Friday, July 20, 2007

Source of Darkness

I tend to write posts in my head while I'm working. Then I'm never quite sure whether I've actually written them online before, or not. So if I repeat myself, bear with me. And most likely each entry will reflect a slightly different slant of light, a changed point of view, a seasonal progression, on the repeated theme. If my repeated stories bore you with repetition, you can always go play a computer game or something instead of reading them.

There are things that amaze or startle or please me everything I notice them, no matter how often I notice them. ("Notice" is the operative word here...I may see them many times a day without consciously focusing on them them.) The new, improved darkness at Pinwheel Farmis one of them.

Tonight the "yard sheep" were still gated in their electric-fence "day pen" while I filled their feed troughs with a mix of grain and alfalfa pellets. It was somewhat later than usual, and they were eager for supper. Before I could release them to run over to the night pen, a few of them pushed through or under the electric fence. Not good. After getting them settled in the night pen, I set about checking the fence.

The tester is simple. You stick a probe in the ground near the fence, then touch the hook at the top of the indicator panel to the fence wire. Lights flash with each pulse of the charger; the number of lights illuminated shows the volts being carried through the wire. 1000 volts is clearly not nearly enough. I like the fence to run at least 3500 volts; 5000 or 7000 is even better! Wool (when dry) is a good insulator, and the older, wiser sheep DO understand the concept of "no pain, no gain" until the pain is significant. Low voltage feels like a vague tingling; 3500 volts is like being stung hard by a wasp; 7000 really knocks me back and leaves me, or parts of me, feeling very strange for awhile. At least that's my experience.

Since I worked on the pasture fences today, it made sense to test them first. With a few scattered clouds reflecting some city lights, I could just find my way without the headlamp. So I turned it off and let the darkness settle in around me, let my eyes adjust to the dark. Dark! Real country-style dark!

When I started the farm, I stood near the Willow Row (then 3' tall) and counted over 80 (eighty!) lights visible to the north and west from where I stood, without moving. Tonight I counted 7: a more than 10-fold reduction. I could reduce it to 3 by moving just enough that the crosspiece of the Torii obscured them.

I don't think there are fewer lights out there. It is just that the 3' tall willows are now over 40'tall, with dense foliage. The Baby Forest (a mowed strip of brome 12 years ago) is tall enough to entirely obscure the Juvenile Detention Center to the northwest, as well as UPS, the city Solid Waste Dept. yard, Burger King, the hotel, and the I-70 interchange (all within less than a half mile of the farm). Harry's popcorn is doing its seasonal job of darkening the eastern horizon. And the farm is DARK! I can see stars, more than ever before!

I love the darkness itself, never mind the stars. It's a comforting thing for me, a rest for eyes jangled and harried by overload of lights and computer screens and the daytime visual riot of greenery (on the farm) or traffic and structures (off the farm). A kind of visual quietness that soothes my spirit.

The peace and serenity of the dark farm at night, sheltered from the surrounding hubbub of commerce, reminds me of my desire to assure its future. In part, this is the purpose of the fencing I did today: protecting a row of tiny pecan seedlings that will grow along the eastern fence, eventually screening the lights in that direction. I need to create a dense perimeter planting further south, too, where Harry's corn grows high in the summer. Then I will have this marvelous darkness through more of the year!

The darkness makes troubleshooting the fence easier. The lights on the tester are easy to see, compared to my sturggles to see them in bright sunlight. And the faults are easier to see, too, if they create "arcing and sparking" rather than a "dead short".

1000 volts implies a vague short, not one where all the power drains to ground. At the entrance to the pasture, I shut off various branches of the system in a carefully ordered sequence until I shut off one whose disconnection sends the volt reading back up to a strong 3500. I start walking that line--in this case, the main one, to which I added new fence today.

Reaching the north end of the central lane, I hear the rythmic snap of an arcing short, and follow the sound. Soon I see the arcing, like a firefly fixed in one spot. A splice in the polytwine fence wire, made by knotting two strands together end-to-end with the "water knot" that a firefighter friend showed me, has long ends that are sticking out. One end barely brushes the t-post bove the plastic insulator. A quick flick with the hooked end of the tester restores silence along the fence.

The sheep are secure for the night now, enjoying their new pasture while confined from devouring the newly-transplanted pear trees bordering the main lane. And the darkness is increasingly secure, as more of the source of my darkness comes from the farm itself, instead of depending on neighbors.

No comments: