Thursday, November 3, 2011

Solar Collector


On the first day of November I find myself getting in the car and driving toward the sun. I have only the vaguest idea of what my destination should be. The sun is already close enough to the horizon to reach out and hug it, so I won’t have much time to find a place.
I have a dreamy notion that I will find someplace where the sun is still warm and sit in the grass there, warming my flesh, and maybe read a little. This is the sort of thing I have done from time to time throughout my life, generally at this time of year or during the late winter-early spring transition when I am eager for the ground to warm up so I can sit on it.
I head west toward the city golf course. I am looking to find an angle on the setting sun, where there won’t be tall buildings, hills, or a high tree-line between me and sun. I am a solar collector.
It takes only a couple of minutes to satisfy myself that I won’t be able to get into the golf course on the “back” end, which faces the sun and where, I discover with envy, some slopes facing the southwest are still bathed in light. I drive experimentally down a back road but am immediately hemmed in by dead ends.
Abandoning this plan, I find my way back to a bigger road that I know is bounded by neither hills not buildings in its sun-facing direction. I look for places along this route to pull off the road, but I am in too busy a piece of the world here to find quiet, unobserved, semi-public places.
I keep driving, realizing now where I’m heading. It’s only a few minutes away, but I’ve crossed into the next city (Boston, actually), where we’ve found a parking area for a “Greenway” walking path. I park in a quiet place behind an office building, but it’s clear after a few rapid-paced walking that the path heading west will take me into shadows rather than sun. I need a higher spot; a clear perspective.
I run back down the path to the main road, take the sidewalk along it, walk over a bridge and find an unpeopled, semi-abandoned, unofficial-looking marina, with a couple large power boats parked on the earth next to an empty structure. The boats are surrounded by marsh grass turning gold in the setting sun.
I walk into the rough grass, face southwest, stand in the sun, and read most of an article in Sunday’s book review section.
This doesn’t strike even me as normal behavior. I can’t think of anyone else who would do it. But it seems to me that people, being natural beings, sometimes feel a physical craving for direct contact with solar energy. Plants strain toward the sun. I remember that this physical attraction toward a stimulus is called a tropism.
So great is their longing for solar that plants compete with their neighbors to grow tall and get more exposure to the sun. (This growth pattern makes too many of my own plants grow “leggy,” rather than “full.”) They are solar collectors too.
I’m not a very efficient solar collector and can’t power any electric devices (unlike the human batteries in “The Matrix”). But I think filling myself up with sunlight, especially after a period of challenging weather, helps keep me going.
Here’s a photo of a praying mantis clinging to the outdoor light on the front porch. I think he’s trying to store up some solar energy too.