Chiggers Writing

Seeing Through

By Chiggers Stokes

Special to the Forks Forum

Seeing Through My Finger

When I was about seven years old, I was thrashing around with religious issues such as does God hear me when I pray? I could imagine myself talking to God in heaven through a tin can tied to a string. But there was God with a billion tin cans to His ear. How could I be sure that He was hearing me over the din of all the other prayer, particularly some pleas coming in from starving children. I tried to integrate my prayers with those of the starving, asking God for food for the hungry and an electric train set for Christmas. I got the train set, but there were still starving kids. I waited for another sign.

Early in primary school I discovered that if I held my finger about 10 inches from my eyes and focused on just the image of my teacher, I could mute out whatever they were saying and see through my finger! It was a sign! God had invested super human power in me.

I shared the good news with my mother - that a miracle had occurred in our household. I had been chosen by God to demonstrate the power of seeing through objects. My mother laughed and told me I was not seeing through my finger.

My father, Howard Stokes made his last stand at the Forks Long Term Care. The year he was born was 1908, which was the same year Einstein's Special Relativity was published. By the time my dad was in technical college, General Relativity had proven that gravity and acceleration were the same force. My father was a radio engineer. He could explain how a microwave oven creates radio eddies, which excites molecular movement, which is heat. He explained this to me a few months before his death by Alzheimers. Both Einstein's Relativity, Special and General were put in one binding which my father picked up in college. It was on his bookshelf at Forks Long Term Care. It was on the family bookshelf when I told my father in 1957 that mom wouldn't believe that I could see through my finger or other objects placed 10 inches from my brow.

My father explained parallax and the compensation that occurs in the brain to accommodate double imaging. As a child he had developed lazy eye, and, untreated, had lost vision in his left eye. My father's visual world was two dimensional, but his brain operated in the four dimensions of space/time.

I had to find other ways to mute my teachers voices and, like Einstein, became an expert at daydreaming. While I was getting a D in high school physics, my father was the FAA Division Chief for the team that first computerized air traffic control. My father bought bytes from IBM for the government. In 1965 the USA paid two bits a byte.

When I picked up my father's copy of Einstein's Relativity I got the part about a person on the dock and the person on the train. But I couldn't do the math. From our Library, I checked out a few books that dumbed down the world of Relativity and quantum mechanics. I took two free distance learning courses on Relativity available from taught by the emanate cosmologist Brian Greene. I plugged the information into the powerful lens of my day dreaming imagination.

Collectively, our thoughts and opinions about what is out there define our world view. Reality is not what we think. The weird and counter-intuitive world that is revealed when one looks at the tiny and when one looks at the vast, is mind boggling. Truly I wish that I had stayed awake for high school physics. But I think I get it. And, if I get it, I think I can explain it to you. Who are you going to trust to dumb down the vision of genius? A university professor with a brain the size of a mainframe computer or a schmoe like you who got a D in high school physic? And I have a special tool to help you understand. While other kids were listening to the teacher, I developed a set of goggles which I want to share with you. These goggles are powered by two hallmarks of our species, logic and imagination. For Albert Einstein, it was what propelled him from an obscure patent office in Zurich to an office for life at Princeton University. The view through these goggles will blow hard on your world view and shake the tree of your reality. Are you ready for the journey? Please join me in this column next week for a journey to the center of an atom.

When you are comfortable with it, please put on your free pair of Chiggoggles. Our first experiment will be to see through my finger, and, if your follow instructions and don't daydream off yourself, we will discover this transparency.

With your Chiggoggles on can you still read these words. Good. An apple supposedly spurred Issac Newton's take on gravity, so let's focus on that apple. But, notice now, the control panel on the lower right hand side of your lenses, a button with a magnifying glass? Push that button...No! Wait! Let me rescale text. Woops! Too far...Good! We are on scale adjusted text. Now hit the inflate button hard. It's like the Big Bang. In a split second the apple has exploded the walls of your house. The apple is now covering Okanagon country from whence it came. The apple is spreading out over Washington state, like the ice age floods that carved the Columbia gorge in a matter of days. You can go to sleep on the button. This will take a while...At some point we have to decide if we are going to stick it out on an earth being squashed by a giant apple or step onto the exploding fruit. We try to hold onto a scale and remember that light travels at the same speed, everywhere in the universe regardless of the velocity or direction of the observer. As we reach a state of inflation of one meter on earth equals 700 billion meters on the inflating apple the lights go out because 700 nanometers is the threshhold of visible light on Earth or on Apple. A this scale nothing is visible since we are inside a lightwave. We are navigating on pure logic in a world that will never be visible to our eyes. We rely on the Imajovision built into the Chiggoggles.

Keep inflating. I will tell you when to stop. OK, now stop! At this point we have inflated our view to the resolution that our apple is the size of Earth. Step off Earth onto Apple, mind you, don't get toe stuck between the two celestials. The gravity on Apple is slightly less because a shovel load of Apple weighs less than a shovel full of Earth. Our watches run faster on Apple than on earth. But here's what I want to show you. Bring that shovel.

The whole planet of Apple is made up of what through Imajovision look like short vines of grapes. The grapes are atoms and the vines are their molecular structure. Count the grapes making up planet Apple and that's the number of atoms in an apple back on earth. But we have to zoom a little more to get to the really interesting part. So zoom in a little more and we will get inside one of these grape sized atoms and look at the subatomic world. To find an appropriate atom for our final inflation lets filter out any of Apple that is not stardust. Push the Filter Stardust button on the lower right hand screen of your Chiggoggles. Woops! Almost all of Earth and Apple disappeared, leaving only hydrogen and helium. All organic chemistry and everything else that's not helium or hydrogen is from ancient stars that went supernova.

Step inside this hydrogen atom and take it up to the scale of CenturyLink Field. The solitary positively charged proton is out in the middle of the field. It is about the size of a baby grape. The negatively charged electron is the buzzing around the roof of CenturyLink Field, about the size of a prenatal fruitfly. Almost all the atom's mass is in it's proton. The electron twinkles in and out of existence, first here and then there forming a shell from a probability cloud. 99.999(and a lot more nines)% of the hydrogen atom, the sugar molecule or a protein molecule in Chiggers' finger is empty space. My finger disappears with the rest of the material world into the empty space that accounts for its atomic structure. At this resolution, you can see through my finger and the whole rest of me.

Seeing through my finger is seeing that we humans, by volume, are 99.999,999,999...% creatures of space/time and only .000,000,001% material with mass and anything like physical boundaries. We are swarms of energy that twinkle in and out of the material world. We are drizzles of subatomic particles hurtling through space/time. We are empty space with unlimited possibility.

We are stardust!

Special Relativity

Last week we took a fantastic journey into a hydrogen atom and learned that what appears to us to be the hard shell of the atom was actually a probability cloud -not a defined orbit, but the rapid and random firing of the electron from a state of existence to a state of non existence. To say that this is how the atom appears is to go around the issue that we can't see anything that is smaller than an ultra violet light wave which has a wave length of 4 billionths of a meter. Nothing smaller than that is visible to the human eye regardless of magnification. Because, as everyone knows, light is a wave and it can not carry data shorter than its wave length. That light is composed of waves was proven by Thomas Young in 1803 who projected light through two slits and demonstrated an interference pattern, like dropping two stones into still water creates waves that interfere with one another, amplifying and canceling out the crests.

But in 1905, an obscure eccentric, working in a patent office in Zurich, Switzerland, published a paper on the photoelectric effect of light and proved that light was a collection of tiny particles, or photons. Seeing refracted light was the effect of these tiny little particles being bounced from matter into out billiard balls. It likewise, proved out experimentally, and eventually won the Nobel Prize for young Albert Einstein. It was the beginning of spooky science. Light can't be both a wave and a particle...but it is.

With Special Relativity, which came a few years later, Einstein deals with the special condition of speeds approaching light. He embraced another aspect of spooky science which was proven by Mickelson and Morley by accident who were trying to prove the existence of a cosmic ether. They proved: Regardless of the observer's state of motion the velocity of light will always be measured at 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) a second. If you are traveling toward a star at half the speed of light, you should measure the speed of light as 1.5c and it you are traveling away from the star at half the speed of light, you should read the star's light at 0.5c...but you don't. It's always 186k miles/second.

To appreciate the implications of this cosmic phenomenon, Albert Eisenstein takes us to a train platform and rides by in a train car dropping a ball so that we can watch. From his perspective in the train car the ball falls straight down, regardless of the speed of the train as long as it remains consistent. But we see the falling ball as a parabola. As the ball falls faster, it cuts a straighter arch to the floor of the moving train. Graphs on paper use this parabola to project the shift on your watch and the watch of Albert Einstein dropping the ball on the train.

Reality, as we know it, is much more eloquently described in math, then in any spoken language. Einstein proved mathematically, that the parabola at the speed of light, will always remain beyond the material world, since this is the threshold from mass to energy. We are all manifestations of intense energy.

To see what it means, please grab your chiggoggles and come out for a star walk with me. With your goggles on, see on the control panel at the filter button on the lower right of your view. Go to the big red button that says Filter Everything and push it. Good. Now me and the rest of the universe should disappear and you are alone in space. The temperature in this dark emptiness is absolute zero. But, undaunted, you use the Radar Telescope feature of your chiggoggles to look around the universe to make sure that you are alone. Due to a defect in your pair of chiggoggles, the Filter Everything function missed a mini asteroid, which slipped through filter and, big woops!- it's heading at you at the deadly speed of 0.5c (93,000 miles/sec) You're able to use all the calculator functions (sine and cosine) that always baffle me and you expertly use classic Newtonian physics (which is what I got a D in) to draw your projections. There is no denying that the steroid will hit you.
With no ground to walk on, you're pretty much stuck as you stand and there is no getting out of the way. As surely as cancer resides in my lymph glands, that asteroid will make a mess when it hits you at that speed. So you do whatever you can to get your affairs in order there in space and as the moment of collision draws near you pull yourself into the tightest point facing the incoming and, without a so much as a
whooosh, the asteroid is going away from you. You realize it's passed. It missed you. All your calculations were correct but by Lorentz Contraction, at the speed of 0.5c, drug the asteroid across time/space so fast that it contracts in a material way. From our perspective, the asteroid gets smaller.

From the asteroid's view we get smaller. From the asteroid's view you were coming at it at 0.5c. The asteroid's standpoint is that it was standing still, minding its own business, when you almost hit it in a near miss where you fled the scene. Either case will stand up in the court of Relativity.

The court of Relativity is open to reference point. The court of Einstein's Relativity holds that the universe unfolds differently from the perspective of different coordinate systems and reference points. Are we not each of us with senses and consciousness reference points? And, if I am a reference point, has not the universe revolved around me for the last 65 years? Stephen Hawkins says that the math and gravity behind the universe revolving around the Earth works the same as the Earth revolving around the sun. It's just harder to draw.

The court of Relativity rules that, far more than material beings, we are energy. We are starlight!

Einstein's Gravity

In coming into life, gravity is one of the first forces we come to respect. As we take our first steps, it is gravity that brings our rears to Earth before our parents' hands find need to spank them ...or they become pierced by outrageous fortune. Gravity, we conclude at a tender age, makes for falls which makes for owey! We survive our falls and learn to carry loads and if we stumble and fall under the load, we have momentum and learn to fear a crushing load. Gravity is one of our most primal fears.

With Special Relativity (reference points moving at near light speed) Albert Einstein opened the door to an argument that the Earth does not rotate around the sun. As easily said is the universe revolves around the Earth. The math is harder, but still works, claims Stephen Hawking a century later. In 1915, General Relativity Albert Einstein tore the roof off the school model of an Earth orbiting the sun. Another casualty of General Relativity is the right to believe that the sun exerts attraction to the Earth. Even though, on Earth the oceans appear to swell with attraction to the moon and, even from the sun one astronomical unit (about 93,000 miles) away. For a hundred years we have known that gravity is not a force acting on two separated objects but acting on the space/time in between. Einstein's model of Earth and Sun is that they travel parallel to one another with space/time collapsing under the weight of the sun. Meanwhile, back at our reference point, the gravity of Earth is bending the space/time beneath our feet. It's not the same thing as the Earth attracting our weight.

How much does the Earth weigh, anyway? Special Relativity gives us the easy answer. Step onto the scale. Put a scale between the Earth and a reference point and that's your answer of how much Earth weighs. How much the world weighs depends entirely on which of us fatties are weighing in. Put a scale between two earths and you are measuring two gravitational fields, not one. Step between them and it is not insufferable weight but a state of heavy deflation. Acceleration is the same as space/time deflation ergo, GRAVITY AND ACCELERATION ARE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SAME FORCE! As humans, we perceive gravity as a condition of matter and acceleration as the effect of external force, effecting increased velocity.

Please put on your chigoggles to see yourself on an elevator that is about to be power dropped down a deep and docked rocket ship on Earth. It drops faster and faster until it accelerates to the rate of 31 feet per second/second. If the floor keeps accelerating in its descent you will be weightless, in free fall, with the floor falling away from you. If the elevator senses freefall and, maintains speed but stops accelerating you will immediately go from freefall to one G (Earth gravitational unit) like stepping off a one inch stair. But if the floor continues to accelerate downward, gong 31 feet faster every second, you will find that you can bounce around in the elevator just like the astronauts in space.

Now use your chigoggles to zoom back and you see that this extremely deep elevator shaft is located in a big rocketship and while you're bouncing off the ceiling and floor in the elevator it's three, two, one, LIFTOFF! So back in the elevator which is falling faster and faster, we start to experience gravity as the rocketship lifts off. Regardless of velocity, when the ship reaches a state of acceleration of 31 feet per second/second. The ride in the elevator is over and even though the elevator has been in free fall for some time now, you are experiencing one G. But better lay down on the floor, because even though you're in free fall your arms and legs will weigh like lead. To escape the gravitational field of Earth, every interplanetary spaceship (not the orbiting International Space Station) has to reach an escape velocity of 25,020 miles per hour.

Here's another fun experiment that we can try with our chigoggles that has been verified by plenty of labratory experience in my ex-wife's kitchen. Place a bowling ball on top of a 31 foot ladder and use the Magnification lens of the goggles to find a subatomic proton . (See Seeing Through part one) Chop and mince proton into fine pieces (a number with 20 zeros in it). Use your precision chigoggles Stop Watch feature to measure how long it takes light traveling at 186,000 miles a second to race across one of those tiny kernels of time/space. Now you're cooking with Plank Time! At that scale, a clock on the bowling ball up the ladder is running slower than the clock on the ground. Push the ladder out of the way and hit the Einstein View on your chigoggles. The ball does not come down. The time/space in between the bowling ball and whatever floor you're using for a labratory deflates. If you look at the view of the falling bowling ball through your Plank Time feature you will see that it gets more and more in synch with Earth time until the bowling ball crashes through the floor of your labratory, in the violence of collapsing time/space...and who is going to clean up this mess? I wasn't even supposed to cut up protons in here.

Relativity says that there will be consequence for sharing simultanity when two rapily shifting reference points try to occupy the same moment on the clock. When we drive we are exercising intention to avoid simultanity with pedestrians and other motorist. If our chigoggles tell us we are on a collision course with another reference point traveling at right angels to us, we can speed up or slow down to avoid the event of simultanity. We are using human intention to bend time/space. If the chigoggles tell us what Plank Time is on the wrist of the other reference point we can shut our eyes and use just our watches to avoid collision. Just don't let it be the same time on both watches. That's when the bowling ball goes through the floor boards.

Einstein's view of Relativity lead to a vision in Physics where so-called REALITY was divided into four realms of force. The domain of we-the-living is the realm of Electromagnatism. Two powerful sister realms to Electromagnatism are the Weak Nuclear Force, which bind electrons to nucleus, and the Strong Nuclear Force, binding proton to nutron. Our human forays into these realms have led to terrible weapons of mass destruction. Albert Einstein realized that Realitivity could wander this road. Though he was a pacifist all his life, he wrote President FDR of this inevitability of Relativity. He spent part of his life regretting the Pandora's Box that Relativity had sprung upon the planet with the advent of Atomic Age.

The two BIG sister Atomic realms, Weak and Strong, could wipe out all life as we know it in the realm of Electromagnatism. But these realms could be reconsiled in one theory and what equated in one realm crossed currency with the other realms. But not so with the step sister of Gravity. The weakest realm, Gravity, has refused to honor the math of the other realms. Einstein spent most of his life trying to unify the realms under one throne of equations.Though String Theory may finally unite the four realms under one mathmtical crown, Albert Einstein was never able to do so.

Our first fear in life is Gravity. We fall down. We learn to walk. We fall, we walk better and avoid cliffs. As children we pick up a nail with a toy magnet. Many of us go to our deaths without realizing there was a contest over what realm would have that nail. In our realm of Electromagnatism, a kid's toy wreslted a nail from the grasp of an entire planet called Earth.

Free At Last

Today (January 18) the United States celebrates the birth of a great American – Dr. Martin Luther King. I have promised a column on “world view” and today I celebrate the holiday, by imposing my own political opinion under the banner of World View.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King led a hundred thousand person march on Washington calling for equal employment and equal rights for every American, black or white. I was one of those hundred thousand. I stood amid a sea of black people with tears streaming down my white face. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King faced the United States Capitol and threw away his written speech. Under the roof of our Capitol, black Americans could not drink from public water fountains or use the restrooms. From his heart, without benefit of his discarded notes, Dr. King delivered one of the most impactive American orations of all time. “I have a DREAM!” uttered Dr. King. And I pledged to keep that dream in my heart for as long as I should live.

In less than a year the water fountains and restrooms of the Nation's Capitol, and every other public facility in the land, would legally belong to black Americans. But racism did not end there. Not long ago, a young self acclaimed racist from South Carolina, talked his way into a black church and opened fire on the congregation which had welcomed him. The shooter had posted pictures of himself on the Internet with a Confederate flag in the background. The cry went out to take down the Confederate flag in front of South Carolina's Capitol. Our President joined the noise, calling for the flag to be pulled down. With Dr. King's message still burning in my heart, I felt no victory when the flag was retired.

Let me explain. I was a terrible student. My parents and even my teachers couldn't believe that I was as stupid as my grades indicated. When I got to high school, as an experiment, I was put in a two year, advanced placement history course, that departed radically from the “history” taught to other students. The course was taught by iconoclastic teachers that looked hard for skeletons in the closet and examined the “why” as much as the what, when, where and who.

If we don't always believe our President, we do tend to believe what we were taught in school, whether it is fact or fiction. If you doubt this, try this on: On November 19, 1863 as the dirt settled on 50,000 graves from one battle at Gettysburg, President Lincoln, began another great American oration. “Four score and seven years ago,” spoke the President, “our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...” Subtract 87 from the year 1863, and you arrive at 1776. Who was the first President of that emerging nation? We are taught in school to answer George Washington. But the Continental Congress was the Federal body that bound the 13 seceding colonies to their one fate. The President of that body which drafted the Declaration of Independence was John Hancock, which is why his is the first signature on the document. But before him was the first President of the seceding Nation who was Peyton Randolf. This new nation had half a dozen Presidents before George Washington took office in 1789.

In my alternative class, I was taught that war is almost always based on economic issues and that moral and ethical issues are ornaments adorning The Beast. I was taught that HISTORY is written by the victors. It seems to be the case in the War Between the States. Most of us believe, as President Obama seemed to be saying, that the Confederate flag is intrinsically linked to the slavery and oppression of Afro Americans. But slavery existed on this continent even before the arrival of European Americans. Shortly after arriving in the New World, we European Americans experimented with making slaves out of the indigenous people already here and, at the time, in abundant supply. But the Indians proved incorrigibly free spirited. While we were still colonies, Boston became the hub of the slave trade. In terms of stilling the human spirit, there's nothing like a boat ride, chained to the floor in your own excrement, with people dying next to you, hungry and thirsty, longing for your home and family. Negroes arriving from Africa were better slave material than the recalcitrant Indians, who, as you will remember ended up in concentration camps euphemistically called “reservations.”

By 1776, Boston, Massachusetts, was where to go to get you a slave. The “new Nation” that was brought forth upon this continent, led the world in the slave trade. WE, THE PEOPLE, were not women, were not First Americans were not Afro Americans and were not indentured servants. “Our fathers” (at least the ones drafting our Constitution) were land and slave owners.

What war was based on the slavery issue? Most of us answer, the Civil War. But I was taught that our war for independence from England was based on resistance to the Intolerable Acts, among which were royal fiat prohibiting slavery in the New World and forbidding settlement east of the Appalachian crest (which was the Crown's attempt to spare Native America from exactly what happened.) Every soldier in the Continental Army was promised “two healthy Negroes” and 160 acres in Ohio (Indian Country). Without using the word “slave” the U.S. Constitution says that if a human property runs from his owner, he is still a slave wherever he turns. The U.S. Constitution says that every five Negros equals three WE THE PEOPLE for representation in Congress (but the right for blacks to vote would not be won until 1870 with the 15th Amendment.)

The war with Mexico was about slavery. American ranchers moved into Texas, (Mexico) in spite of a treaty prohibiting such. Interloping ranchers came with their slaves. Mexico, and the rest of the world, found slavery repugnant decades before we “in the land of the free.” We provoked a war with Mexico and walked away with the whole of the Southwestern Continent, which we opened to slavery.

Books have been written on the subject of what caused the War Between the States. Some very smart people believe that slavery was the underlying issue. But I was taught by very smart people, that it was the Confederacy wanting to sell cotton, whiskey and tobacco directly to Europe without a tariff being imposed by a U.S. Congress that was dominated by the populated North – even with the 5/3 rule allowing them to count slaves as populace. In March of 1861, to preserve the Union, President Lincoln supported Congressman Corwin's Amendment which would protect the institution of slavery in all States at issue. Though Abraham Lincoln loathed slavery, his own wife, Mary Todd, was from a slave owning family and he doubted his own ability to end it. As the Civil War raged, President Lincoln wrote Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” About the same time, President Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation which only liberated slaves in the Confederacy, continuing to allow slavery in three States in the Union. The 13th Amendment, disallowing slavery in the United States did not occur until after the assassination of “the Great Emancipator.”

I think it is an ethical mistake to vilify the Confederacy for a skeleton that is in the closet of every white American. If we are going to tear down the Confederate flag, then why not throw the flag of Massachusetts onto the heap and climb onto it ourselves? And for all the moral outrage we seem to feel about how Afro Americans were treated, let's look closer to home. Chinese were brought to the Olympic Peninsula at the dawn of the 20th century to build Fort Worden, a job at least as cruel as picking cotton. The fort was built and the Chinese let go to starve. They established gardens to feed themselves and were successful enough to sell a little produce. Local farmers rallied to beat up the Chinese and burn their homes and gardens.

Name an ethnic group, immigrating to the U.S. and you have corresponding derogatory names to dehumanize them. For a melting pot of immigrants with only a smattering of red blood left on the continent, we sure do a great job of distrusting and stiff arming refugees. AND WERE DOING IT AGAIN RIGHT NOW!

On August 28th of 1963, when I was 13 years old, I made a vow that I intended to keep for life. What business of mine is it what flag flies on the grounds of South Carolina's Capitol? The flag that I vowed to protect flutters from my heart. It is the Dream of which Dr. King spoke. It is the American Dream. It's easier to blame others for racism than to deal with it in ourselves. But, it is my personal responsibility to keep my heart free of prejudice and hatred. I still struggle with this. I look forward to a day when I, and the country I love and call home, are free of these moral encumbrances. A day when I am...“Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free at last!”

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King.  

A Geocentric View

For most of the history of civilization it has been held that the Sun and other stars followed the path of our Moon around a flat planet Earth. We are taught in school that Flat Earth camp lost a lot of members with the Christopher Columbus voyage in 1492. We may remember the fiction we were taught: that the great Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the “globe”, sailing off into the sunset in September of 1519. But there was no sunrise for Captain Magellan as the ship returned with the rising sun three years later. The Great Navigator died in route. It was what was left of the crew and his second in command that rightfully deserve the title of World Navigators. On this voyage and that of Columbus's to the Americas, latitude was easily calculated with a sextant trained on the North Star. Polaris's angle above the horizon corresponded reliable lines of latitude even on the obsolete “flat world maps.” But determining longitude was a bitch. Longitude depends on having a clock accurate enough to tell the difference between celestial time read on a sun dial and a global clock standard based on a line of longitude intersecting the English village of Greenwich. The U.S. National Standards clock in Boulder Colorado is estimated to be within 137 seconds of accuracy since the beginning of time.

Half a century after Magellan, it was the Italian Galileo Galilei who ran with Copernicism - the theory that the Earth revolved around its star, the Sun. He used a tool of the Devil, called a telescope to produce a very convincing model of what he described as a solar system. Like Copernicus, Galilei's model put Sun in the middle of a heliocentric system of orbiting planets. His conviction on the matter was tested by the Church and, in fairness to the Catholics, they did look through the eyepieces to draw their own conclusions. The Church argued that stellar parallax proved the heliocentric model inconsistent with observations. But when the argument turned from a scientific debate to one of heresy, that the Earth was clearly the center of God's Creation, the Father of Astronomy himself recanted. I don’t possess anything as convincing as a rack or rat infested dungeon to steer your opinion one way or the other. But let’s have a friendly little debate on the subject and see where we end up. You hold on to what you learned in school. I will rely on imagination, a few half truths and the smattering of what I have read on the subject.

For one thing, smart guys have weighed in on the subject and don’t always come up with the model drawn by Copernicus and Galileo. If you will accept Albert Einstein as a smart guy, his model of Earth’s relationship with our Sun disavows action at a distance. In General Relativity gravity accounts for a collapsing or deflation of space/time such that the Earth traveling in a straight line parallel to our Sun appears to be ascribing an arch as space/time collapses under the weight of the sun. And gravity is not the glue holding us to Earth but the vacuum cleaner that deflates the time/space between our shoes and this precious planet.

If you accept Stephen Hawking as a smart guy, it was his assertion in A Brief History of Time that, following the principles of Special Relativity no such thing as absolute motion or non-motion or of place exists in the universe. This book by Dr. Hawking was a compilation of articles like this one, written for his local newspaper The Sunday Times. Perhaps the similarity in our qualifications end with finding local newsprint. But in explaining Special Relativity Dr. Hawking points out that within one frame of reference whether we are flying into the Sun or the Sun is flying into Earth. The math works either way, says Dr. Hawking, and size is not at issue. The accident can be blamed on either party.

When I first came to the Olympic Peninsula in 1978 the only digital watches available cost $39.99 and required that you push a button to get an LED display (not the liquid crystal display on watches today). Such a timepiece would have been a godsend to early navigators plotting longitude with sand hour glasses. Taking into account monetary inflation, I recently purchased a discounted GPS for about the same price as one of those LED watches. You probably already know this, but a GPS is an Earth station receiver, clock and map system. The receiver recognizes different signals from individual GPS dedicated satellites (thank you, United States Department of Defense) and triangulates and quadrangulates the signals into converging lines on a map by knowing when the signal was transmitted and when it was received. Since my GPS is accurate within 50 feet, the clock must be accurate to 50 billionths of a second (a light foot is one about one billionth of a second.) Special Relativity tells us that a clock moving in time/space“faster” than our frame of reference will run slower. Without Special and General Relativity programmed into the logic of the GPS the Department of Defense GPS system would be space junk. A fine point is that a GPS doesn’t tell you where you are in real time/space; it tells you where you are in the virtual world of its on board maps. From the maps, we infer where we are on the ground. If you have a GPS yourself, notice that, as you move, your position remains in the center of the screen and it is the map that moves to reflect a changing location.

Let’s engage a thought experiment on an interstellar journey to explore the issue of where our place is in the universe. We will take a trip to our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima (only 4.22 light years away) in the Alpha Centauri star cluster. The GPS satellites are only useful here on Earth, so we have to come up with an affordable IPS (interstellar positioning system). Here is is: We will use Pulsars, which are highly magnetized neutron stars that emit regular and huge bursts of radio waves that can be received anywhere in the universe. They pulse with the regularity of an atomic clock and are far enough away to offer better focus than the GPS system we use so effectively on Earth.

That was easy, but things get tougher as we try to create the virtual universe with which to program our IPS. I’m assuming you want to use the model of Earth rotating around our Sun that you were taught in school. You just need to download all the current star maps and NASA orbit calculators into your virtual universe. But, since I am pursuing the notion that the universe revolves around the earth, I have to come up with my own star maps with my garage sale telescope. To get our target of Proxima on my geocentric star map, I have to go south of the equator, since the cluster of Alpha Centauri is not visible at any time of year in Forks...with or without rain. As I cross the equator I make note of the sun, which behaves exactly like the moon proving my theory. After a year of observation I notice a about a 231/2 degree wobble in the sun's trajectory and correctly conclude that this is the cause of seasons here on earth. With the star mapping much of my work can be done by pointing a conventional camera at the night sky and leaving the shutter open. The beautiful picture created is a star map with the earth more or less in the center of the universe. I say more or less because the bulls-eye of those concentric circles is around Polaris. What I was expecting to see – what the Catholic Church expected to see looking through Galileo's eyepiece – were streaks of straight lines, like the sun, arching from east to west. And another problem for me is that my cheap telescope has about the same power and resolution as the one that caused Galileo and the Church to bump heads. I can’t distinguish the 100 billion stars in our Milky Way from the 100 billion galaxies that look like stars in my telescope. It wasn’t until well into the 20th Century that Edwin Hubble discovered galaxies from the, now obsolete, Wilson Observatory near Pasadena. Along with this was his discovery of red shift and the inescapable conclusion that the universe is expanding like a firework in the night sky of the cosmos. So both of us need to calculate inflation into our logic and the return trip will be further than the first leg. Another issue for me in making my map is that the other seven planets (sorry Pluto) are making wildly divergent arches from the stars, requiring re-mapping every day. Our IPS logic, thus prepared, we both have to program in time dilation owing to both acceleration (General Relativity) and speed relative to Earth (Special Relativity). If the cheap GPS in my car didn't already program in Relativity within 24 hours, when I punched the GO HOME button, I would be pulling into your driveway instead of my own. Relativity is not science fiction. It has to be programmed into the logic for any GPS system to work.

