Solar Nostalgia

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Solar Nostalgia

von Nils Zurawski, 2019.

„What the fuck“
He was staring on two large packets, wrapped in foil standing in the middle of the driveway leading up to the door of this house. He was just away for half an hour, on his morning stroll and to get some bread for breakfast. This had not been here when he left. The imprint on the box was a smiling sun, letters reading something with „solar“ in it. He has told the delivery guys time and time again not to leave things on his doorstep, but would they listen. This time they really have done it. The two things were more or less blocking the entrance. He stood there for a few minutes, did not move, staring at the cargo as if it has been washed ashore on the beaches of a lonely island he was living on. It was hot enough for that anyways. End of March already 17 degrees Celsius at this time of the day. The winter had been rather short, ending somewhat in mid February. It had been cold alright, it froze, the little lake nearby had a nice ice cover for a couple of weeks, not enough to step on or for skating, but good to look at. It gave him comfort on his occasional walks that there was still something that felt like winter.

Now he was here, still staring with some sort of disbelieve at the latest gadget he had ordered. A couple of solar panels for the roof of his garden house, DIY. The company had promised that all would be very easy to install and run, just a few twitches here and there. Well why not he had thought. He had some solar panels put on the roof of the family house a couple of years ago. They worked fine, but had cost a fortune. He had even installed a battery for storage, recast the whole basement. His wife and daughter were not delighted at the time. They had endless discussions as to why it was important to produce their own energy, why they had to be independent from the big energy monopolists. He was afraid of their future, their daughter‘s future, living in a world without enough energy for all, the summers far too hot for Northern Europe, the winters cold and unfriendly, if they come. If not, they feel like an average autumn, rainy, dark, dreadful and not much fun. No snow, no playing outside, no frozen lakes to skate on, not the warm and cosy feeling of everything being covered in white flakes, that trashy winter romantic that you can still see in commercials around that time, mostly starting at the end of September in the run up to Christmas, which is so far off reality that it hurts.

„Hey there neighbour, something new for the house?“
He spun around. His next-door neighbour was passing by. He was on his way to work, pushing his electric bicycle, wearing his stupid helmet, which looked out of place, given that he wore a suit and tie. And of course did he have one of those reflective vests tied round his trimmed body. It was broad daylight, nobody would not see you, why wear that stupid vest, which made you look like a child off to Kindergarten or a construction worker on one of those road works sites. He was neither. Not the latter that was for sure. His neighbour stood there for a while, as if he was really waiting for a reply. What else could it be, what would two large boxes, large wooden crates in fact tell him? Not that he did not like him, no. Thomas was a nice guy, his wife, too. But he could not take him seriously right now, in his cycling fatigue, and his electric bike. What had happened to real bikes? Everybody was now buying those electric ones. Well, fair enough, it was probably easier to get fast on these machines. But why claim it is better for the environment, when you rely on electricity for doing something that before you would only need your muscles to do the job? He did not get it. If you needed to be fast, you were taking your car, or motorcycle. If you opted for the bike, him at least, took some pride in burning fat and getting fit, cycling as fast as his body allowed him to. Electric bikes did not make sense to him, except maybe for older people like his parents or for those cargo bike that were becoming popular these days.

His reply was short, he was still in his thought.
„New solars for the garden house, need some extra energy for the garden and garage.“
„Well then, have fun installing“
With that, Thomas was on his electric bike and off to work.

