Solar eclipsed: There’s room in the valley to plant your garden



Bonk, Yak and Bob stepped out of the jungle and gazed across a great valley searching for a juicy mastodon for breakfast. They were chasing mastodons because their gardens had yet again done poorly—cornflakes not being an option. Immediately they noticed the “fireball” in the sky was dim. It was their first experience with a solar eclipse. Bonk, the leader said, “Fireball not happy. We go back and eat bugs for breakfast today.”

Around the clan campfire that night, Bob, just a teenager said, “I’m getting tired of eating bugs and chasing mastodons for breakfast. I’ve been thinking about the fireball lately and next year I’m going to plant my garden out in the valley so the fireball can show on it. I think vegetables will do better there.”

Bonk looked at him and said, “Bad idea. We plant garden in jungle because that’s where plants live.” (A conclusion that made some sense even though they always had a miserable garden.) Then the entire clan began making fun of Bob while throwing sharp sticks at his head which was their way of dealing with stupid ideas.

Years later, Bob had become an even more inquisitive man who noticed things around him and how one thing could affect another. He also had become a man of great stature standing 6-feet 5-inch tall and weighing 260 pounds, dwarfing his comrades. One day he thought, “I’m going to plant a garden out in the valley this year and if anyone makes fun of me now I will break their throwing sticks.”

With this step, the first scientist emerged and while it marked progress for mankind, it would be slow progress since only very large, intelligent cavemen and cavewomen dared “think outside of the box” for centuries. Not only that, they spent a lot of their time playing basketball.

Thousands of years later I attended a regional conference for utility communicators offering courses on current events and technological advances in the industry. I jumped at a session that featured an “expert” from Washington D.C. presenting on solar energy, electric cars and battery technology. It wasn’t what I expected.

The speaker began by declaring electric cars were a foolish notion that “panders to movie stars and the rich.” His odd comment was akin to someone from the rubber industry arguing against rubber tires. But he was the expert so I listened on. Next, he questioned battery technology that he posed could sometime in the future, be extremely expensive. Huh?

Then he asked, “What do we do with old batteries?” I didn’t know. He was the expert. Not so surprising, he finished his expensive presentation by noting solar energy and solar charging stations were parts of a pitifully small power network not worth developing. The only thing missing to complete his presentation (other than facts) was smoke coming out of his ears.

I’m not prehistoric but I’ve been around long enough to “get out of Dodge’ once in awhile, so I know “Bonk-like” thinking when I hear it. The presenter was not prepared and offered his opinion as poor substitute to knowledge. If he had been prepared, he may have reported that in 1897 your New York City taxi cab was likely electric or that the electric Porsche Spyder is the second fastest production car in the world or that 40 years ago solar electric fences contained cattle and solar battery chargers helped start old tractors (as on our farm) or that a surface area one-tenth the size of Nevada has enough potential solar energy to provide the U.S. with all its energy needs.

He could have also mentioned that the sun is an incredible mass of energy akin to a ball of lightning made possible by nuclear fusion, the combining of atoms— technology science is working to duplicate to provide nearly unlimited energy with no radiation byproduct as with nuclear fission—splitting atoms. And if we harness fusion, a pail of water could provide as much energy as a super tanker filled with oil. These things would have interested me anyway.

It was just a year and a half ago, that the world was focused on a rare solar eclipse and it’s good to keep in mind that the sun and the energy it provides pose fantastic potential for our planet in addition to its everyday job of making life itself possible. It should be exciting, not threatening to think that we can someday gain and learn even more from it.

Of course, solar technologies and batteries and electric cars need more time to develop before they replace existing technologies, but even Harley Davidson has a new electric bike they expect will make them the world leader in motorcycle production. That’s a big statement from one of the most recognized gas motormakers in the world.

There will always be voices that for whatever reason, want to “block the sun” so don’t believe everything you hear. The good news is there’s lots of room in the valley. Some will continue to plant in the shade but that leaves more space for a garden out there waiting for you—in the light. I’m with Bob.

Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.

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