6.02.2009

the yellow dwarf and the dinner plate

With a few more posts left before I can really close the book on St. Croix (for now), I should probably go ahead and get these up here - before we all forget that, yeah, that actually happened. I shall start with the conclusion of my final project at VISFI: to design, create and install a working solar system for our client, Kyle O'Keefe.

I left off (almost FOUR months ago, geez) talking about how Patrick and I had to decide on the best location for the solar panel. Well, after surveying the area, we decided this was the prime spot:


Patrick and I worked closely with zen-master/zig-zag man/bearded electricity guru, Don Young, to develop the optimal system for Kyle's needs. We constructed a box out of scrap wood that was lying around the container pad to house all of the components of the system that would convert the sunlight into AC and DC. Then all we would need to do is send the current up to Kyle's cabana, connect a few wires, screw in a bulb, and voila - power.

The box, which we painted a lovely shade of green, was attached to a 6-foot post. The roof of the box was slanted at 17 degrees (the degree of latitude in St. Croix) and doubled as a platform for our solar panel. A maze of wires ran from the panel, to the charge controller, to the batteries, to the inverter, to the fuse boxes, and under the ground to Kyle's cabana. It honestly took every ounce of our sanity to check and recheck our math, solve wiring puzzles, and get all the tools we needed to finish the job. One of the things I was most proud of after completing the project was knowing how much we were able to recycle from previous projects or from junk lying around the container pad. As frustrating as it sometimes was to try and find the right size screw we needed or to try and get our hands on a wrench or a charged power drill, it felt great to accomplish so much without even one trip to a Home Depot (not that one even exists on the island or anything).





The big moment came the day before the project was due. Patrick and I had spent the previous afternoon digging a seemingly endless trench that would become home to one measly 4-in-1 10 gauge wire, we had connected all the wiring in the system, and the panel had been charging the batteries for a good 48 hours - it was time for the moment of truth. Now, I don't mean to be overly dramatic or sensational, but it was a very emotional moment for Patrick and me. It actually was our moment of truth. Would the light bulb light? Was all our work actually for something?

I twisted the bulb into the rusty socket of the old metal fixture we had borrowed from the baby chicken pen. I gave Patrick the thumbs up. He switched on the inverter. Current flowed through the fuse box, into the long gray wire, through our ramshackle joint box, and into the old fixture. The bulb's filament slowly began to glow, brighter and brighter (actually, not slowly at all, more like the SPEED OF LIGHT, but I like to pretend it was all in slow motion), and soon it was burning with the electrical fury of a thousand suns (40 watts). And the peasants rejoiced.


As Patrick and I were making the long walk down the hillside, back toward the community center, I noticed the setting sun in front of us. How incredible it was, I thought, that we had taken unseen particles of light and transformed them into something - creating a light of our own. We began to chat about this very miracle, when both of us turned around to gain perspective. We wanted to look back toward Kyle's cabana to imagine what it would look like from the other side of the farm if the lights were on. We wanted to imagine what future farmers at VISFI will see in the distance when someone is reading by the light of our bulb. We just wanted to imagine it, but we saw this:


The full moon had risen, stealthy in the night sky. It hung like a dinner plate directly over Kyle's cabana, casting its pale glow over the farm. It was, as Elton John might say, the circle of light.

1 comment:

Audrey said...

gah, you're such a good writer! I loved the post, darlin'! ;)