straining to spot through the darkness any feature or shadow on the bedroom ceiling   

The farm animals around the ranch didn’t even moo or bray or stir either, as if out of respect for our newly discovered peace. Roosters and turkeys were either sound sleep or too far away for us to notice. 

All the lights went off: the outside spotlights, the LED light over the kitchen sink, the night lights on the hallways and the tiny red standby lights on the TV and the computer. 

Except for some moonlight tentatively peeking through the clouds, the outside was pitch black too. 

We should do this often, it occurred to me—shut off everything, including our mouths, and enjoy the sound of deep, unexpected silence. 

With your senses defeated—nothing to hear, see or smell—the mind turns inward, a luxury it seldom enjoys amid all the distractions The flickering of two votive candles added to the calm of the moment rather than cut through the darkness.

The next morning I woke up relaxed, but Stew, the compulsive fixer-upper, had to ruin everything by checking on the refrigerator, which had maintained normal temperature even when turned off.  

Our mini generator sitting in its
compartment outside the garage. 

Then he turned on the rackety emergency gas generator and promptly the electric gadgets flickered back to life, most disruptively the internet with its stream of news, emails and marketing messages. The coffee pot commenced gurgling.

The generator charged the batteries and brought our electrical system back to normal through Saturday. 

Brian Richards, San Miguel’s ponytailed solar energy wizard, showed up early Sunday morning and found that one of our three controllers had short-circuited and would have to be replaced at a cost of approximately six hundred and fifty dollars. 

It’s not too much considering the system has worked reliably for six or seven years, even as our neighbors often have been left in the dark, sometimes for three or four consecutive days, waiting for repair crews of the government-owned electric company to detect there was an outage, let alone fix it. 

We thought we were lucky to have uninterrupted electric service and all the noises and disruptions that come with it. 

I’m not so sure anymore. It might good for our minds and senses to turn off the juice once in awhile even if our photovolatic system is working perfectly. 


6 thoughts on “When the lights went out and peace came in

  1. There is always so much to hear in this kind of silence. Blessed time, for sure. My thoughts, however, don't run to trump could be blowing up the world, rather the world might be blowing up trump. If I made political comments, which I don't, I would go on to say if someone would step up to the plate and take one for the team, I would certainly tithe to their defense fund. Given I steer clear of that sort of thing, I will simply say silence such as you were gifted with had to be lovely while it lasted. I've only experienced that while camping in the desert. Though even there you could see, off in the distance, the glow of city lights. Boo. The grace of silence is difficult to find.


  2. Anonymous

    As I recall, your system included a 600 lb. fork lift truck battery. Do you still use it? Have you thought about replacing with lithiam ion batteries? I have one about the size of a pocket book, which will start my car. It holds a charge for over 6 months and still does the job. I also have a small LED lamp with a builtin li-ion battery, which works for emergencies, and you hear nothing! Phil


  3. Thinking about Trump ruins the peace doesn't it?During an overnight trip to the desert, while visiting Morocco, we experienced not only total silence but the eerie effect of seeing more stars than we had ever seen before and also seeing them so close overhead you could almost touch them. Unforgettable. (Glad I got up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. LOL.)al


  4. Phil, you have an amazing memory. Yes, the two forklift batteries are still buzzing away, going on eight years or so. Their life expectancy supposedly is about ten. Solar technology has leaped ahead, in great part thanks to the Chinese and also Elon Musk. Photovoltaic panels nowadays are half as expensive, and as you note, battery technology also has improved dramatically. Now the question is going to be where to dispose of my forklift batteries when they give up the ghost…Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your good memory.al


  5. Anonymous

    Growing up in a redwood forest, down a long dirt road, I have many memories of power failures as a youth. Typically caused by a branch or a tree falling on a vulnerable power line, these power failures gave us the chance to literally unplug from the constant stimulus that electricity provided in the 1970's. At least for a few hours or maybe a day. Of course it's far worse today with all the devices we have now.Really, we are all so over-stimulated by all the gadgets around us and the news they bring, it's something of a marvel that we haven't all been driven completely insane. Of course, if we had been, we'd likely not know it, so there's that to consider too. Still, when the power goes off, I stop and think about the world, pre-electricity when people had time to think about life and all of the marvels surrounding them. And I wonder about the framers of the US Constitution, so wise, yet from such a totally different world. It's good to unplug from time to time. Saludos,Kim GRedding, CaWhich, with its infernal heat, would be insufferable without electricity.


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