Still staring at the wooden boxes full a solar panels, screws, bolts and nuts, the mounting contraption and cables, he decided to leave it for a moment and get some breakfast first. The day will be long enough anyway, with that monster waiting to be put together. And it was only 9 in the morning and it seemed to stay that warm for the whole day, if not putting on a few degrees. He went back to the house to fix some quick breakfast for himself. His wife was out of the house for hours, his daughter off to school. He had the house to himself, something both women appreciated, but also feared, as he was always trying out new things, buying new technologies to improve their house and their environmental footstep. He was destined to safe the world, or at least contribute to it. He put lot of effort into climate friendly contraptions, saving energy, reducing pollution, trying to live in tune with nature. He maybe was a bit zealous about it, Christina and Lena were not always happy, in fact they showed some resistance now and then. When he had tried to reorganise their water supply a couple of years back, they went on strike. He wanted to safe water and collect it himself in large tanks he was to bury in the garden. The sun should have warmed it. Meters of dark black hosepipe material was lying around for weeks all over garden and house. A big hole was dug in the garden, a plastic water tank had been delivered, not unlike the boxes now waiting on his doorstep to be dealt with. He overestimated his craft skills and aptitude at that time. It did only work half way in the end and was eventually used to water the garden with rain water. When it was warm enough, he took the occasional shower in the garden. Some parts of that adventure were still lying around the garden, like souvenirs brought back from some expedition, in what used to be the unknown territory of climate change. This used to be possible only from June to early September really, now the outdoor season starts in mid March and ends in late October. If if was only for the outdoor lifestyle, he would not care. His favourite clothing were cargo shorts, polo-shirt and sneakers anyways. But what about the climate? What about nature. They were not living on the coast, but close enough, the water will eventually reach their town as well, not their house though. He had to do something. But it was not easy all the time, not at all.

After the coffee he took a cutter from his toolbox and started to slice up the foil that had been wrapped around the boxes. He will have to carry piece by piece through the house into the garden, where the garden shed was standing. It was his little retreat 3 by 3 meters with a short porch, inside a desk chair and a small lounge and WiFi of course. The solar panels should make it self-sustaining and also electrify the garage at the end of the garden, where he had installed a little workshop for his vintage car, a 1972 MGB GT. Of course they had an electric family car, mostly used by his wife and since Lena had started to drive, his daughter, too. But he had to have something from the old world of petrol burning cars and machines. The new cars did not have any soul, no sound, no history. Equipped with so many autonomous systems they are in fact computers on wheels. Fair enough if they help you to drive better, but most of the time they do the driving themselves, or almost, constantly telling you what to do, reducing speed on their own when they deem appropriate. It was tedious and utterly boring. He tried not to use it, rather he would be cycling, taking a bus or once in a while opening his garage and starting the engine of the old machine and enjoying a wee cruise around the country. He did not care about the looks he was getting, parts being envy, mostly by men his age, but most people were shaking their heads. He was representing everything that was bad about pollution, he was in fact symbolising climate change itself. His behaviour was deemed irrational. How could someone in these times still burn petrol for fun. And admittedly fun it was. But the fun was getting harder. With climate change and the mass advent of electric cars the infrastructure the in cities had also changed. Those rolling computers needed help from the outside, help from the streets to drive, or to be driven for that matter. Those electric carriages needed to talk to whatever is around them, to other cars, to buildings, sidewalks, traffic lights, even to people‘s smart phones that happen to be nearby. The MG did not need this. Just him being in control. Wasn‘t that the fun in it after all? But with all that being in control, it seems that we have lost all control in the end. We deserve what we have asked for he was always telling himself and others. And besides his nostalgic getaways, he was all in for saving the planet, to combat climate change by any means, but you had to have breaks once in a while. Like right now. He was carrying the solar panels of his DIY solar power plant for the past hour. The thermometer has climbed at least two more degrees since he had started working this morning. It was still only March, and he began to feel the work. He had the contents of one box almost completely hauled to the back of his house, where he had begun to form a nice stack. The instruction plan lay unfolded on the table, so he could assemble it in the right order. He looked at his work and opened a bottle of beer, when it rang on the door.

He froze for a moment, waiting, then he moved with a sigh and walked to the door. A man in workwear was standing, another one in the back, leaning on an older pick up truck, already filled with things, mostly metal. Salvager.

„Got any for us?“
„Like what?“
„Metals or what about the box here…?“

The opened crate was still in the front of his house, parts scattered around the on ground.

„Can we have it…?“

Well, why not he thought. If they take care of it , he wouldn‘t have to, not call anybody, not get a decent car for doing the job, not paying anything at the recycling station. Fine with me. Whatever they are doing with it. He put aside a few of the wooden bars, he thought were good for later use, just in case. Then he nodded.

