One week it’s late summer. It’s 80-plus degrees outside during the day, 60-something at night. All very nice. Then summer officially ends and WHOOSH! It’s 30-degrees out at night and snowing. You walk outside first thing in the morning and there’s literally an inch of snow on the ground, even down here in the lowlands where the ranch is (well, if you consider 4500 feet to be low). All that time you thought you had to get things ready for winter… well, you don’t have that time now.
To be honest I don’t know why I’m griping. Having the weather go from pleasantly warm to shockingly cold in the space of a week isn’t really at that uncommon in the desert. If you want predictable weather, you really need to live in a place like San Francisco or Florida. It just takes some getting used to out here. San Francisco only has one season: cool and damp. Florida has two: wretchedly hot and perfect. The Black Rock Desert has three seasons: dust, frozen, and nice. Nice generally occurs twice a year. The first interval of nice occurs in mid to late spring and continues into early summer. The second interval begins in late summer and usually lasts to late autumn. Nice is typified by cool evenings, warm days, and a bit of rain. Early-nice this year lasted about two months. Late-nice appears to have lasted two weeks.
In any case, I’ve gone back to wearing jumpsuits again. As many of you already know, when the weather turns cold I just like to wear jumpsuits. There was this old fellow who had a sort of kiosk near where I used to live in Richmond. He sold industrial jumpsuits at a rate of three for $15.00. I don’t know where he got them, though my guess is that they were castoffs from either the California prison system or EBMUD (the East Bay Municipal Utility District). The old boy sold them cheap and was always friendly about it, so I bought at lot of them. I still use them too. In fact, I use them so much that several of my neighbors weren’t aware that I wore anything but jumpsuits. But unless you’re breaking rocks along the side of a road as part of a chain gang, you’re definitely not wearing a jumpsuit in Nevada in the summer.
So, to make an extremely short story long, now that it’s cold again I can start wearing jumpsuits. Which is nice. Sentimental almost. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be that cold yet. Which brings me back to what I was bitching about in the first place.
In other news, with the help of Tina and my father-in-law Frank, I now have a genuine wind farm. Two more wonderful Air-X units from Southwest Windpower are up in the air as of Friday. John Farmington – better known to everyone out here as Farmer – kindly gave me two 20-foot lengths of 2” pipe to put them up with. Those heavy bastards are practically indestructible. I already had everything else I needed to wire the windmills into the system, though not as elaborately as the existing unit. I’m skipping the fuses, kill switches, and DC Amp meters until I’m certain they’re functioning properly. Plus, as far as I can tell from months of running the existing unit all that extra rigging is pretty superfluous. (I’ve never had to run out and hit the kill switch – nor has the fuse ever popped.) It can certainly wait for a few months until I get around to it. Now all I need is some wind to test the whole system out (it’s been oddly still over the last week).
And the point of all this wind farming? Come autumn the Black Rock Desert starts to get windy. REALLY windy. I’m talking about 20 to 30 mph winds almost all the time at tree level… well, what would be tree level if we had trees out here. It’s milder closer to the ground. Nevertheless, it gets windy and stays windy. With just one Air-X unit we’ve sometimes been able to go for days without running a generator. With three we hope to take generator use down to a bear minimum. Of course, even if everything goes according to plan the wind will die back down again mid spring, but by then I hope to have another 600 watts of solar panels in place to match the 400 I have up now. This will give me a potential peak power – meaning conditions are optimum, with both bright sunlight and strong winds – of 2.2 kilowatts. Not too shabby for an amateur, zero-budget operation where almost everything besides the basic solar and wind units are constructed from scrap pulled out of neighbor’s boneyards: old pipe, fasteners, wiring, kill switches, and what have you.
Of course, it won’t work all the time. Hippy power never works all the time.
Things are winding down in Gerlach post-Burning Man. Last week they stopped providing free room and board to their volunteers, precipitating a mass departure of a hundred or so of them. That leaves just us locals, the dozen or so Burners who have become permanent residents, and the usual gaggle of hunters and tourists that are always seem to be passing through. Hunting season is in full swing for fowl -- chucker, quail, and a few other species – and the place is just swarming with men in camouflage. There are hunters driving quads, hunters in jeeps, hunters driving SUVs, and even hunters in SUVs pulling jeeps that are pulling trailers loaded with quads.
Fortunately, they aren’t bothering me… because I don’t know anything about bird hunting! That wasn’t the case during pronghorn and deer season. I had a hunter come through my front gate every day or two to ask me where they should go. I claim no particular expertise in this department, but since I live out here with the deer and pronghorn, several hunters have accurately surmised that I probably have an idea of where they are – which, in fact, I do.
Birds are a different matter. Birds are Zen: everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
I can’t help you with birds.