Posts Tagged ‘Boone’

Solar Tech–what needs to happen

January 24, 2018

When I was a young man, idealistic and foolhardy, I attempted to start a newspaper.

I was in Asheville, a progressive southern town that was collectively trying to morph itself into a sort of Santa Fe of the South.

The year was 1977, and the gas-rationing effect of the so-called Arab oil embargo was still fresh in American minds. We, the generation who had convinced the gov. of the US to get the hell out of Vietnam, were convinced that we could also make a constructive impact on the way business and industry was conducted here in the USA.

Solar tech was a rising star in everybody’s minds, or so we thought at the time. With leadership from Mother Earth News and other early sustainability advocates, many of us free-thinking boomers thought we could shift American Big Business interests from dependency on costly oil to a widespread earth-changing acceptance of Solar, Geothermal and Wind technology.


So the fledgeling “newspaper” that we were promoting did a center-spread on Solar Energy and Solar Collectors. One of our fellows was a fellow named Jim Samsel; he was from Oregon, or had lived there, and seemed to know more about the subject than most us. He included some diagrams that, as I remember, helped us and the readers to get a visual on what solar collectors looked like and how they were supposed to work. We felt good about our tentative thrust into progressive energy conservation.

That was 41 years ago. Since that time, my life has shifted toward more down-to-earth activities such as loving my wife, raising the children, educating them and living as a Christian family. So my interests drifted away from quasi-experimental pastimes such as dreaming of solar tech, which was known to be expensive to install and maintain.

Since that time, my wife and I have purchased and lived in three houses. On none of them have we installed solar collectors. The expenses of of life and a growing family overtook my nascent interest in alternative, home-based, power installations such as solar.

Now we live in Boone, which is home to Appalachian State University.  Here at ASU, the alt-tech professors and students have put together a noteworthy Sustainability curriculum, with appropriate technology workshops and experimental projects that I occasionally hear about. I haven’t been keeping up with it, but I do know there’s a lot going on out there pertaining of improvements of solar collectors and storage cells.

And that is good. I say more power to them. I hope they can make a big  earth-friendly dent in the massive oil-based infrastructure that has for so long held us all in hydrocarbon bondage.


Over the years,  I have occasionally pondered the plight of solar pioneers who have stayed with it, and I formed a little scenario in my mind that posits what needs to happen for solar to really get a significant foothold in our American infrastructure, by way of John Doe’s household and Jane Smith’s homestead.

My scenario starts with a fantasy: a widespread societal/economic attitude shift that inspires homeowners to install solar-panels on a massive scale—millions of homeowners thinking (believing) they can actually save money on their electrical bills by gathering energy from the sun on their very own rooftops. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And the scenario works something like this:

Joe Blow has a few extra hundred bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he decides to go to the local Lowe’s or Costco or Sam’sClub and pickup another collector or two. He hauls them to the house and mounts them on the roof with a hardware system that has been patently engineered for simplicity of design and installation. The electrical connections below—hooking up to the panel and thereby the household electrical system—have previously been done by his electrician friends Wayne and Bryan.


Then, after the connections and installation of the new panels have been accomplished in a half-day or so, he settles into an evening of relaxation with the surety that next month’s electric bill will be lower a a result of his incremental investments up on the roof. As time goes by, Joe uses a few extra bucks here and there to consistently repeat these simple periodic installations and thereby save $ by lowering his household’s power consumption.

Now what would it take for such a scenario to be reality instead of my tech-fantasy?

Starting with a look  back into history, back in the day, over a hundred years ago . . .

Henry Ford figured out how to actuate a new idea called mass production. Within a few decades, a Ford “in every garage” began to be a reality in American development and life. Every Joe Blow now understands that the reason this could happen was because Ford’s mass production assembly line enabled the company (and ultimately the wider automotive industry) to get the unit cost down to an affordable number that Joe and Jane Sixpack could actually spend to purchase a a car or truck for their family.

Now this is what we need for the solar industry in America–mass production and mass-market.

Who will take up the mantle? Who will heave the solartech excalibur out the stone of oil-dominance?

