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By the Light of the Sun:
Seventh Generation
by Duncan Sprattmoran

In November we put up our second windmill, replacing the first which had sat atop a wooden derrick down in the bottom of the valley where it caught the wind funnelled between the ridges. This one, however, sits on a steel tower raised on the knob behind the house, and so catches the winds from the four directions.

In the four directions I find the weather's blessing and because of this I am far more aware of the weather as a factor truly fashioning my life than I was when I pulled my juice from the grid: flipping a switch, never thinking about the long chain of interrelationship of which I was a part. Now when the wind blows, power flows into my house, and when it is still, I know the time has come to conserve.

In January, with real winter, we are beginning to get days of full sun and wind, and so the mill spins and the solar panels down on the bottom terrace of the garden dance with the excitement of photons reflecting off snow. These simple pleasures make me reflect upon the intentional aspects of my life. I have chosen to live this way after all, to remain independent of the power grid, to connect the devices, component by component, which power my life. And this choice has brought me a tenuous independence which I value in these days when multinational corporations lay off thousands in their rush to downsize. I have truly downsized my life to a conservative center in which I can be more independent than most Americans.

I ask myself what it means to live intentionally, to live simply, to make choices as if each choice I make has repercussions that ripple far beyond me, affecting the lives of women and children across the lake or halfway around the world. Primarily, living intentionally means I ask myself to incorporate the Buddhist principles of Right Action and Right Thought with the AmerIndian concept of the seventh generation, the idea that each action will have consequences which will affect my children's children's children. Leelanau Webdesign: Superior web design at reasonable ratesIn the face of these concepts I must face my own cultural programming. As a product of my society, I am compelled to consume: every day I am faced with a plethora of products to buy (even living on this isolated peninsula my mailbox is daily filled with one catalog or another). And so I ask myself to face these expectations and realign them with a greater sensibility than that given me by the glossy photographs in the catalogs. I look back to an American tradition of mindful independence which unfortunately never makes it into the textbooks or the myths. I ask questions of my Quaker and Shaker ancestors, my Jeffersonian democratic forebears, the Transcendentalist intellectual men and women who early in the American experience voiced these ideas. I remember that there is a rich stock of true independence which springs from the American soil, one that doesn't feel the need to boast its bravado with weaponry and bellicosity, one that asks always that conscience guide the way.

Perhaps this reliance on conscience is harder today than at any other time in our history, harder because our communities have been so purposefully dismantled over the past fifty years, harder because our individual sense of worth has been subsumed by a corporate/media culture that suggests that conspicuous lifestyles are worth attaining; harder, too, because we really have such a tenuous understanding of our interdependence with the very forces that sustain life on this planet. We are all the products of a century of social engineering, the deliberate machinations of government and corporations to create a population of consumer/producers who, finding contentment in the material artifacts this economy generates, willingly abdicate our purposive volition.

When faced with the opportunity of living in a house which uses a minimum of conventional power, the choice seemed evident to us. Owning one's own home is the keystone of the American Dream, so why not truly own as much of the home as possible, not just the mortar and wood but the very electricity that flows through the walls. Since the electrical current is used only once, it made sense that we should own the means of production, the generators themselves. So, piece by piece, panel by panel, we purchased our energy independence, and now we have what is called in the parlance of the solar industry a "stand alone home."
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Yet our house with all its quirky components, its 12 volt pumps, inverters, batteries, and windmills, connected me with a dynamic community of others who value energy independence as much as I do. Right here in this snowbound peninsula which gets socked in by cloud at least four months a year, there are nearly a score of houses such as ours. And if you multiply this across the country to those locales which get sun over three hundred days a year, one reaches a population in the five digits who have chosen to live each day intentionally.

Like any other ideological stance, our presumption of independence is fraught with potential contradictions and fallacies. After all, the very components themselves, though they harness the earth's energy in the most direct ways imaginable, with the least site-specific pollution, are products of our industrial age and thus larded with the ecological onus of most of our belongings. Batteries contain lead. All of that copper wiring needed to balance line loss must be mined and smelted somewhere. The casing on the windmill is aluminum, and the silicon crystals which are the very being of the solar panels require gallons of solvents to wash them clean enough to conduct. My optimism is not a blind pride in my own sacrifice and heroic action--though there are times when we all in this eccentric community tend to be hectoring, pompous, and bombastic--but rather an informed position taken with the understanding that to be an active participant in my greater community I must compromise and mitigate the deleterious consequences of my own culpability. We try to act with the knowledge that my home economy is inextricably interwoven with my local ecology, the watershed of the valley, as well as the global ecology that generates the winds we tap.

So when we hoisted the windmill atop the tower behind the house and waited for the first strong winds to blow across the lake, we knew that the proverbial winds of change can power revolutions far more powerful than our own. And yet, living in small house in a small rural community, it seems that the most rewarding revolutions are those small ones which begin at home.

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