„Take, what you need. But don‘t make a mess. I want it all clean here. Don‘t rip it apart and leave the debris behind you.“
„No problem, sir.“

His buddy was moving, coming over to help. They began to throw the stuff on their car, working hard and quick. What on earth do they do with all this stuff. Well it certainly is good material, good resources, but you had to process it, take it apart, sort it and sell it. A lot of work, probably not well paid. But what did he care, they took it, fine with him. He looked at the two working for about half a minute, then he went back in, back to his work, the cables, the circuit board, the photovoltaic cells and the construction. He bend over the plan, trying to make sense of the order and what parts to use first. It was complicated and he had to make a few decisions right now. If he was to do it all by himself, he had to put up the construction on the roof of the shed first, the whole thing was too heavy for him alone. Then the cells, he may need someone to help him with that. And it was still getting hotter, only a few degrees, they may reach the low to mid 20s today, enough to make him sweat. His garden was cooling it down a bit. He had taken care of that years ago. He did not like the large lawns, grass only gardens, but preferred small trees, bushes, he had planted fruits and grew his own vegetables. The garden was filled with beds full of plants. He had installed irrigation systems, to use water effectively. Thus, the garden was covered with tubes, pipes, boxes, little fences, wooden bars, sticks for some plants to hold onto while growing, smaller and some bigger green houses. His family thought it was a mess, and they could not sustain themselves with veggies for the whole season. So what was the use of all this? For now it had the effect of cooling down, good for working hard, to get all the stuff on top of the roof, only using a small ladder.

He paused, looking at what he had done, and what was still left to do? The holding construction was put on the roof, waiting to be stacked with the cells. He had connected the cables, its loose end were sticking up out of the roof, a thick string was going down ending somewhere on the grass, unconnected. He had worked almost without a pause, it was past noon, the sun was as high as it gets today, he began to feel the heat, the work and his efforts. Was worth doing it after all? What would he gain, could he really save the planet with that? Well, the heat is there, no doubt about that. At least he felt good doing something. Unlike many of his neighbours, who thought of him as a nerd with too much time. Thomas would never dream of doing something like it, least of all doing it himself. He had it all figured out, every cent and penny. It would not sum up he had explained to him over a glass of wine the other day. It was not worth the investment, he would never get his money back on it. Was that what it was for. To get your money back? He couldn‘t understand Thomas‘ mindset. What about their kids, they had two and even wishes for more. His daughter had to live with the heat, the new climate all the consequences of their lifestyles. Wasn‘t it reason enough to pay some of those debts right now, so she would have a better future? Well, her future anyway. He could not do anything directly for all those people living in regions of the world, where climate change has really kicked in. Africa with its growing deserts, the Pacific, where one island after another was drowning. He tried as good as he could, event if it seemed futile.

It was a long noise, starting low, getting louder, you could hear something was budging, slowly, but definitely. It ended with a huge and ugly crack. He looked at it not able to do something. Before he found out where the sound came from, it cracked and he watched the solar panels breaking through the roof of the shed. They were too heavy. The roof gave away and the whole construction had tilted to one side, being held by the cables and some of the beams the roof was mounted on in the first place. He climbed the ladder to examine the damage. It was a mess. Some of the panel got scratches, the mounting construction was twisted in some parts, some of the cables ripped out. It was early afternoon and he had to do something, he could not leave it like that.

„Quite a mess, is it not?“
He turned around, just to see one of his other neighbours standing there, arms crossed, watching him in his despair. It was Klaus, a guy he did not really like. He was a smart-arse, quite informed about all things, knowing all the latest things, thats at least how he sees it, and not shy of telling the world about it. And you do not have to ask, he just spat it out, right at you.

„You should have measured the statics first.“
„These new solar panels are heavy.“
„They are not as good as they promise, and too expansive, too.“
„I would not have bought them.“

Klaus paused between each phrase. Making it sound ultra important. He did not need this right now, not from Klaus. 25 degrees and he was sweating, half of it was from the anger, he felt, looking at the broken roof and the dented construction, he had shoved up there alone the whole morning. He turned round, made a step towards him, furious, his lips pressed together, eyes straight.