Tesla? GE? Some as-yet-unknown Startup in Phoenix, Detroit, Boone or Montgomery?

That remains to be seen, when and if it ever happens.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .in a brand new 2018. . .

Now suddenly appears an Omen that  perhaps the previously-thought-to-be-conspiracy Industrial Establishment has finally gotten a hold of the Solar vision! The next new expansion manufacturing industry!

What omen is that? The President announces a 30% tariff on foreign-manufactured solar collectors (and washing machines.)

Does this protectionism portend a willingness of American Industry to, at last, leap into solar production because they can now, with a little gov. help, compete with the Chinese and South Korea?

Or, more cynically, does it indicate the continuing Establishment denial of Solar development on a large scale for the sake of continuing oil hegemony?

We shall see in the days ahead what the effects of this tariff will be on our still-nascent Solar industry in America.


  Glass half-Full

Come Saturday morning, in Boone

July 7, 2012

On this sunny Saturday morning I hopped on the Vespa to ride the two or three miles into Boone and do coffee with my dear old friend, Terry. An old song blew into my mind while I was whizzing along:Come Saturday Morning, by the Sandpipers.

“Come Saturday morning, I’m going away with my friend; 

 we’ll Saturday spend till the end of the day…”

While we did not spend the whole day together, Terry and I did take about an hour and a half to drink coffee, solve the problems of our little world, and reminisce.  He had blogged earlier in the week about an emotional, even tearful, moment he had had pertaining to this mid-life thing that we’re experiencing now in our ’60s.

I had commented that we should get together, come Saturday morning, and explore our two perspectives to glean some wisdom. I suggested we meet at a donut shop recently opened by an old friend of ours; but Terry said he is not doing wheat these days, so we met at 8 at the Earth Fare.

We spent some precious time discussing the ins and outs and ups and downs of living life according to our own expressions and goals, as opposed to living in order to accommodate the demands of everybody else, such as peer group, employer, society at large, etc. This dilemma is something that we 60ish folks understand completely, especially because our g-g-generation had spent our prime youth years IN the 1960s, if you know what I mean, where we had both discovered that the free love thing wasn’t going to work out so well. Consequently, we had both become Jesus freaks, still are, and had each faithfully loved wife and  raised our now-grown children during the last 30+ years.

After we had solved the problems of our little world, or at least gained some friendly perspective on the prospects, Terry went his way and I went mine.

Feeling adventurous, with the sunshine and Saturday and whatnot, I cruised the Vespa on up the hill to our local Farmers’ Market to pick up my weekly loaf of bread from my bread man, Bruce. This would save him the side trip of delivering the rye loaf to my front door, which he often does.

Earlier in the week I had experienced some fears about the future of free enterprise in America. But no more. One fifteen-minute stroll through the Farmers’ Market was all it took to restore my confidence in small business in America. Blooming forth from all directions, from all booths, from the many tents and stalls, were: the healthiest veggies you’ve ever seen, all locally grown, squash, spinach, kale, broccoli, spices, herbs, you-name-it, and then the arty stuff: pottery, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, flower arrangements; Terry’s wife Sandi was selling her colorful Appalachian grape-vine baskets. She was weaving one right there, as  hundreds of curious shoppers lollygagged around us. There was music in the air: hammer dulcimer player zinging out his tunes, old-time group plunking out the ancient but ever-livening traditional fiddle-standupbass-guitar melodies, and hundreds of smiling folks buying stuff, ambling in the mountains sunshine.

I found Bruce and Brandi’s Owl Creek Breadworks tent and picked up my ciabatta, paid them for the month. Their daughter Madison handed me a  garlic bagel. It looked so delicious I bit right into it then and there. Moving right along, I passed down into the shady grove amphitheater where the thespian troupe was rehearsing for tonight’s outdoor drama, Horn in the West.

And I’m like, all is well here, nothing wrong with small business in America. There seems be plenty of vigor (as President Kennedy had called it) exuding from every nook and cranny, every holler and glade, especially in the midst of  our keep-on-the-sunny-side Blue Ridge mountain morning heritage.