Now the hard part and reason this experiment. It takes the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva about the same electrical energy as the entire city to accelerate one proton sized particle to 99% the speed of light. The math escapes me, but if there are a whole lot of protons in a human being and you need a Geneva sized power plant for each of them. Even with our current glut of energy based on drill, baby drill. Our application of nuclear energy can’t furnish that level of propulsion. There is not enough energy here on earth to power our bodies, much less our protective capsules to the velocity of near light. There is not enough energy in the universe for the CERN lab in Geneva to crank up the velocity of one proton from 99% to full light speed. And without something like “worm holes” or other shortcuts across the vastness of time/space, it is still a 8.44 round trip to our target. Who wants to sit in a chair that long? With cancer eating away my insides, I would be another Ferdinand Magellan. I'm not trying to chicken out here, but we need to have a real discussion of passenger comfort. I'm not talking about leg room. I'm talking about the effect of acceleration. The human body may be able to survive sixteen G’s (32 feet/second per second of acceleration) for one second, but to reach a cruising speed of 0.99c we will need to endure 12,000 G's for one month! In the first microsecond they would be pulling pieces of us out of our overstuffed chairs. In the first second, we and the chairs would be one big blob. Unfortunately, at our current level of development and evolution, life and deep space travel don’t mix.

I suggest we avoid the perils and boredom of space travel by putting on carefully calibrated chiggoggles and imagining the whole thing. So, let me explain: It’s not a race, it’s a round trip orienteering event to a star 4.xx light years away. Let's get our instructions straight so that this is a fair experiment and we come up with the same results: You get into your rocket, or onto your recliner chair lashed to a nuclear bomb (who dares say that we in Forks are not rocket scientist?!) and use your Interstellar Positioning System loaded with the Earth Revolves Around the Sun software. I’m using an IPS that is programmed to the mode that the universe revolves around Earth. We are traveling to the nearest star 4,22 light years away) and coming back to this exact place using our independent guidance systems. To allow for one month on each end for acceleration and deceleration we add two months to the journey. My math says we will be gone for 3,141.4309 days. If it's OK with you, we'll round it up to 3,141.5 days. Put on your chigoggles and set the snooze button for 3,141.5 (unless you already hit it in the second paragraph of this article, in which case you are excused from the experiment. We will accelerate for 30 days to the speed of 99% c decelerate approaching Alpha Proxima and same thing for the return leg. We will awaken, refreshed, here at this exact place. We have both programmed Relativity and Inflation into our logic, but you presume that the sun revolves around the Earth and I am using logic that puts Earth at the center of the universe. Any questions? Good! See you in 3,141.5 days.

Ready! Set? GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Well, here I am, awake and refreshed, back exactly from the same place I left says my IPS. I check my watch and calendar and 3,141.5 years have elapsed since I left. But the calendar the calendar has fallen off the wall and my house, which I told everyone was a 100 year home, is in rubble. Looking around I find the graves of the friends and family I expected to bury me. But, if you returned to the exact same place on your IPS the Earth is 0.606 orbit (the opposite side of the solar system) and the solar system is billions of miles away as it swings with the Sagittarius Arm in a 200 million year journey around the Milky Way. Even if you caught the problem of exact place and calculated for Earth and Sun orbits, when we rounded up to to send you into vacant space. But then you agreed to round up a whole 0.061 day (almost an hour) and that would end up in empty space as well. Or with almost half a day of deceleration ahead of you, would be shooting star in the atmosphere, never reaching home. There are advantage to geocentric logic and that is why GPS uses that logic. It gives one a sense of place.

Let's get back on Earth on the day, February 3, 2016, and, for the moment, agree to disagree. I have more arguments about the Earth's so-called orbit around the sun, but they will have to wait for another time. Let's just enjoy the moment. Come with me for a nice visit to Rial to Beach on this beautiful evening. As we stroll, I take a picture with my cell phone, which is the same device I use for navigating on the streets of the city and making the above computations on g-force and interstellar travel time. But, even with a smart phone, I am just the fool on Hemp Hill. Is this a sunset we are enjoying...or is this an earth-spinning-round?

For the last two installments we have been arguing about whether the Earth revolves around the Sun. I contend that the reason that you believe in your point of view is that this is what you were taught in school and that it is much easier to construct a model in our heads of a heliocentric system than to draw out the conflicting motion of our sister planets, our moon and our own star, the Sun. But it can be plotted , and these were the sketches of early Greek astronomer, Cluadius Ptolomy, whose geocentric model stood from the first century until being challenged in the 16th , first by German Nicolaus Copernicus. Almost a century later Galileo Galilie perfected the telescope, collected more observations and perfected a heliocentric model which put him at odds with the anthropocentric view of the religious institution of that era. We probably agree that the Catholic Church compromised what rightfully should have been a purely scientific endeavor. But what if the Church had it right? What is the basis for your conviction that the Earth revolves around the Sun? Is your perspective based on significant observation or really THAT logical?

Science fiction writer and human satirist Kurt Vonnegut tells a story of a highly developed species from the planet Tralfamador, who come to Earth to study the species homo sapiens. Unlike humans, whose brains tear the integral fabric of space/time into two components (space and time), the Tralfamadorians saw the universe in four dimensional space/time. Looking at a human being, they saw a long centipede type creature walking on bent legs with crutches with and old man's face in front and the stumbling legs of an infant with a baby's bottom at the rear end of the creature. When human neuroscientist study homo sapiens here on Earth, they find that our awareness is contained in the cerebral cortex. Remember our brains live in the dark, sound proof box of our skull and our version of “reality” is dependent upon our highly survival-based sensoral system. Information is conveyed from the outside world to that region of the brain through electro/chemical neuron cells. Though it seems instantaneous to us in our individual “realities,” information about our outside world passes first through our sensory organs, through a long tangle of neurons, then to the enormous filter of our medulla oblongota (reptilian brain) and is then processed by brain waves in the prefrontal cortex. These waves, occur faster when you are frightened or in REM sleep (and paradoxically when you are bored). They are the audio/visual equipment which project the holographic images from light and sound stimulus inside that dark theater of your brain. Brain waves occur about 40 times a minute and two or three have to gang together before you can process a conscious thought. Awareness is not by any means instantaneous.

So, if you believe that our Earth is rotating around the Sun, it's something like 18 miles per second. There are 5,280 feet in a mile. Each brain wave is about a ½ mile long plotted from the reference point of the heliocentric focus. Accounting for the delay in the transport of data through your neurons, your “reality” and all the thoughts you hold dear, including a heliocentric universe, are at least a mile behind your physical manifestation which is on a planet hurtling through time/space. In for a penny, in for a pound: modern astronomy, has us revolving around the galaxy at a speed of 137 miles/second. So from that reference point a primitive thought like “OW!” or “When will Chiggers stop boring us?” is fluttering 10 or 20 miles beyond your “nobody home brain” as your body rockets through time/space, 50 times faster than a speeding bullet! In your model, our consciousness is smeared across time/space like the Tralfamidorian model. Argue your way out of that.

Please humor me with another thought experiment. I want you to put on your chiggoggles and notice the control on the lower right that says “Vivid Imagination.” When you press that button I want you to imagine your model of the solar system, the way it ACTUALLY IS. Observe Venus and Mercury inside our “orbit.” Mars, with it's incredible rovers sending back pictures of Martian sunsets. Saturn with its rings, Jupiter with its Earth-like moons; can I say Uranus in a family newspaper? Please humor me and use your VIVID IMAGINATION to VISUALIZE the solar system the way you believe it ACTUALLY IS.

Done? Well, what did you see? Did you see the planets moving around the Sun. Did you see Earth as a blue/green jewel? Did you notice the features on the planets that I mentioned? If you say “yes” to any of these questions, what ACTUALLY IS in your head, ACTUALLY ISN'T. Our sunset on Rialto Beach last week could be called “Reality Beach.” But there is no platform which yields a view such as in your head. It takes 365 days for the Earth to orbit the sun (Gad, you've got me doing it!) You can't perceive motion at that scale. Any vantage that allows you to see the Earth in it's magnificence, will enforce a perspective of the other planets as points of light. The model of this solar system, that you were given in school, that you clutch and conjure up as the way it ACTUALLY IS, can be viewed only in your imagination.

But, through pictures from our Apollo 11 astronauts, we have seen our gorgeous Earth and Sun from the platform of our moon. What did we learn in that historic step for mankind, July 20, 1969? It may surprise you. Standing where Neil Armstrong stood to take this picture one might expect the Earth to be rising or setting on the horizon. But, as long as the Astronaut stood in place, so did Earth. If the astronaut stood on this place where the picture was taken for two weeks, the sun would make a lazy arch from horizon to horizon. But the Earth would remain set on this horizon. The Earth moved only when the astronaut moved! The Earth set when the astronauts backed away from the horizon and they could force an Earth-rise by walking in the direction of the set Earth. I promise it's true. It's scientifically indisputable. They picked up rocks and brought them back to Earth and, BIG NEWS!: the Earth is not made of Swiss cheese. It's made of (drum roll)...EARTH! Earth and something else. The prevailing theory, which also explains why the Earth only rises and sets with a shift in reference point is: on a particularly bad day, a Mars size planet we call “Theia” (as in, “Theia later, Life”) crashed into Earth (or, if you prefer, WE crashed into it). Both planets were turned into molten blobs out of which was spit a big piece of Eartheia, like a giant lugey. I'm not making this up. The lopsided lugey went into orbit around Eartheia, but, being slightly lopsided, the more massive side always faces Eartheia. Hence, “the dark side of the moon,” which is just as illuminated as its antipodal hemisphere, The astronauts knew that the Earth would move when they walked, but they would have to walk 3,413 miles to turn an Earth-rise into an Earth-set. But they also knew they would see something which devastates my argument about a geocentric universe. They saw the earth rotating from their fixed platform on the moon.

Let's settle this discussion. There have been glaring deficiencies in some of my argument. As you remember, a camera left open at night in the northern hemisphere produces a bulls-eye around Polaris and in the southern hemisphere one around the Southern Cross. That's proof that the Earth is rotating and, it's plain crazy to think the universe is rotating if the Earth is. I was just messing with you. But, until I thought about the camera in the night sky and what the astronauts saw, I had myself convinced. We are both stuck with a consciousness that is smeared across time/space like the Tralfamadorian's centipede.

As I perused last week's edition of Science News in search of experiments to prop up my Earth centeredness, I found more disillusionment with the Geocentric perspective. Einstein's General Relativity attributes a certain viscosity to time/space. The theory is that the spinning of the Earth (or any other massive rotating body) will stir time/space like a spoon in molasses. Called “Frame Dragging,” until this year it was theory. Physicists with the Gravity Probe B satellite trained two gyroscopes on Earth to measure this effect and found that the axes of the two scopes deviated by one one hundred-thousandths of a degree. So there's your proof that the Earth rotates. But the same mind that predicted that one hundred-thousandth degree tilt, 100 years ago, saw gravity's “orbit” as an illusion.

Take it up with Einstein. I am ready to move on.

I Am What I’m Not

“Mas cervezas!” I called out, knocking over the half full bottle of beer still in front of me. Beer spilled across the table. 15 years ago, I was having a lively, spirited and half drunk debate with a college physics professor in southern Chile. We had met while trekking through the, beyond beautiful, and surreal landscape of mountain Patagonia. When I found out I was hiking with a physics professor, I tried out a storyline for a science fiction story I wanted to write. My new friend scoffed because my unwritten plot depended on a violation of the Universal Speed Limit - 186,000 miles per second.

Our debate turned from physics to biology. Professor Know-It-All said, “You would be surprised to know what component of our bodies is not HUMAN.”

“Of course,” I answered. “Our bodies are more than half water. Life is just Water’s way of getting around…or in our case, beer’s way of ordering more of itself. Mas cervezas!”

“Or in your case, Chiggers, maybe it’s bull puckey’s way of self ambulating. But that’s not what I’m talking about,” spoke the man of science. “The biology department of my university circulated a memo on what percentage of us is recognized as human and what percentage belongs to other life form.”

“And what component of me is not me…besides the beers, which I go now to micturate?” I left to use the restroom, and ordered more beer for the table on my way back. In the discussion that ensued, Professor Beer Breath, was unable to cite the exact proportion of human to non-human components in our bodies, though he assured me I would be staggered by the figure. We settled on a $5 US dollar bet, which we memorialized on napkins which we each carried away in our wallets. I felt safe that I would be writing him to collect my $5. He agreed to a bet that there was at least 20 kilos of Chiggers that was NON-HUMAN, but some other life form. I carried that promissory note in my wallet for a year or more, meaning to collect that $5. I was never contacted by Professor Smarty Pants, who had access to that memo and Biology Department, so I assumed I was the winner of the bet. Eventually, the napkin found a higher purpose and departed the file of my wallet. But last week I stumbled on an article in Science News relating to recent deliberation on the subject. According to researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science in Isreael your “average guy” may be composed of 30 trillion human cells overlayed with 40 trillion bacteria cells. With a fudge factor of up to 25%, the number of bacteria cells may come in fairly close to the number of human cells. “Indeed,” elaborate researchers Sender, Fuchs and Milo, “The numbers are similar enough that each defecation event may flip the ratio to favor human cells over bacteria.” In addition to the huge component of us that is bacteria, there are fungi, archaea and other microbes that make up the “us that is not us.” Viruses vastly outnumber bacteria or human cells in homo sapiens. If we are individuals, we are more nearly eco-systems. So, if you are a Physics professor reading this article in the online version of Forks Forum and remember making a bet in a restaurant in Punta Arenas in 2001, it's a good time to collect on your bet.

When a baby is born we think of the new person as all new material. But whether it’s human cells or the other organic material we have been discussing, we are all of us, young and old, composed entirely of recycled material. As previously stated, we are largely ancient stardust, but the organic compounds and water that gived us form follow cycles much grander than the life of one human being from birth to death. And while we are living we are constantly shedding and accreting. In seven years, the vast majority of those 70 trillion cells, human and otherwise, have died and been replaced, their lives commemorated with the flush of a toilet. And on an atomic level, even the few cells that cling on, are materially replaced. Every meal, drink and breath causes shifts of billions of atoms such that each one of us is invested with some of the matter of Jesus...and Adolf Hitler.

And what of all the non organic substances we invite into ourselves over the course of a lifetime? Hi. I’m Chiggers. I’m an alcoholic. I am sober now seven years, one month and ten days. But once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. How many times have I knocked over bottles reaching for what was immediately before me? How much love washed across the table and spilled onto the floor? It’s hackneyed but so true that we are vessels. What do we choose to contain, and what do we allow to leak from us? A label is no real indication of what you will find in the vessel. The most elegant bottle can be used for an ashtray or chamber pot.

Isn’t my current war with cancer, on some level a war upon myself? Cancer is among the 30 trillion human cells that today construct this temple. The potential for cancer is in all of us and somehow, mostly we keep it from happening. Did I invite that deadly part of me to run wild with unchecked drink? Or was the detection of cancer in me, after a particularly angry and frightening chapter of my life, a clue as to the springboard from which it dove into my life. Wisdom tells us that trying to serve anger upon our enemies is tantamount to serving poison to ourselves.

There is no calling for “Mas vida!” There is only me clutching the half swallow left in the vessel. It’s too late to patch the leaks or do much about the contaminates that have seaped into the bottle. I am scared, but there is no place to run. This is myself, trying to stand and look clear headed at what is coming at me. And when the blow comes, the cells that were human, the cells that were something else, the atoms that were Jesus and the atoms that were Hitler…it will lie in a heap of compost waiting to be recycled. The part of me that survives that blow and remains standing is Love.

all that is is all that is not is not is that all that is that is

Life events, like these nonsensical words, can appear to have no meaning or proper order. Sometimes individual events are lumped together to gather a greater truth. “More people die with prostate cancer than die of it. My father was in the first category. My grandfather was in the second. I currently teeter in between with a strong statistical predilection to that of my grandfather who died before I was born.

A huge industry is built on cancer. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has 40,000 employees. Cynics say, more people live off cancer than die from it.

It was 1960. In His holy palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the child/god/king, the 14th Dalai Lama, played with telescopes and disassembled and reassembled clocks to see how they ticked.

On the other side of the world, my father told me of my grandfather's pilgrimage to the Mayo Clinic. In that father-to-son, my dad told me that there was plenty of scientific evidence that prostate cancer was genetic - something that could lie in our future.

It was 1994 when my father, without discussion, showed me a doctor's order for himself to be surgically castrated to prevent the disease from spreading throughout his body.

On a sunny day in November of 2012, I was driving with my fiance to fetch a marriage license in Port Angeles. My cell phone rang and my urologist told me in a chirpy voice that my hard won biopsies were back. Indeed, I had prostate cancer with a Gleason scale of 7. “Why me, Lord?” I wailed. We returned from PA with the license, but the wedding became a party to celebrate our union. Less than a month later, I mailed her back her clothes and personal effects which had brightened my house. I included the unused marriage license. We were no more.

In November of 2015, I was myself making the mecca to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. A deep body piercing to acquire lymph tissue and a high resolution MRI rendered the same Rx, or chemical equivalent, that was ordered for my father. I called my girlfriend in Puerto Rico to tell her she should extinguish the candle she kept lit for me. How could our love survive this? And how could I ask her to invest love in something so close to dust. There was no laughter in my heart. There was this aching sadness. There was anger at the blood that had carried this huge misfortune from my grandfather to his son and onto me, his grandson... and onto my daughter's children if she bares same.

As a Christian, I turn to my Lord, Jesus Christ, when I am in anger. But, as a free thinker, I realize that Jesus holds no patent on spiritual wisdom. I have read the New Testament and I have read several books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The message is almost identical and to Each goes the triumph of forgiveness and universal Love.

As I lay in my mother's womb in Brazil, preparing to be born, the People's Republic of China prepared to invade and annex the territory of its nearest neighbor, Tibet. Adult political leaders of Tibet, begged the United States and other “free world countries” to impose non-violent, diplomatic solution to uphold their sovereignty. Under the threat of invasion, a small force of militant Tibetans picked up arms to defend their homeland. On March 7, 1950, two weeks before I was born, they were massacred when they met the Chinese, near their border, at the Battle of Chamba. China spilled into Tibet and, by fiat, denied Tibet's people their worship and tradition. This nation had known no army. They held ancient firearms for no other purpose than curiosities.

In 1959, the Lutheran church that I attended in Langley, Virginia, prepared to move to a bigger structure in nearby McLean. A bid for the old Langley building was made by the Society of Friends. Meanwhile, the citizens of Tibet, many of them holding weapons for the first time in their lives drew a defensive perimeter around the 22 year-old Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa. Four days before my ninth birthday, as the Chinese prepared to wipe-out the Tibetans, His Holiness slipped out of the palace, disguised as a soldier, and fled to India - ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN MOUNTAINS! The Chinese cut down the Tibetans with automatic gun fire and easily seized the empty palace. But the big news in my world was that the Federal government was building a HUGE office building in the woods behind my house. The Lutherans had sold their church with me in it. I stayed with the building like a church mouse. I was becoming a Quaker. The Central Intelligence Agency was moving to Langley. The cold war raged on. No one had time to worry about Tibet, then or since.

Two weeks ago, His Holiness, followed my footsteps to the Mayo Clinic to receive much the same prognosis and recommended Rx as I received three months ago. But his Holiness brought his wit and wisdom to the occasion and put on a show for the staff. To the 500 Mayo Clinic employees that won a lottery to be in attendance, His Holiness dished up a heaping serving of humor and compassion. He made the audience laugh and cry at the human condition. He argued that cancer can manifest itself out of anger and fear. Where I stood, three months ago wailing, “Why did my blood do this to me? Where did modern medicine go wrong? WHY ME?” the Dalai Lama gaily joked. He reminded the attendees of their power to exercise compassion and dispense hope in their day to day world of health care.

His Holiness is no slouch when it comes to modern science. He has written books on quantum theory, relativity and particle science and maintained personal relationships with some of the greatest minds in modern science. There is a remarkable parallel between Eastern philosophy, espoused by Buddhism, and quantum physics as expressed by MIT and Cal Tech professors. Einstein was wrong on this point. God DOES play dice! Jesus spoke thus to the disciples. Bad things befall innocent people. Some things exist without cause. Feces happens.

Please put on your chiggoggles and use the Quantum Theory/Eastern Religion setting to re-read the gibberish in the first paragraph. Ready? Here we go:

All that is, IS. All that is not, IS NOT. Is that all that is?

That is!

Does this remind you of Someone you know?

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

- His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

A Story of Contemporary Pioneering

by Chiggers Stokes, special to the Forks Forum

Owned by the Land

In July of 1978, I first stood upon land shown on old maps as The Flying S Ranch. Wind blew across the small prairie like waves in the tall grass. Across the Bogachiel River, two bald eagles soared on thermals over the old-growth skyline of Reade Hill. Since coming to the Peninsula to accept a job with Olympic National Park, I had poked around for rural land to buy. At first sight, I knew this was it.

The Flying S derived its name at the dawn of human flight by German immigrant, Otto Siegfried. But before Otto set foot to the land in the early 20th century, there were the footfalls of earlier pioneers. And simultaneous to their stompings and, for millennia there-before, had been stalkings of the Quileute Indians in pursuit of game. They burned forest to open hunting grounds on what would become The Flying S and a smattering of meadow emerged amidst rain forest of moss, fern and giant trees. These meadows also evince a huge amount of German immigrant sweat. These glades and mossy ground would become a huge sponge to absorb my own perspiration. But on that summer day in 1978, the ground took root of my feet.

Perhaps what was happening in my feet and heart was the spell of pioneer ghosts. If I had lived here in 1890, the German immigrant Chris Morgenroth would be my nearest neighbor. He lived a mile upstream and constructed the Pacific Trail to Forks that year. In 1891, The Iron Man Trail was extended seven miles, crossing the Flying S on the way to the village of Spruce on the Hoh. If I could hear the murmurings of ghosts they would resonate from this land. I would hear Chris Morgenroth’s astonished voice greeting the Iron Man of the Hoh from Iowa. John Huelsdonk. was carrying a #7 gauge, cast-iron stove weighing 110 pounds on his back! I would hear the Iron Man’s reply. “It’s the fifty pound sack of sugar in the oven that keeps shifting that’s giving me trouble.”

On a summer day in 1978, I followed the wind, across the Flying S, from the meadows into the woods. Spruce, 10-feet around at the stump, towered almost 200 feet tall. With a sigh these giants danced to a summer breeze. It was green: lichen-hanging-from-moss, ferns-as-high-as-your-waist, green! Through the woods came a babbling and, before me was a lovely stream. I would learn that creek was called Hemp Hill for reasons unclear to me today. Within four years of my introduction to that virginal creek, I had legally seduced a gallon per second of her water to power my home. Beside Hemp Hill on that summer day in 1978, I left footprints beside those of elk and coyote.

For a while, my footprints would follow those of Chris Morgenroth’s. He served as a ranger in Olympic Forest Reserve established by the team of Gifford Pinchot and John Muir. Morgenroth’s feet were likely the first non-Native toots to stand on Bogachiel Peak. He named the peak while standing on it and named and miscounted the Seven Lakes Basin. For over a decade I worked summers there as a backcountry ranger. I over-wintered in Storm King Ranger Station built by Morgenroth. I taught my feet to cover the same 30 miles of trail separating work from residence in an afternoon. On this Bogachiel River Trail, Morgenroth had walked away from his Quileute wife, son and daughter, to pursue his career and another wife. His ex-wife’s (Kwalet Toweleno Morgenroth’s) track would lead from the Bogachiel cabin back to LaPush and the tracks of three more generations of Chris Morgenroths (II through IV). The footsteps taken by Morgenroth on the Bogachiel, exiting his first marriage, led to the modern pacings of his descendents at Lake Crescent.

My own footprints would return to The Flying S as property owner. My two feet would return as four feet, having recruited my estranged wife to help with construction of a cabin. This would culminate in the track of six feet after the birth of our daughter in 1983. It was back to four feet when Darcy went to college and back to my own two feet following divorce in 2003. I want to live on this frontier for the rest of my life. In the divorce I gave up most of my life’s savings to do so.

My footprints reversed as they approached my car in 1978. I had turned around to gaze at my new home. Grasshoppers surfed upon waves of tall grass lolling in the wind. The breeze blew on my face. I gulped its breath with its bouquet of elk and elderberry. I held that breath to my heart.. I felt that I must own that land the way I owned that breath.

But, in the end, the land owned me.

Paradise Lost

I was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 21, 1950, the first day of fall in that hemisphere. But it's a day that sees equal measure of dark and light everywhere on this planet. While my mom was changing my diapers, the Brazilian government was carving out a new aeronautical institute in the jungle between Rio and Sao Paulo. While my dad taught radio engineering in faltering Portuguese, I ran with other kids through meadows, remnant jungle and a “nerf world” made safe by the Brazilian military. They swept the campus grounds for any thing with fang or thorn. Alert readers of the Forks Forum will remember a previous article where I remarked on the psychological impact of flying over the Amazonian wilderness which, in the mid ‘50’s was as vast as the continental United States. It was a pretty cool environment in which to be a kid. Neither neither my sister nor I were enthusiastic about relocating.When my dad finished his contract, he decided to return to work for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C. Before World War II, he had purchased a couple of acres in Langley, Virginia. My sister and I were wooed by the promise that wild places would remain at our threshold. Instead of campus housing, we would be quartered in our own house in the woods.

My parents were good to their word, and the house was built right up against Federal land that would become National Park. It was vast enough for a seven year-old to get lost in …and I did. My parents were close personal friends with Howard Zahniser, who was president of the Wilderness Society. Several times I ate at his table. He had drafted the National Wilderness Act the year my family returned to the United States. He spent the next eight years of his life lobbying for the legislation. When it was signed into law by LBJ he was three months dead. I was raised to revere wilderness. It’s just one way of looking at nature. Valuing wilderness is nothing to get puffed up about. Nor is it anything for which to be ashamed. But Twilight did not lure me to Forks oin 1977. Wilderness did.

At Langley, personal wonderland was a mile through the woods to the rocky river frontage and gorgy side canyons It ran past my home and spat at my childhood attempts to divert her water. She was Turkey Run. She was given to the BLM to protect her virginity until a proper land managing husband could be found for her.

The first intrusion into my personal wilderness and to my pursuit of happiness was the Central Agency. By March of 1961 I lived within half a mile of a 1,400,000 square foot office building and parking lots carved out of 500 acres of Virginia hardwood and meadow. But the bigger impact was finding housing for the 20 thousand employees that strategized the Bay of Pigs and the aftermath of an American U-2 shot down over Russia. Meadow and forest gave way to phony plantation houses for the super grades and track housing for the secretarial pool. From Langley to the District of Columbia, overlooking our National River, were other such meadow and craggy cliffs. Historic Chain Bridge was the only way the covert army of government workers, including my father, billeted in Northern Virginia to find their way to work. In the early ‘60’s, the National Park Service was tasked with making this commute a Park experience. Those meadows and cliffs became the pavement and overlooks of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It was the only pavement between me and the Potomac River and there was no way around it. I accessed the National River under the Turkey Run Bridge. I regretted the GWMP far more than the CIA. A few years later, the Park Service would claim an historic homestead and pristine river frontage with it's fenced headquarters. I was a mile away mopping floors in the kitchen and dining hall of the CIA after high school. But it was a job dredging a leach infested pond that I quit in 1970 to take my first NPS job as a Park Guide at Great Falls. I was called by an oath that I made in the woods when I was 10 years be a ranger and live on frontier. It was that lifestyle that later called me to Forks.

In the 1960's, the children of so many new government workers choked the schools of McLean and the school board backed proposals to build Langley High School in an undeveloped track of 500 acres. It was mostly meadows with occasional hardwood grove. A massive survivor of Dutch Elm disease grew at ground zero of the construction. The tree was 4 foot d.b.h.! I joined local environmentalists trying to protect those trees and habitat. But in the end, it’s where I went to high school. Washington (Reagon) International Airport couldn’t handle the air traffic of the burgeoning population. My dad’s first government job had been setting up new airports with radio beacons. Dulles International Airport was built and the squawking of pileated wood peckers and lowing of morning doves was lost to incessant jet engines.

Towns the size of Forks – McLean, Falls Church, Vienna – grew together into one big megalopolis. Locals bragged that they had the biggest shopping mall in all the world at Tyson’s Corners. When a bigger one was built somewhere else, they built Tyson’s Two on top of an old quarry that we kids used for dirt bikes and four-wheel drive.

I was working for the National Park Service and commuting in rush hour traffic to my duty station at Great Falls on the Potomac. I moved into a little cinder block house within walking distance of my duty station. But things were steaming up under that flat hat and I knew that I wasn’t cut out to live in those suburbs.

You could not have found a person with less aptitude for modern pioneering than myself in 1973. Nonetheless, in that year I walked away from the public power system and have not been back since. I write these words by the light and power of Hemp Hill Creek. I live in a beautiful, big house I built myself. I have made huge mistakes along the way. I have cursed nature for enforcing laws that are more written in stone than the ten commandments. Along the way, I’ve learned that the greatest pioneer skill is not impressing one’s will on nature. It is respecting that which resists our improvements. Anyone that knows me, is witness to the trail of tears I have wrought upon myself in ignorance of that principal. But I have pulled myself up from each mistake and gone on.

A Dog's Life and Her Partner

It's a hard thing to separate my quest for an alternative life style from professional life in the early '70's. After my first season with the NPS at Great Falls, I hitchhiked across the country with my dog. I remembered a sleeping bag, but no tent. I hitchhiked up to New Hampshire, where my sister was over-wintering in a tiny cabin with Jim, her common-law husband. I traveled up to the Canadian border and then down to New Orleans. I went into Mexico with my dog by accident. I traveled through southern Arizona and camped with hobo's. Without a tent, I became extremely astute at gauging the shelter potential of bridges, culverts or church patios. I first laid eyes on the Pacific ocean on that trip. I ran into trouble on my way back and called my parents from Chicago to wire me money. I had a ways to go towards self-sufficiency.

By 1973, I had quit my naturalist ranger job back at Great Falls. Partly I was frustrated by the number of people who drowned every year in those tumultuous waters. I paid lease in a high rent area directly outside the Park. To float the rent, I lived in a tiny three bedroom cinderblock hut that I shared with two other housemates. As the end of my first year's lease approached, I served notice at work and quit the day before my job was to be made permanent.

Around 1972 the Program Director of Outward Bound, quit to form his own little high adventure outfit based out of northern Virginia. I had been wooed by him that he would pay to train me to an instructor level of climbing, swiftwater and first aid. It also involved a ropes course which would be given in the cliffy areas where I worked for the National Park Service.

I joined the outfit and decided to try homeless for a while. I prosecuted my personal hygiene, a love affair, my personal business, my intoxication and other delicate affairs out in the open. I learned the knots and gained skill in an open canoe. I learned to set up rope courses and run clients over rappels like buffalo off a cliff. I set out my sleeping bag at night, sometimes in a legal camp, sometimes with the love of my life, and always with my dog Woodsie. The Department of Interior had trash canned the Woodsy Owl logo and was trying to sell a goofball, Johnny Horizon, to represent their environmental ethic. I took the name for my dog while no Federal entity wanted it. I believed that Woodsie and I were inseparable.

The first nine months of my homelessness had delights and outrages. We worked partially out of National Parks: C&O Canal, Shenendoah, Catoctin, the latter of which is the location for Camp David - the Presidential retreat. These areas allowed dogs on leash, but on most issues my voice carried the blind obedience of a leash. But on the subject of deer the tether of my voice was broken. Woodsie pursued a Bambi, this being less than a 1/4 mile from the high security fence of Camp David. As we came up in view of the Camp David perimeter, a heavily armed force called us over to the fence where they had a mobile 50 caliber machine gun. "Is your dog chasing deer?" they asked, mildly. And that wasn't the only embarrassment Woodsie caused me.

Our operation there at Catoctin was a little grim. The clients were underprivileged, inner city youth. They

had never backpacked before and would never chose to in the first place. But the parents got a free vacation from their kids and there was never shortage of clients. We had to meet them as they arrived in our custody and make sure they didn't chase the bus. A bazillion marshmallows went missing on the night we promised the clients s'mores after a forced march of some five miles. We lined them up and interrogated them and threatened there would be no s'mores...or any dispensing of sugar products until the marshmallow component was returned, in whole or in part. They all pleaded innocence and we couldn't break them. Woodsie enjoyed the affections of these kids who were not wealthy enough to have their own pet. But there would be no petting of Woodsie until an accounting of the missing mallows. Later, I returned to my tent to complain to Woodsie about these recalcitrant inner city urchins. Woodsie was inside the tent where I told her to wait, but in front of the open door was a mountain of white foam, about half the size of the tent. Evidently, if you mix a bazillion marshmallows with equal parts of air and dog slobber, the resultant foam will be projected from the mixing vessel with remarkable expansion.

But, when I finished my nine month stint, I told the world I was heading west. The owner of the company told me that he could envision going on without me. He said, "But, if there is a way to keep Woodsie..." I cut him off saying : "Woodsie and I are a team."

My sister had followed her common-law husband to Corvallis where he attended farrier school through Oregon State University. We headed west to my sisters farm near Corvallis, Oregon. In a Toyota Land Cruiser, I towed a home made trailer with what remained of my earthly possessions. The hitch broke three times on the way out which made for a lively ride. Arriving at the farm, I took up residence in the hayloft of her barn. By this time, Jim was certified to shoe horses and was occasionally paid by farmers in farm products. I built a huge bed out of bails of hay. I had a new girlfriend and I built it big enough to give me some privacy from Woodsie's rabbit chasing dreams. I commenced working with a partner to cut, deliver and stack cords of firewood for $40. The profit margin was pretty narrow and it was considerable work as any shake rat can tell you. Jim got paid a horse shoeing job with parts of a pig. I was a vegetarian for 10 years at the time and moderately horrified when Jim unwrapped the head of the slaughtered. He opened the pig's mouth and railed, without even a tongue there's nothing of interest in this piece of **** carcass. To my moderate horrification was added amazement when he opened a window and pitched out the head. That night I walked to my residence, the barn, in the dark. In the near woods, I could hear the dogs engaging the head in a spirited game of soccer. Fortunately, it rained hard on the tin roof above the hayloft that night and I was spared the sound of flesh being ripped from skull and jaw...until the next morning.

This was the year that President Nixon enforced Daylight Savings upon the entire U.S. It was near light as I headed off that rainy morning to cut firewood. As I stepped from the barn, into the mud, there was the pig's head. He hadn't had an easy night. One of his eyes was missing, but that was the least of his cosmetic problems. I went off to work with that picture in my mind. I was grateful that the pig's head wasn't there to greet me when I straggered in from a day in the rain, cutting fire wood. I had a new girlfriend and not all of my nights were cold and lonely. Since Forks Forum is a family newspaper, I'm not going to discuss how many of us rendezvoused in the hayloft that night. But one of us went up to the hayloft with my dog earlier in the day. One of us was laid down in the bed of hay bails and covered over with a sleeping bag. One of us smelled terrible. One of us was what was left of that pig head!

Two Horses and a Puckered Ass

It didn't take my bed in the hayloft being fed to the horses in the stalls below for the romance of my sleeping arrangements to be over. I confessed to Jim, my sister's common-law husband: I was not cut out to share sleeping quarters with my dog and occasional guests such as a pig's head. I had my eye on the lumber pile outside the barn.

Being a wheeler/dealer, Jim had acquired a considerable quantity of lumber including utility grade cedar This being 1973, and there being no clue that the supply of old growth cedar was not endless, Jim took $120 for three thousand board feet of knotty 1" by 12" siding. For another $280 he provided the joists, studs and rafters I would need for a cabin. Jim had built a bridge across the creek from the driveway to my sister's cabin, but at the time he didn't want vehicles on it. I had to carry every board to the building site a couple hundred feet into the woods beyond my sister's cabin.

Once the building materials were delivered by chiggerspower, I still didn't know squat about constructing a cabin. Jim was truly patient in leading me step, by step, but I had some major distractions. My girlfriend and I got caught out on the flanks of Mr. Jefferson, in an Indian Summer blizzard which dumped six feet of snow on us. It had a Donner Pass feel to it for the almost week we were stranded without food. We were briefly national news when we crawled out. A couple months later I attended a winter Outward Bound program out of the Sister's wilderness. Outward Bind I called it. I continued to drive nails in between ordeals and slowly a superstructure emerged from the pile of lumber.

I have bragged that I walked away from public power in 1973, but, in truth I have lit more than one candle with extension cords and the like. So, I had run 200 feet of 12 gauge house wire from my sister's cabin to my building site. I was intending to drive my two utilities (lights and an electric typewriter) on sisterly house power. Half way through, Jim showed up with his worm driven contractor's circular saw. It was a beat up old work-horse with a sticking blade guard. A temporary house-wire switch was electrician taped to the handle to replace the ac/dc toggle he had fried. It drew enough current to dim the lights back at my sister's place. Jim's concern was that the 200 foot of extra wire would interfere with the high amp diet of the two horses that champed at the bit in that big industrial motor. There was already a roof of sorts over the two story project and we were working out of the weather on the ground floor. We had 500 pounds of wet cedar on two saw horses. The issue of the extra 200 feet of wire was settled the first time the blade bound on a wet cedar 1" by 12". The saw drug Jim across the cut and when he let go, launched into the air, landing halfway across the tiny room. I began to assess the room in terms of shelter from a disaster. A tiny stool and the overladen saw horses were the only furniture. A few successful cuts and the saw bound again, ripping itself from Jim's grip and commencing a high speed landing on my new floor. But this time it landed with the guard retracted and the unit took off like a clown riding a unicycle...

But lacking in comic angle. The 7.25 inch blade became the two-horse-rider-of-Death in the apocalypse of that confined space. I went for the high ground of the stool, leaving my brother-in-common-law to his fate. It was like watching a Christian fed to a lion. Jim was knocked off his feet in the first charge and was trying to get up with the wood on the saw horses. As he tried to claw his way up, the saw made it's second erratic pass and just missed him. There was already a quarter ton of wood on the saw horses and no room for Jim. As the saw was coming in for the third try, it ran over it's own cord and stopped short of the kill. Jim let go of the saw horse he was trying to climb and said, "I gotta get a better temporary switch."

The tracks of that saw are still on that floor today, though the roof is falling in. My girlfriend, and later, my wife, would reside in that cabin much longer than me.

Homeless in Seattle/Sleepless in Detroit

As I got close to finishing the tiny cabin on my sister's farm near Corvallis, Oregon, family and common law tensions mounted. My sister and the father of her child were on the war path with one another. That path became a turnpike for hard feelings between everyone. Just a couple days after moving from the hayloft to my new little cabin, my sister asked me to leave. Now I remembered I had come west to find work with the National Park Service. It was March, 1974, and my applications should have been submitted by December of 1973.

My girlfriend seemed unperturbed by the news that I was leaving to look for work. Her roommate was dumping her boyfriend, so my girlfriend recommended I take him along to seek other fortunes. We had some money budgeted for gas and some money for beer which, along with air, seemed like necessity. We had less money budgeted for food and no money allocated for anything else. We slept in a tent or under the stars as we made a march of the National Parks and Monuments of the Pacific Northwest. About a week after my human partner's gas and beer money ran out, I told him that the time had come to go separate ways. I gave him five bucks and left him by the side of the road and continued the trip with my canine partner, Woodsie. Woodsie never acquired a taste for beer, but there were nights were two nights we ate kibble together.

I would pull into a Park headquarters and ask to see the Park Superintendant. That is how I met Superintendent Daniel Tobin of Mount Rainier. There was nothing he or any other superintendent could do, since I had not filed an application during the appropriate window. Superintendent Tobin suggested I apply as a guide to Rainier Mountaineering, Incorporated. He even arranged an interview for me over the phone with a lawyer in Tacoma who sat on R.M.I.'s board. A couple hours later I announced myself to the receptionist in the lawyer's office. A man came out of the office behind the receptionist looked at me and said a few words to the receptionist before leaving. I waited an hour more and then the receptionist walked out. At 6pm I was the only one in the office besides the cleaning crew. Based on my physical appearance, I had not even rated an interview to that tug and tow outfit.

It was the first time I saw the Olympic Peninsula and resolved that it would one day be my home. In Port Angeles, I met with legendary ranger, Jack Hughes, and offered my services as a volunteer. But the Park cupboard was bare, with no funds to house volunteers. I was sent down the road.

I ended up on the streets of Seattle with less than a hundred dollars. I knew from my hitchhiking experience that colleges were a great place to seek food and shelter. For a few days I put out my bed under the steps of the TV and Film building of the University of Washington. One morning I slept in and students were coming to class as I crawled out from under their steps. I called my sister's ex-husband (from before the common-law husband) and asked him for advice on finding work. We met for a beer and he suggested I find money and travel. My parents had left me with some investment assets before expatriating from the United States in 1971. But when I came out of the tavern my car was being towed with my dog in it. Bailing out my dog and car left me with $40. It became increasingly evident that I wasn't going to find work as easily as I had back east. I headed in that direction.

The forty bucks got me to Helena, Montana. I parked outside a bank and walked in. I asked for a hundred dollar loan. The teller asked if it was my Toyota Land Cruiser parked in front of the bank. I announced proudly that it was my rig. The teller told me I was getting a parking ticket as we spoke. I ran out to keep my car and dog from being towed again and came back into the bank holding a violation notice. It seems hard to believe, but the bank loaned me the hundred bucks. It was enough to get to Detroit, Michigan. I had a friend from first grade there. He loaned me enough to pay back the bank, pay the outstanding parking ticket and get by until I could convert some old investments into moolah.

On a cold day in March, within a day of my 24th birthday, I went with my friend to buy beer at a liquor store in Detroit. Along the upper wall towards the ceiling of the store were several gun slits. Muzzles of guns protruded from the slits. This is how the people of Detroit, Michigan bought their libations in the mid-seventies. To me, it was like being in a foreign country...which is where I would be in less than a month.

Rags to Raggedy Rags

From Detroit, I went back to my fatherland of the Potomac Valley to beg for work. After cutting firewood to get by and a month of homelessness, Park Service jobs seemed remarkably cushy. I had helped an old girlfriend find work at Great Falls but it was she who told me there were no NPS jobs. She was trying to create a response team to deal with all the drowning in that section of river, but there was no funding. So I sought work from the high-adventure outfit that I had quit six months before. Chow and tent space. The pay was less than $100/week, but having a job made living in a tent feel less homeless. Unlike the previous summer, the outfit now offered a contract guaranteeing days off. They re-hired me and gave me a couple of months to visit my parents. These expatriates had settled into what amounted to a mansion overlooking a Portuguese fishing village and Gibraltar-like cliffs. I intended to show up unannounced.

In April of 1974, I rode in a crowded train from Lisbon to the cliffy Algarve Coast. My parents lived about 20 miles west of the cliffs where the great navigator Magellan founded a nautical college/fortress. Portugal was still under a Fascist regime, but myself and two American hippies I met on the train were under no heavy shackles. We were under the influence. Stamping out public drinking was not on the Fascist agenda. We were buying bottles of Mateus sparkling wine for well under a buck a bottle and chugging them down on the train.

I rang the bell of my parent's palatial house and stepped back behind my new friends. I told them to tell anyone answering the door that Chiggers Stokes had sent them. I hadn't seen my mother in a couple of years, but when she opened the door I could tell she had some Portuguese wine aboard herself. Bless her heart, she invited all us drunks into her house before she realized her flesh and blood was in the crowd.

The Federal government was overthrown in a bloodless military coup while I was in Portugal. The United States had been cozy with the previous government and was not dancing in the streets over this fall of Fascism. The price of wine remained cheap and my airplane ticket home did not have to be changed. So like many foreigners, the world looked the same to me after the Portuguese revolution.

I went back to work for the high-adventure outfit in northern Virginia. On my days off, I lived in my tent but everything was bright for a while. The boss/owner (previously the Program Director for Outward Bound) hadn't fired any of us for a while. Among my coworkers was a possible love interest. And even a possible back up if the first proved recalcitrant. Even if I wasn't a great climber, I got the knots and rope work. I was a productive member of the team. I could safely push a group of 20 students off a cliff, or across a ropes course. My employer had a Park Service permit to stage our rope and cliff course at Carderock, below Great Falls on the Potomac On the other side of the river was an exclusive prep school with an all girl campus. I took a two day training course and was certified to teach ARC Multi Media First Aid. My employer was sending me to Madera School for Young Women to teach them Standard First Aid before throwing them off cliffs. Everything seemed fine to me.

But when I showed up for work the next day, I had some bad news. The boss/owner had fired my love interest and backup love interest in one rage. Even worse, both fire-ees had been working the inner-city-kid-backpacking-program. I would be plucked from the bosom of this elegant campus overlooking my fatherland of the Potomac Valley, populated by buxom female youth. I would be thrown in as a guard, of sorts, to ten unhappy and frightened black kids from the ghetto of our National City. As the summer before, I would be chain-ganging these kids from one end of Catoctin National Park to the other.

I arrived with an attitude. With-in a week, I would be another of the outfits fire-ees.

Fired, Mired and Hired

In June of 1974 I sat outside a Park Service restroom in Catoctin Mountain Park about to be fired. About to do the firing was the ex-National Program Director for Outward Bound. When Ralph returned from Vietnam he left behind half of a foot. He had been a Green Beret. For two years, he was owner of his own high adventure outfit. He installed as Program Director another Vietnam vet who had taught tactics to the ARVN troops. The previous summer Ralph had worked us low paid staff, frequently seven days a week with no compensation for the extra work. When I returned to his employment the previous month, Ralph had given me a contract which guaranteed me two days off a week. It was this contract that I held up, the day before, when the Program Director announced that we were required to report to Catoctin Mountain on Sunday evening for roll call to Monday's muster of unhappy campers. I was very intimidated by the Program Director, but the language of the contract was clear. I wasn't going to give up half a day off. Since he announced the fiat of Sunday roll call before the assembled staff, we had a public shout out. He told us mutineers that Ralph would settle it. Ralph had quite a temper and personnel issues could incite battle rage.

You could see the pulse on Ralph's neck when he got mad, but he didn't have to be mad to fire an employee or two. He had recruited me from the National Park Service about a year ago and, except for the six months I had been on the west coast, I had been a disappointment to him. Now I was publicly challenging the Program Director who was transmitting Ralph's own order that we would muster Sunday evening?!? I started to mewl, "But the contract says..." I ran out of words when I looked at my about-to-be-ex-boss. The pulse on his neck was beating wildly. "I quit," I said.

But walking away was not easy. I was good friends with my non-management co-workers. I started to choke up as I gathered my few things and said my good-byes. I became more choked up when I realized I had no place to go. I had no job, no home, no family to turn to, no friends that wanted me as a roommate...I was alone with my dog in this life...and the stink of what-ever Woodsie had been rolling in. I broke down and sobbed.

I cried and tried to think of who I could call to rescue me from the jaws of overwhelming loneliness and despair. While I blubbered, a cascade of events had transpired and were about to change my circumstance considerably. Alert readers of the Forks Forum with photographic memories will remember that I quit the Park Service the previous year, partially because I was frustrated by the mismanagement of drownings and emergency response in the Great Falls area where I had worked. (To protect the dignity of innocent parties and to better conceal my own questionable behavior I will be using the term girl friend to represent friends that happen to be female, with or without a romantic side to the friendship.) Anyway, before I quit, I found a job for a girl friend, Judy, working as a receptionist at the historic tavern/brothel which had been my NPS office at Great Falls. She felt, as me, that the Park Service needed to display leadership in developing timely response to cliff and swiftwater rescues. Since I had quit the Park Service, thirteen people had drowned in the National River near Washington D.C. It didn't take forever to get Congress's attention.

I went to a pay phone and called another girl friend I knew that worked out of Great Falls. I wanted to ask her out to see a movie and see if I could put up a tent in her yard. She told me that Judy had been trying to contact me for ten days to offer me a River Safety job. Training in kayaks and on cliffs would be 20% of the job, with foot patrol on rock and trails much of the work day. We all had to become EMT's Within a week of my you're fired!/no, I quit I was back in uniform for the National Park Service. One of the collateral duties that was given me - well, actually I ask for it - was responsibility for oversight of the concessionaire's use of the climbing area at Carderock. That made me the first NPS uniform that my old boss would bump into using the area for a ropes course and rappelling. Ralph called me and invited me out to dinner at a nice restaurant. He said that he was sorry for our misunderstanding. Of all the people he's fired, it was an honor to have him say that. A guy like me can't afford to hold grudges. That night I gifted him a pair of down booties for his foot and a half.

No Women Allowed!

I had a great job, but no address. My general orders were to promote public safety and be on hand for cliff or water rescues. I walked all day around Great Falls and on the C & O Towpath. For a while, I camped out and stayed with friends. The Park Service is always going on about crisp uniforms and I got written up a few times for looking like the homeless bum I was. I needed an address, but I couldn't reconcile myself to going back to suburbia.

On my patrols I had stumbled on an historic cypress cabin, built top a cliff on Plummers Island, just below the 495 Bridge. It was in the Park, but, by historic agreement, the Washington Biologist Field Club held exclusive use of it. I learned that said use consisted of an annual clam bake, a few meetings and occasional hermitage for research. The place had been broken into a time or two, so I called up the President of the field club and asked if they would like a live-in night watchmen. Gordon met me onsite after work the next day and interviewed me for the care-taker position. My dog and I were cleared to move in and live rent-free. But there was a catch.

No women allowed! At first I thought Gordon was joking. This was 1974. My supervisor was a woman. Women's Lib was pretty much over and it was just us male and female guys. But, nope. Gordon was serious. Some Biologist Field Club wives had boated out and raised some issues about the amount of alcohol it took to wash down baked clams. So, at the next meeting it was made a motion and voted on, and women were banned from the island. Period. Any questions?

Well, yeah, I had some questions about how no women allowed might play out for my love life - if I ever found one - but I kept my questions to myself. I shook Gordon's hand on the deal and moved in that evening with my dog. It was great! I had a dedicated bike trail all the way to Great Falls, 5 miles upstream, and the taverns of Georgetown were just 8 miles by bike downstream. It was an exciting and blissful summer. I found out that, if you want to meet and impress women, you couldn't find better ground than No Women Allowed! They had to see that which was prohibited to them. That I would risk all by showing it to them was a huge equalizer to the social awkwardness that I felt around pretty women. But it remained my intent that I would never be discovered by the Washington Biologist Field Club with a woman in terra prohibita.

In addition to keeping the premises safe, I had agreed to accomplish some material improvements to the cabin, specifically to pour a concrete floor for an outside porch. This was a rather intimidating task, partly because I would have to hand carry all the concrete up a steep, cliffy switch back trail, after wheel-barrowing it a half mile down the towpath and ferrying across the moat-like channel. But, I had never poured concrete and had no idea how to do it. For that reason I procrastinated. I talked a friend in the construction business into helping me. But he wasn't available until the day before the Field Club would convene a meeting. On the agenda was the decision as to whether I should be allowed to continue on in the cabin, presumably making it safe from burglars and women. On the night before the meeting, on my watch, a woman would spend the night on Plummers Island. It would be a full blown emergency.


I grew up in hot summers. Brazil has nothing over the mid-Atlantic when it comes to torturous, hot humidity. On such a day on Plummers Island, my friend Roger and I humped concrete and gravel up a crazy steep trail, mixing it all in a wheelbarrow with Potomac River water and our own sweat. We had most of it poured and had only one or two more runs down the hill when one of my co-workers showed up with his Japanese wife. A week ago Ranger Jim Putman had said something about coming out to the island to treat me to a real Japanese Sukiyaki dinner. I said, "That's a great idea! It's No Women Allowed, but Japanese always come in under the radar." It was a sick, xenophobic joke, but here they were in the flesh, staggering under the burden of the promised dinner and other gear. I told them it was not a good time, but they cheerfully ignored me and went about the business of Sukiyaki, while we labored with concrete.

Eventually, the work ended and dinner began. It was elegant and delicious. As the meal was ending, the heat streak was broken by a thunderstorm. Roger left and my coworker and his wife installed themselves in the cabin. They were laying out sleeping bags! Jim was setting up on the porch and his wife was setting up in the other bunk from the one I was using. "You guys can't stay! The Field Club will be here tomorrow morning and they will throw me out if they find a woman here."

"We'll pull out at first light and be gone a couple hours before they show for their meeting. It's raining. We fed you and your friend. Please don't pitch us out." I've never been good at evictions. I showed them the only sanitary facility which was an outhouse perched on a cliff and collapsed into my sleeping bag, tired, but well fed.

I was awoken in the dark by Ms Putman's moaning. It seemed like she had been groaning for some time and I assumed she had issues with the hard bunk. None-the-less, I have always found Asians to be extremely stoic to pain and was surprised at this bout of whining. Finally, I asked, "Mrs. Putman, are you OK?"

Her English was not great. She replied, "No! Not OK! Broke leg. Leg broken!"

"What!?" I said in astonished disbelief. She elucidated, "Went to use outhouse. Missed outhouse. Fell off criff! Leg broken!" My flashlight confirmed that Mrs. Putman was back in her bunk, but her leg was not in bed with her. It hung off the stretcher at an angle that Nature never intended. What's more, I learned that she had effected her own rescue and crawled back to the cabin, quietly dragging herself by her husband, not wanting to disturb his sleep.

We Americans are less polite. I yelled, "Jim, G**d***it! Your wife's in here with a broken leg! Get your *** in here NOW!"

Most of my first aid training would be further down the road of my career and experience with Forks' Ray Ellis Memorial Ambulance. But Advanced ARC First Aid and a Coleman lantern gave us enough knowledge, skill and ability to reduce the fracture and use torn sheets to tie the broken leg to Mrs. Putman's good one with a broom handle tied into the mix. We used the blanket fold to cobble a stretcher and at first light we effected our evacuation. By 9am she was getting done in the emergency room and I was sitting down with the Washington Biologist Field Club.

Quiet as a Mouse

From Plummers Island, on the Potomac below Great Falls I moved to Watkins Island. An attorney had a hunting cabin on this 5 mile long wilderness. There were wild turkey which went into trees every year or so when island went under flood. Much of it was grown up in stinging nettle which dwarfed human stature. The attorney's cabin was up on stilts and had survived a few huge flood events. Though the cabin itself was safe to high water it was victim to looting and vandalism.

Flood was a regular feature. Not a lot was invested in improvements for the boat dock,

which amounted to a landing with steps cut into the steep muddy bank. I settled into the job of guarding the structure with a lever action 35 caliber. Living with just the susurrant sounds of nature and commuting by canoe, I could hear an outboard engine 15 minutes away. Thus it was that I had a 15 minute warning that my cabin - or rather the attorney's cabin - was about to be violated. I drug my canoe up the hill from the landing and fetched my carbine. The Society of Friends had filled me with non violence, but I was prepared to defend the home front. But, just in case the altercation went hand to hand, I chose to muster with an unloaded weapon. I stood concealed behind a tree and could hear the conversation of the intruders. One spoke of having experience with breaking in my home and finding boat gas amid other plunder. He stepped out of the boat and came up several of the earthen steps before I stepped in front of him with rifle barrel pointed at his face. The sight of my hairdo over the yawning throat of the gun had a most rewarding affect. The advancing intruder fell straight back, missed the boat and slid headfirst into the frigid river. He emerged sputtering and just about fell in again casting off.

Those earthen steps betrayed my own footfalls a few times - usually in some conspiracy with alcohol. While I was furloughed from work, I only came off the island once a week or so, and that usually involved drinking with my friends. Once I had ended up in the river myself trying to negotiate that steep muddy bank with a beer for a flashlight. The only plumbing on the island was a large pipeline that served as my gun range. I had arrived several times to the darkened porch covered with mud from my disembarkment. On this afternoon I heeded Boy Scout wisdom on the subject of being prepared for the slippery slope of a binge drinker. I lay out a basin of treated river water next to a bar of soap. That way, if the laws of probability are upheld and I arrive at this threshold that night with alcohol on my breath and mud all over my hands...Well then, here will be the water, soap and towel to make it right.

The laws of probability were upheld and I arrived in the darkened porch with two muddy hands and wearing a mask of mud from unanticipated face plant. I fumbled for the bar of soap, but it had been moved - perhaps by a mouse. As I cleaned my hands in the water, my fingers told me that they had found the bar of soap in the basin.. For several minutes I worked the soap into my face and around in my hands trying to build some lather. I marched to bar of soap outside into the moonlight to see what could bring on such recalcitrance to suds. Looking back at me were the drowned eyes of the mouse that died chasing that same bar of soap.

I would last a year on Watkins Island. It wasn't the lack of plumbing or electricity. It was the fear of what flood did to that river and the inevitability of scary situations developing trying to live there with a dog, chickens, rabbits, cats and, in 1975, a wife.

In Search of Higher Ground

One or two canoe rides across the flooded Potomac was enough to disabuse me of the notion of another year on Watkins Island. A friend of a friend was moving out of his free housing in Seneca Creek State Park. It was an old farmhouse, without any plumbing, and situated on a private one acre inholding. It was next to Blackrock Creek one of the most picturesque places in the little park. The bad news was that the couple were moving out because they had contracted Hepatitis. But more good news - the owner was cool with me moving in.

When I first laid eyes on that pretty little creek, I knew I wanted to live there. Walking through the torn screen porch to the front door and opening same immediately tested my resolve to dig in here. With all the fragrance of June at my back, I barely kept standing for the reek of it. Two rooms of the farmhouse were given over entirely to their pets toilet. But accidents were everywhere. Two rooms were wall to wall litter box. I figured I could tolerate cleaning up a house of pet messes better than working as a River Safety Ranger and drowning in the Potomac.

I went outside and burned down the hepatitis infested outhouse. I dug another pit further from the farmhouse and spring box that I had located. The school bus was close to the only traffic on the road. Being a minimalist at the time I decided to go with just a "throne" and no outhouse. That idea lasted until the school bus rolled by with me on the throne.

I had rafted four 50-gallon whiskey barrels first out to Watkins Island and now out to Seneca Creek State Park . My intention was to raise a cistern gravity water system. These casks are not light and it would be a stupid way to die, rafting empty kegs across an angry, swollen river. So, having mustered the four barrels in front of an historic farmhouse that had never seen indoor plumbing, I began using primitive carpentry skills to erect a tower to carriage the barrels. It needed to be tall to provide maximum pressure to drive the new plumbing. There was already a tub and it drained directly to a frog pond under the gasping structure. Shortly after I figured out how to get four 100 pound oak barrels 14 feet into the air, I got married.

The gutter was hooked up and the new pipe, all waiting for rain, when my bride arrived at her new accommodations. A substitute for a honeymoon would be three days taken off work and an overnight backpack trip in Shenendoah National Park. Ever the romantic, I was spending the first day of our honeymoon, hauling trash out to the road. The friend of my friend - and his old lady - had left behind a couple tons of accumulated garbage. I had to contract for a whole truck to get it out. Hot, humid, buggy work! A stuffiness overwhelmed everything as I sweated under load after load of someone else's trash. But towering cumulous nimbus and a freshening wind, put aside the stale air. And soon there was lightning and thunder, As I and the driver threw one after another of 67 bags into the back of the garbage truck, it started to rain - an East Coast squall with thunder that lifts you off the ground and wind that sweeps away the lingering smell of garbage...

And rain that beats down on a steel roof. Rain, that runs off the roof into the gutter. Rain, running downhill into four whiskey barrels where it burps and begins filling the first plumbing system that I have built in this life. Rain that waits patiently in the tap for me to find two almost clean glasses and bring my new bride to the kitchen sink. It was cool rain water with a bouquet of whiskey and a freshness of the heaven of Earth's stratosphere from which it had so recently been expelled. It was rainwater with which we toasted our new life together. And it was rainwater flowing through new plumbing which transported a hot bath in a big, clawfoot tub that had only seen water fetched with kettles. It was a bath from heaven both literally and figuratively.

We spent two hot days in a particularly dry part of the Park. As I drove back to Blackrock Creek, I told my bride how I would drink the 200 gallon cistern dry! I envisioned the bouquet of whiskey and fragrance of heaven we had left. But when I put my head in the sink and turned on the faucet, there was a gout of most foul air and a dribble of putrid water. It turns out, there is this black algae that likes whiskey barrels and temperatures of over 70 degrees.

The Stupidest Person on Earth, Can...

For those of you who have followed my sojourn from Brazil to a rundown farmhouse in Maryland, thank you for your audience. For that rare reader that wants to see a missed installment, or stranger still, the ENTIRE story, please visit:

I asked Christi Baron for the privilege of writing 12 articles of how I struggled to a degree of independence from public utilities. I promised Christi, that after this preamble, I would begin imparting advice on the How To...of energy and water systems. For 40 years, I have been on a trail of tears that makes me somewhat of an authority on what can go wrong. I want to impart this sage wisdom and go on bragging about how I have tamed water and sunshine to light my house and compose these words. But before I close the chapter on my East Coast attempts at modern pioneering, I want to impress upon you that ANYONE can achieve a level of independence if they have to or if they keep trying.

Let me illustrate my point. Imagine that you are the stupidest person on earth. Your idea of using old whiskey barrels for a cistern hasn't been all you had hoped. A nasty, smelly black algae has taken over the system in summer. The smell coming of out of that possessed plumbing physically knocks down a couple of your guests, but you persist with the idea that you can kill algae with chlorine. Eventually, due to the system freezing over, a truce is reached in the chemical warfare between yourself and this demonic algal life form. You are the dumbest person on earth, so it never entered your mind that freezing weather would interfere with outdoor plumbing!

A light goes off in your dumb head that you will have to establish a reservoir/cistern system indoors like the pressure tanks in most homes. You head off to a junk yard in hopes of finding some suitable containers and somehow not aware that human civilization has been containerizing water for quite some time. Someone has told you that plastic doesn't remember hazardous chemical stored therein. When you ask the junk-yard boss about plastic lined containers, you're told that the only such containers held highly egregious chemicals. Being the dumbest person in the world, you say, "Let's see 'em" The barrels are on the other side of the dump, inside another locked yard with placards of many color and every international symbol of hazard including a skull and crossbones! The junk boss points to a pile of empty 20 gallon barrels. You immediately fall in love with them. "May I ask what you intend to use these barrels for?" asks the junk man. He laughs when you say, "Home water system."

You're so dumb you ignore your bride who reads the hazmat warning on the drums. "I swear to you, if you hook those drums into our plumbing, not only will I not drink of it, it will touch no part of my body." You take this statement as negotiable and proceed to search for a place in the attic to receive the new cistern.

Now you're not the dumbest person on earth. But that is me installing the barrels over the pantry between the kitchen and bathroom. That's my bride, removing her toothbrush and every other shred of toiletry from the bathroom. It's me on the ladder filling four toxic waste barrels with 80 gallons of spring water. In the next few seconds catastrophe would intervene to save me and my household from myself.

Please join me, the next time Christi Baron chooses to fill white space with my writing.
I have promised Christi, and., now you my readers, to offer a practical nugget, along with the telling of these horror stories. I leave you with
zero point four three.

0.43 multiplied by the height of a column of water expressed in feet yields pressure expressed as PSI or pounds per square inch. If I tell you that my whiskey barrel system was 10 feet above my spigot, then you know that the PSI at the tap with the valve closed is no more than 4.3 PSI and considerably less with the valve open. Low pressure is a one of many downsides of a roof collecting, low gravity cistern.


"My plumbing has leaks," said the stupidest man on earth, climbing off his ladder to gather a pipe wrench. He addressed his wife who was inbound, one final time to the bathroom, to ascertain that nothing of hers remained in the wake of her husband's plan to plumb the house with toxic waste. Simultaneous with this human uneasiness, an argument was happening between gravity and the tensile strength of the pantry's ceiling. In the human realm, questions had been raised upon whose authority toxic waste barrels would interface with household plumbing. Amid such debate and the fool's eagerness to establish a home for his beloved barrels, shortcuts had been taken. One footing on load bearing wall above the panty had been selected while in the calm of shocked silence. But determining the second point of foundation had been obscured by darkness in the crawl space and verbally and physically defending the decision to use toxic waste barrels for plumbing. But, instead of worrying about leaking plumbing, or the magic number of 0.43, the idiot needed to know about 8.34! That is the number you multiply by gallons to calculate load weight of an indoor cistern. His wife was just achieving the relative safety of the about-to-be-toxic bathroom. With a wild roar, gravity over came lath tensile strength and set four water filled toxic waste barrels, each weighing about 165 pounds, careening in space/time.

Before lifting a bucket of water over your head it is imperative to understand both its standing and kinetic weight (or momentum). The problem of 165 pounds is not at rest but commences from the point at which it escapes human bounds and runs wild with acceleration. On this wild ride of 32.174 ft/second per second mass achieves momentum which is likewise exponential. At least that's what happens here on earth.

It was on that planet where I turned around in 1975 to see four 165-pound barrels escape the trappings of the ceiling and free fall towards my wife. On its way to the floor, one of the barrels picked up a cast iron frying pan from a shelf. With crazy acceleration in the drivers seat seat, the barrels had recruited enough foot pounds to make their own weather (see end Paragraph #4). When it met the floor, the skillet briefly tried to hold its ground along with the 1-inch thick oak supported by 8-inch hardwood joists . For its resistance, the cast iron was badly deformed. My wife turned around as the four barrels broke open on the floor - 80 gallons of spring fresh toxic water! Still high on its brief association with acceleration, water rushed at both of us. You would expect something like a mini-tsunami, but the wave encounters stature problems proportional to coverage area and we just got a good shin-soaking.

My wife was speechless standing in the bathroom doorway. I intuitively knew that she might be concerned about recent decisions I had made and how her counsel had been ignored. I intuited that she might have angst about the way I had executed those suspect choices. I moved towards her in hopes of conciliation. I stepped over the wreckage of my plumbing and a small section of the ceiling. I picked up the deformed skillet and marveled that the floor had held up against such furious an attack. I presented it to my wife, like a make-up flower, but she cursed. "I felt the wind on my rear end!" she further confided in a frightened voice.

I am not making this stuff up and you may think that a rational woman would have left the wreckage of my mis-engineering on the spot. But on a Gregorian calendar, we made it a quarter century. We made a daughter here in Forks! Love made that woman stand her ground in ankle deep toxic spring water. Love made her dig into that falling down farm house...with floor boards you could use for a bomb shelter. As you will see, dear reader, it would not be the last time this woman would have regret about the way I would cistern water.

Remember: Multiply number of vertical feet by 0.43 to calculate pounds per inch squared ( p.s.i.) With no leakage below a break, an astute utility operator can divide the psi reading by 0.43 and chart on a topographic map exactly where the real world breakage has occurred. It allows for calculating how high up you need a cistern to be above your spigot, for a home cistern system to gout water. Lay out a waterline of any dimension to an uphill water source. Hook up a standard psi gauge available from any hardware store. Without any leakage, the number on the gauge divided by 0.43 yields head or hydroelectric potential. There are many things you can do with that energy besides flattening cast iron pans!

A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. Remember how gravity conspires with cubic numbers before walking under your cistern. A cubic foot of water weighs about 64.5 pounds, so a 3-foot cube will weigh almost 175 pounds. A 55-gallon drum of water will weigh over 460 pounds.

A few more words of advice on cisterns: Look for a water container worthy of the task. Internet search puts a million different containers up for your choice. Even in 1975, Sears sold 55-gallon water barrels...if I had known. Support your cistern on both sides and be sure there is patent structure and foundation between the cistern and earth. Guard against leaks! There has to be a ventilation system or water won't go in or come out when you want. Be careful of all the contaminants that want to get into a cistern's water.

Change the word water for love and we are vessels seeking some form of its Containership. The advice for cisterns is much like the advice for marriage. In 1975, as I stood in ankle deep toxic water with my wife of 5 months, I had so much to learn about water and love...and what it looks like going over the dam.

"The Place is Burning Down!"

I have a high pressure 200' 1" hose reel within 15 feet of my house. I have two fire extinguishers on every floor of my four level home. I am plumbed to Hemp Hill Creek and can throw water on a fire at 70 psi forever...or until the fire burns across any portion of the half-mile of unburied pipe supporting my primary fire protection. My potable water system can be cross plumbed to my creek driven fire suppression,. It's a violation of code, but could save the place if a forest fire comes for this house. I give free fire suppression to five neighbors' homes. I realize that a fire that threatens a neighbor, threatens me.

It hasn't always been thus for me. Not long after my pilgrimage to the Olympic Peninsula, my readiness to defend my home from fire was tested. On the upper Bogachiel, I had settled with my wife. We had thrown up a 750-square foot structure for which we had invested $800. We used cheap 2 x4’s from Allen's Mill building like wooden bricks. When we got high enough on the wood brick walls to suspend a roof we bought 2 x 6’s from Larry McClanahan. Our ceiling was cedar t&g from Rosemonds and over that went tar paper and #4 shake since I had only budgeted $750 to build what would serve as our family residence for 22 years. But I almost burned it down that first year.

The roof had been on the thing for more than half a year, but I was still convening house warming parties with prodigious amounts of beer. I had purchased two 50-gallon plastic water barrels from the Sears catalog store in Forks. I was collecting rain water from the roof, which ran into the barrels mounted outside the kitchen. The system only provided water to the kitchen sink. I had a small electric pump down at the creek which I had plumbed to a hose bib next to the cistern. But before this particular day in 1979, I was going to have party and didn't want to mix raw creek water with the almost potable rain water.

On a morning following said party, the daughters of one of the celebrants fried bacon on a wood stove. I was stepping over empty beer cans. Taking breakfast orders, I circulated among guests that were scattered about in sleeping bags like bodies around an airline disaster. It was August and at nine o’clock in the morning it was already on the way to being a hot day. When I went back inside to transmit orders to the girls cooking on the wood stove, I could hear a fire popping over the sizzling of bacon. I looked up and could see that the roof was on fire and had already burned through by the tin chimney. I yelled, "Fire! Get out NOW!" I charged up the ladder to our sleeping loft, to retrieve the only fire extinguisher on the property. It was an old government surplus 10-pound dry chemical affair. As I rummaged for the old extinguisher I could hear the cedar shakes popping and see into the flames by small holes burning through the ceiling. Sliding down the steep ladder like a fireman coming down the pole, I landed in the kitchen with the surplus extinguisher cradled in my arms. The girls were still frying bacon in a house-on-fire."GET OUT OF HERE!" I roared. "The place is burning down!"

"We thought you were joking," they replied, taking a sizzling frying pan of bacon off the wood stove and placing it in sink. We stormed out the front door to find the sleepy and hung-over community sprung into action. A couple was running towards the creek with a kid's sand bucket and an empty salad bowl. Another couple were running around to the back of the house with a heavy 8-foot 2x6" ladder I had built. My wife was running towards the generator shed. The fire was on the rear roof of the cabin, so I chased the couple with the ladder. The ladder had not come up against the house, when I started climbing it.

Without stepping onto the roof, I could see the fire spreading across the shake. A larger hole was forming around the chimney where the fire had started. I pulled the safety ring from the old extinguisher, pointed at the base of the flames and squeezed the handle. Nothing happened! All was lost.

Then with a ROAR! lasting about 5-seconds, the extinguisher belched a great cloud of choking dust, which immediately knocked down the flames. But when the extinguisher ran dry, flames popped back to life like trick candles on a birthday cake. Again, all seemed lost. I could hear the generator running. Someone called my name and I turned around to receive a charged hose that was operating off the pump I had left in the creek. The kid's sand bucket and salad bowl made the brigade. Through a community effort, the day was saved!

The great value of building a cabin for $800 is not always carried over into repairs. The hole burned around the chimney was incorporated into the triple wall chimney we installed. But that investment doubled the price of the cabin. And a metal roof, in a few years, would double the investment again.

