Friday, May 10, 2013


Once upon a time, in Freedom, Indiana, our family spent most of our time with a nearby Amish community.  In that community the term ‘shifting’ was incredibly common.  It took me a while to gain a full grasp of what they meant by shifting.  In my modern train of thought I went straight to shifting gears, as in a car, and although that idea comes close, that wasn’t quite the connotation they had in mind.

For the Amish shifting was a more holistic concept.  Not just moving to another gear to speed up or slow down, but rather making significant changes in how they did almost everything to deal with the current circumstances.  “Well,” Mary would say, “Ed’s cut himself with a chainsaw and can’t work much right now so I’ll just have to shift.”  Or perhaps, “Nathan’s house caught fire last night, so they’ll be staying with us for the next year, so I guess we’ll just have to shift.”  It was always said so matter-of-factly, as if they were saying, “Oh, I’ve stubbed my toe so I guess I’ll need to wear sandals today.”

Right now we are shifting.

You see, our trusty generator has broken down.  Said generator is the backup for the four solar panels that supply us with electricity.  On a good day with the best conditions (cloudless, cool, crisp days) these four panels will charge our eight golf cart batteries with enough juice that we can live what feels to us like a very normal life.  We can make use of lights well into the night, we can watch a movie, we can use the computer as much as we like, and we can even make a bit of use of small power tools, all without ever listening to the growl of the generator.  When conditions are not perfect for solar absorption we try to cut back a bit on electricity usage, but we have the liberty of adding extra juice whenever necessary by turning on that little, feisty, red machine.

This spring, however, it is raining and cloudy more often than not, and there is no spare electricity to be had.  So we’ll just have to shift.  The house remains very dimly lit during the day, whatever light comes in through the windows will have to do.  In the evening, we’ll light up kerosene lamps which give a warm glow to the whole house.  I am composing this post on battery power alone in Microsoft Word rather than composing directly on the blog because turning on the internet requires also turning on a light to provide the modem with enough electricity to stay on.  Similarly, the oven requires a light to be kept on so that the glow plug always has enough electricity to come on when necessary. (We could set the power inverter differently to account for these items, but then the inverter [which itself requires electricity to run] will run more constantly) Not being able to use the oven on baking day (Friday) means that since Joe can’t bake the usual three loaves of bread to get us through the week, I’ll be making a mega batch of Naan on the stovetop.  

There will be no movies, and no music that we do not make ourselves.  Basically, we need to cut our electrical usage by about 60-80% to keep enough juice in the battery bank to run the freezer. (the freezer only requires enough electricity each day to run a 60 watt lightbulb for 8 hours)

It is quiet and peaceful, and though there are moments when it feels very frustrating, it is a good reminder of how very fortunate we are.  The majority of the world’s population lives without electricity.  So needing to shift, even if that shift becomes permanent, is not so bad.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I know you'll do fine with it, but, yeah. I hate change that wasn't my idea. ;)