Well, maybe there was one little thing wrong with it. The downside of this experience came when I was negotiating the traffic jam that surrounded the place as I was leaving. I hated to think of all those little fossil-fuel emissions slithering from their respective exhaust pipes into the bright Saturday sky. My fantasy about having a Disney-style monorail running right through our little town jumped into my mind for a moment, but then it vanished in a whiff of cerebral smoke.

I leapt again onto the Vespa express and headed for our quaint downtown to drop a book at the ASU library.

Not much traffic in downtown, vehicular or pedestrian, compared to the crowded Farmers’ Market vicinity. We need to get something going here town-wise, to even out the enterprise factor. Maybe some of those vendors at the market would do well here in the downtown where there’s more space to get around. Unfortunately, the expense of real estate in the central business district is high. But that’s neither here nor there.

Still feeling adventurous, I headed out Blowing Rock road to Josiah’s shop, the Local Lion, for another java and one of his unique 1930s-style  donuts.  By this time I’m thinking maybe I’d be over-caffeinated and over-carbohydrated to do such a thing.  Lately I’ve heard a lot of folks, including my friend Terry with whom I had started this trek, trash-talkin the carbs. But hey, I’m a bread-man, always was, always will be. Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” If he was willing to make himself a bread metaphor, and to have the wheat stuff passed around every Sunday in his name, that’s good enough for me. I can hang with carbs, because my job as a maintenance guy keeps me hopping all week long, and burning those little carbohydrates off like spilt coffee on a woodstove.

So I dropped into the Local Lion and did that coffee and donut thing. I talked to Riley, who was there enjoying the goodies with his two young children and his wife. Thank God he was there, and here in this life, to even do such a thing. Riley spent the better part of a half-hour answering my numerous questions about his 2004 and 2009 tours of duty in Iraq.

And lastly, there at the Local Lion I happened upon a copy of The Journey, a local magazine published by another old friend, Ben. And so I was able to embellish my Saturday morning travels and contemplations with an accounting of his interview with our late, great, local hero and musical legend, Doc Watson.

Then I hopped on the Vespa, rode home and wrote this, after Saturday morning had come and gone. It was a good one.

Glass half-Full

The Doc(torate) of Music

May 30, 2012

Although our hometown university, Appalachian State, never presented him with a Phy.D., most everyone in Boone would agree with the rest of world  that  Doc Watson was a true master of the art of music.

Now, I’ve only lived in Doc’s hometown since 1980, but my unforgettable first connection with his music began in 1972.  I was a junior, maybe a senior, at LSU then. My friends Bruce and Bob turned me on to an album that would become a classic of southern folk music–the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by Nitty Gritty Dirt band.

Doc’s pickin’ and singin’  shone out on that studio gem like a Blue Ridge sunrise peeking over the mountain in Deep Gap. Doc’s raw Appalachian clarity grabbed the attention of this Louisiana boy like a turkey on a night-crawler.

Later, after I had moved here, at a concert in Farthing Auditorium  in Boone, I heard his music introduced as the “fastest, cleanest flat-pickin’ in the world. No doubt about it. The man was a local legend; we’ve got a sculpted bronze likeness  on a park bench here that, at first glance, seems to be an actual occurrence of Doc serenading the passersby in downtown Boone.

Which is something that he did do, with regularity, back in the day, before and after the world discovered his unique contribution to world music at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. The old-timers ’round here tell tales about this.

While I was painting an apartment today at work, I listened to an intimate interview between Doc and Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. I recommend you hear it, here:

But the tune that really started it for me was Tennessee Stud.

As Doc sings the story in the song, some adventurer from the way back took a journey on the Tennessee Stud over to Arkansas, and  on down to Mexico, but Tennessee  and a pretty little gal eventually  drew him back home. That’s a little bit like how this Louisiana boy ended up here in the North Carolina mountain town where Doc used to sing on the street, about ten miles from the Tennessee line.

Thanks for your amazing and musical legacy, Doc.

Glass half-Full