„What the fuck you want!?! Helping?“

Klaus vexingly shook his head, taking a small step back.

„I thought so! So spare me with your advice!“

The anger did not go away, he was trembling, he could feel it. He was about to safe the bloody planet and people like Klaus knew it all anyway, but were doing nothing, or only the things that they deemed efficiently in financial terms. And of course these people did not own cars, or only electric ones, they were practical before all other things, but in fact the biggest bores living. They had not say in how he was living, what he put on his roof and how. He was standing there looking fiercely at Klaus, a wooden bar still dangling in right hand.… All, suddenly seemed futile, meaningless. The heat is here anyway, they had to deal with it. Grow other plants, enjoy long summers, live different lives. What is all the fuss about, all the effort, the long discussions, all the money in new technology, the new lifestyles, correct living, all about spending money in the first place. Nobody wanted to change a thing, just do the same as before, just without oil. Driving those monster cars, just electrified and still be cool, two in front of every house, technology everywhere, what for exactly? We had to change, the climate was changing anyways. We have to adapt, find new ways. He knew it and he knew that it was hard to do, contradictory, that is why he was doing something, growing his own veggies, having only one car (well two in fact, if you count the vintage), that is why he wanted more solar energy for him and his family. He had asked the others about doing it together, but did not get much beyond an evening of wine and cheese, where everybody agreed that it was a good idea, but for later, but the money, you know, the exchange year of their kids ahead, the school fees at the private one… it was exasperating. His head was red, his lips a thin line, the grip around the bar in his hand fastened, he froze, looking at Klaus, who was slowly backing off, anxiously, irritated and probably disgusted by the violence he saw in his behaviour.

„Hey Stephan!!

He didn‘t hear the call the first time, but only when it got louder and more pressing. Thomas had to call a few times to get his attention. He startled and turned towards the voice. Thomas and his wife were standing in safe distance, waving with a bottle of wine.

„Get over here, leave him alone.“

He stared at them, looking over his shoulder, where Klaus retreated slowly, moving away from his garden, shaking his head as he went, mumbling inscrutable.

Thomas and Nadine were approaching him, holding out a glass, offering to him. They poured the wine and handed him the glass. His grip loosened, the bar fell down, making a soft, muffled sound on the grass. He took the glass and emptied in one go. Unable to say anything. He turned and pointed at the shed, shaking his head.

„Thanks for the wine. I will have to fix this somehow now.“
„Want help?“
„Its alright, I will get it. Just fixing it up with beam or two from beneath.“

He paused.

„Bloody heat, god damn climate change. It will not go away that‘s for sure.“

Thomas helped him to fix the roof, stabilise it with a couple of beams, so the crack was no longer visible and the panels were standing balanced on the roof. They used wire and tape to fix the beams and roof, so you really could see the repair and even the damage as such. But miraculously it worked and produced some Watt using the last strong rays of the afternoon sun. He had time enough to clean the building site, tidy up the garden. The front was clean already, the guys had taken all the wood from the boxes, and an old metal chair by mistake, he wanted to believe. The chair was part of the front design, but old indeed, rather than vintage. So now it was gone, probably sold with other scrap. He was just done with all, when heard the door open. His wife was back from the hospital.

„Anybody home?“

She left her shoes in the hallway, still in her white doctors clothing, she walked towards the garden, barefooted.

„Want some wine, too? I get me a glass. Hard day in ER today.“
„Why not.“

She stepped outside, holding two glasses in her hands, squatting beside her husband on the small, crooked bench, he has made out of tree trunk. She nestled up against him, he put his arm around her.

„How was your day honey?“
„Two emergencies, pretty busy.“
„…and you saved them?“
„One we did, one we failed. „
„How old the one you saved?“
„A young girl, 11 or so.
„ And the dead one?“
„He was an elderly man.“
„Good. Children are our future…“

They sat in silence for a while, sipping on their wine glasses, which did not taste too bad actually for a wine from the banks of a river in Northern Europe. The sun set behind the shed. They both looked at it, letting the new impression sink in.

„It is ugly!“
„What is?“
„Your shed!“
„I know, but it is our future, too!!