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Living on the Earth, June 20, 1997: Summer Solstice
At the moment of the summer solstice, 4:20 tomorrow morning, the sun will be
directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, about eight time zones to the east of
us in the Saudi Arabian desert.
The summer solstice is one of the four distinct points in the Earth's annual
journey around its energy source. At this moment, the north pole is inclined
toward the sun, which takes its longest path across the sky. Above the Arctic
circle, the sun doesn't set at all. In Antarctica, it doesn't rise.
The summer solstice is a great time for learning or remembering ways to sustain
ourselves using solar energy.
Let's start with four simple technologies that allow the sun to provide
important free services for our homes and families. Each of these low-cost and
readily available solar collectors improves the quality of our lives and
increases the pleasures we take in everyday necessities. They connect us
directly to the beneficence of the sun. They also save money and are great
beginnings for a less polluted environment and greater independence from the big
Start with the easiest: The solar clothes dryer. Just stretch a line between
two trees or poles in a sunny spot in your yard. Then pay attention to the
weather. On those beautiful sunny days, you'll have another good reason to go
outside. Our solar clothes dryer is in and around the garden, so not only do we
enjoy the fresh air and sunshine which make the clothes smell so good, we also
get to appreciate and check on the flowers and vegetables growing there. Beside
these simple pleasures, we feel good about not generating greenhouse gases or
radioactive wastes for so simple a need as drying clothes. It also virtually
eliminates maintenance and repair costs.
The most important of these four simple solar collectors is the home or
community vegetable garden. This is especially true if it is managed
organically and worked with hand tools. The garden turns sunlight and organic
wastes into the most delicious and nutritious food you can eat.
For air conditioning, trees are quiet and also solar-powered. And not only do
they run on free energy, they are free themselves. If you leave almost any
piece of land around here alone, trees will grow. They'll absorb solar energy
that otherwise would heat up your house, and make it uncomfortable. They store
that energy in wood, leaves and food for the following year. Trees are filled
with cool water, flowing up from the ground to the leaves. As this water
evaporates, it further cools the environment. Of course, the shade itself is
much cooler than the surrounding sun-filled areas, and the trees seem to
encourage refreshing breezes. A few trees, selected or planted to keep the sun
off a house during its long journey across the sky this time of year, have a
great effect on the interior's comfort level.
South facing windows are the fourth of these low-cost solar collectors designed
for a better tomorrow. Although we appreciate our four large southern windows
most in the winter, when the sun shines directly inside and warms our house,
they are also provide pleasure now. They're shaded all day by tall trees pruned
of lower branches so they admit the winter sun. The windows open onto a yard
filled with trees, shrubs and flowers. The viburnams, rugosa roses and peonies
are especially beautiful now.
All four of these solar collectors provide a valuable and necessary service, in
a passive, quiet way. They provide pleasure and comfort without polluting the
environment. They never become obsolete. I've used most of these simple
technologies for more than 25 years. They are reliable and long lived. My
appreciation for their elegance grows with each year. The pleasures of sun
fresh clothes, just-picked garden vegetables, shade trees, rooms warmed by the
winter sun don't fade; they point the way to a sustainable future.
Go solar now!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.