Aliens and the Beast

Within the first two years of settling on Hemp Hill, I had moved my two plastic 50-gallon water drums up to our sleeping loft. This was the highest point in our $800 dream home. From the roof I collected a dark brew of cedar tannin, wood ash, bird poop, bat droppings, meteorite dust, owl pellets and other such from my gutter collection system. There was also some rain water in the concoction. Offering guests refreshment from our tap was like serving toilet from punch bowl. Even I, of cast-iron digestion, wouldn't touch that brew straight up.

But we had hot and cold running sludge! The first improvement I had acquired for the homestead was a wood stove fashioned out of an old water tank and fabricated by Melvin King. He had built it to my instruction including a generous copper coil in the stem of the chimney. For a hot water reservoir, I set up a salvaged propane water heater at the same level as my Melvin King. We bathed in a large claw foot tub that may have come out of the same dump as the water heater. This is a thermo-siphon system: Hot water rises in the coil - so by running hot water from the top of the coil to the top of the tank and having the coil draw from the drain spigot on the bottom, we had 30 hot gallons of hot Nature's toilet. We adjusted our idea of purity and enjoyed long soaks.

Against this backdrop, I struggled to read the instructions on lighting the old propane tank that served our thermo-siphon system. I balked at a fire in August just for a hot bath...even though this was winter. I had succeeded in getting the pilot going and was getting ready to ignite the heating element. My wife, who was a veteran of several of my failed plumbing experiments, was begging me not to activate the propane. I pointed out that if I was going to blow us up with propane, we would already be dead. I had plumbed the propane refrigerator a year ago. The pressure relief valve on the water tank would go off if things got out of control. I assured her, my plumbing would give up long before pressure could build to explosion. I ignited the burner and everything looked good. When we had 30 gallons of hot-what-ever, it shut off. By then, my wife and I had more-or-less stopped arguing. We left to catch the relatively recent release: Alien with Sigourni Weaver.

Stand with me in line to get our tickets to Olympic Theater's 1980 presentation of Alien here in Forks. That's Esteen Fletcher, the owner, behind the glass booth. She is wearing the same mink, biting a tail it caught 50 years ago. That's my friend, Dean, selling popcorn. A few months from now in 1980, the popcorn hopper will fall and almost knock Dean's foot off. In the main room of the theater, there is the inverted map of the Olympic peninsula on the western wall. My friend, Louis, leans out from a slit in the projection booth and pears at the screen through thick corrective lenses trying to focus the the screen is struck by the first of many projectiles hurled at it by a riotous crowd.

But Alien pretty much scared the mischief out of our crowd. My wife and I forgot about our disagreements. We held each others hand coming into the darkened house and finding our way back to the safety of our bed...Safe until a little after 2 in the morning.

Somehow the Alien had followed us home from the theater and set up shop in one or both of my 50 gallon water tanks. Water sloshed around madly. Something much larger than salmon was swimming in our plumbing. "Get up and see what it is," hissed my wife under the covers where she was already seeking sanctuary. "You check what it is!" I hissed back from under the covers, ever the egalitarian.

I suppose it's the mark of a coward, when sense of toilet is higher than protection of homeland from Aliens. I had to get up to micturate. That's when I felt the hot breath of the Beast on my skin. And the beast was My Own Ignorance come back to haunt me. I had installed no check valve to keep the hot water from back flowing into cold water supply. The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Chaos theory, expressed for laymen as "Murphy's Law", dictates that a random gurgling will develop into a convective chimney and, given a chance, create 100 gallons of scalding hot water at its high point supported by a cheap polypipe system designed for cold water only. (Well, I may have stoked the odds of catastrophe a bit.)

But the laws of probability did not support me being chased back to bed by an Alien issuing from my plumbing. Instead, I faced a whole night of I-told-you-so's to escape 100 gallons of scalding water. It melted every shred of plumbing in our cabin and flowed through two floors and steamed out into the night. But the Beast of my Ignorance would return for me in my future engineering.

Darcy Stokes crashes wagon and escapes on Author's dog, Woodsie.

$800 ancestral home in background

Steam Driven I.E.D.'s

What Melvin King gave me in a converted water heater was a cheap and inexpensive way to heat our 800 square feet of living space; cook (on a flat surface welded onto the tank); and hot water (if water was coming off the roof). But any wood stove built from water tank will burn through in a couple of years, whether welded by Melvin King, Bob Stark or Andrew Carnegie. My wife, by her own admission, did not like to be cold. I may have told her she should get a job stoking the fires in hell. You would think with the last name of Stokes, I would be able to keep up with my wife in a competition of burning up firewood. But, in any case, in a couple of seasons, holes were burning through the Melvin King and, even I, realized it was time for an upgrade.

My wife returned to the subject of needing a new wood stove repeatedly. She sprinkled stories of ultimate wood stove systems built by a local welder. She had personally seen these stoves and freely confessed her covet. They incorporate a stainless steel tank to replace brick in the firebox. It could heat water pronto. And my wife knew my weak side. "They're built like tanks," she taunted. "Even you couldn't break one....But we will never be able to afford one." Of course I saw through her reverse psychology, but the contrarian in me made me go out and look for one of those stoves. It turned out that anybody that had one, didn't want to sell it. They were expensive. But it was a lifetime investment. The stove was called a Roger Whidden.

It became a race between waiting for someone to die (to put a Whidden up for sale) and the holes that were burning through the King. I blinked and bought a Countr* (* character withheld to protect identity of brand name). It was a huge box with massive cooking area on its flat top. Into the thing's firebox was plumbed one Hollyhydr* (*character withheld) water heater to provide us hot water. When asked to contain the fires of hell for just one year, the three foot cooking top of the Countr* buckled. Further, the Hollyhydr* water jacket had gone from its original rectangular shape to that of a sausage. Clearly, my wife did not like to be cold...And the Hollyhydr* getting ready to explode was my fault because I had introduced a gravity feed water system off the creek with 86 p.s.i. Whomever was responsible, it fell on me to fix it. I arranged to have Roger Whidden work on it. I asked him to replace the buckled cooking top and the about-to-explode Hollyhydr* with something substantial.

Roger may have salvaged material for the project from the Bismarck . I came to pick it up in an old fire truck we bought at government auction. It was a 1963 F-500 with 16,000 on the odometer. I had driven the truck many times in my work with ONP. It was sprung for 5 tons. Those springs sighed and sat down as Roger loaded my rebuilt Countr* onto my truck bed with a Forklift.

As I settled up with him, he turned to the subject of safety and explained to me that replacing firebrick with water jacket could result in steam driven explosion. The system must have a pressure relief valve at the systems highest point, and another, along its hottest point. Standard relief valves are pressure and temperature triggered. Temperatures around wood fireboxes exceed that pre-set point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so you need one that will protect an adjustable range of pressure. Under pressure, water can be heated to well over its boiling point at sea level. The problem of setting a temperature of over 212 degrees is that steam occupies a huge volume, compared to water. When superheated water is introduced to lower air pressure, it super inflates. It explodes. "And you have someone to help you when you get home unload that stove?" asked Roger, concluding our tailgate safety session. "Sure do," I replied. "It weighs considerably more than when delivered it," professed Roger.

It sure did! When I asserted that I had someone to help me unload the stove, my wife's frame came to mind. When we married back east, rather than a wedding ring I had purchased a well used but classic cookstove to attest my commitment to her. She had fallen through a partially rotten footbridge carrying her end of the stove. She held on, even falling through the bridge! This stove was more formidable, but I was sure she was up for the task. I knew she was motivated.

She engineered the construction of a stout ramp. Two 4 by 6 stringers led from the truck bed to a wooden ramp that led to our front door. From whence, had come the stove a few days before its retrofit. But, after muscling the stove onto the ramp, gravity manifest in 400 pounds of steel, began to hold sway over friction and the resistance of 300 pounds of human flesh. I was over powered both by the momenhtum and a huge fear that my legs might be crushed by falling steel. I withdrew. My wife held on and rode the stove down one ramp, across another and into and through the bathroom wall. No, my wife didn't go through the wall. Just the tiniest part of the stove made it all the way. "It's a house that cost $850," I pointed out. That is considerable insurance against financial catastrophe. My wife was unhurt. She complained about my cowardice, dusted herself off and, together, we trudged in and installed our Countr*/Whidde*.

Having displayed its power by charging into and partially through our bathroom wall, this thermo siphon stove system sat quiet for two decades, providing years of hot water and warmth. Eventually a change in plumbing engineering would result in steam driven explosion. Given the savage cruelty of wild steam, I would take my chances with gravity anytime.


For almost 20 years my family enjoyed the warmth and hot water afforded by a wood fired thermosyphon system, designed by local welder: the late Roger Whidden. The secret of NOT blowing ourselves up, or at least NOT scalding ourselves to death, was a free, un-interrupted flow of water through the system. Water had to draw from the bottom of a holding tank drawing up into the bottom of the stainless steel heating jackets, passing out in an upward direction from the top of the water jackets to the top of the holding tank. My holding tank was on in our pantry and the stove was in on the other side of a wall in our kitchen. But it was all on one level to allow for the thermosyphon. There were workable pressure relief valves on the system. Anything, otherwise is a bomb.

I went back to Roger Whidden and reported my water was too hot. We were trying to bathe, not cook lobster. Roger designed and built a copper radiator for me which I installed in our living room and plumbed with the same design. I was running 12 volts for a lot of home power applications at the time and so I installed a large car radiator fan behind the unit Roger built for me. My wife got used to the huge visual intrusion with the warmth that spread through the house.

I have admitted in previous pages of this column to melting my house plumbing. By not installing a check valve on my hot water tank, I allowed it to happen twice. We tried to get back to the west end from Seattle during a November storm that closed both Highway 101 and 112. When we got home the next day, our gravity feed water system was knocked out by flood. We didn't get it repaired that Sunday, and started a warming fire to send our kid off to school. When my wife and I came down the hill early that afternoon from repairing the water line, I dared a little prayer. I asked that the plumbing work in the house and not be leaking. Opening the door, we found prayers unanswered. The hot water had again melted the cold water supply and all the rest of the plumbing. The system had gone on to steam clean the house along with the pressure washing it was getting from a run away 80 p.s.i. water main. As we stood there taking it in, the phone rang. The school calling: Our eight year old daughter was injured and needed to be taken to the emergency room. There's nothing like such a message to get your attention and to help you realize that any utility is vanity in a threat to your child's wellbeing. My prayers turned to higher calling and we had a whole kid back before Christmas.

After 20 years of living in a rustic cabin, I retired with the intention of building a real house. It came as little surprise that my wife insisted that the foundation, roof and plumbing be subcontracted out. I am glad that she prevailed on these issues, but there have been some problems with interfacing modern plumbing with what-ever-it-is-that-I'm-doing. Fortunately for my then-about-to-be-ex-wife, she had moved out of the marriage and into a modern home in Oregon before the explosions started. Your modern plumber knows a lot about setting up radiant floor heat with Pex pipe, but they may not be long studied at home pioneering. I moved the Whidden thermosyphon system to the new home, but the hot water tank was on the floor above the woodstove. The system depended upon electric pumps.

If you're ever going through divorce...and things aren't going well...and you're thinking that life isn't so great...There's nothing like a little steam explosion to get your attention and make you realize that life is better than some kinds of death. It sounded like a tank cannon! I ran to the stairs and choked on the blast of hot steam. My furnace room was a killing field! You can't have Pex pipe that close to a wood stove. Pressure set to relieve at 100 p.s.i. did not prevent a subsequent explosion. I had to replace my hot water tank anyway, so I called a real plumber to watch me hook up the therosyphon to the conventional hot water system. I had another steam explosion right after he left. Many modern hot water tanks have check valves on their hot output side to prevent backflow. That check valve made my system a bomb.

It took about six explosions to locate most all of the inappropriate Pex placements and replace them with stainless flexible hose. I put an extra holding tank on the same level as the furnace and that relieved the need for a constant source of electricity to pump water when the stove was going. I thought I had things under control when I left a couple of friends watching T.V. in my house as I headed out for a brief jog. I was a hundred yards from my house when I heard the steam explosion from my basement and turned to look back at my house. My guest came flying out the side door and ran from the house at a pace much more earnest than mine. They ran right by me. They weren't overreacting. Steam explosions are tough.

Seven exploded Pex plastic pieces which acted as "fuses" preventing metal pipe explosion

Shown above, the Roger Whidden stove water jacket system in author's home

Copper radiator built by Roger Whidden previously used in author's cabin


Next to the Eagle Ranger Station, across from the Sol Duc Hot Springs, a tiny creek runs under the road next to a water treatment shed. Some of the water from this little unnamed creek is captured a quarter mile up the hill and runs down to the utility shed in pipe buried beside the creek. There the water is filtered, dosed with chlorine, and pumped back up to a holding tank across the road and up the hill from the campground, distributed, there-from, by gravity. The utility serves the Park housing, campground and Ranger Station and is typical of rural Federal water systems. Following close on the heals of The Clean Water Act of 1972, The National Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, required disinfectant of any surface water and set 4 parts of chlorine per million parts water as the lower limit. That is well above the threshold of human taste detection. Public drinking water in Olympic National Park is scrupulously monitored for fecal coliform, which won't hurt you, but is indicator of other pathogens, such as Giarardia, that might. E.coli are used as water quality indicators because they are easy to culture. The water lab for the Park is by Lake Crescent Lodge.

With exceptions in cattle country, I prefer to drink wild water, than that of public utilities. There is risk to drinking wild water - and it can be easily disinfected, but there is risk to drinking public water, as well. According to the Federal EPA, " disinfectants themselves can react with naturally-occurring materials in the water to form byproducts, such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, which may pose health risks."

To those that say, "You are what you eat." I reply, "Yeah, but we are 65% water." Wiser, or more original writers, have claimed that people are Water's way of getting around. It's at least half true. And what a powerful thing it was for me to reflect that 65% of this thing I call me was made of those water falls and springs of the Sol Duc... and beautiful Hemp Hill Creek, which ran through my property as well as my pipes...and continued to run through my heart and veins. I was taught by my parents to revere water. I was taught in school that it is the basis for all life on earth, if not the universe.

For more than a decade, I worked summers as a backcountry ranger out of the Sol Duc, and winters giving warning tickets and a few violation notices to speeders around the Lake. It wouldn't be hard to guess which season I preferred. During this mostly magical time of my life, my mother, in Oregon, suffered a stroke. She had to re-learn how to swallow water. She spent a couple years valiantly trying to relearn how to walk and talk. After all that effort, she had a couple more strokes that took away everything but her ability to convey by signing. She used the one hand she could control to point to herself. And then she drew her finger across her throat. She asked for my help in dying! We brought in Hospice and they came up with the same translation: Phyllis K. Stokes' only want was for her own end. Oregon had passed a Death With Dignity initiative, but no doctor would go near it for reasons of liability. Hospice explained to my mother, with my sister and I for witness, that her two choices boiled down to starvation or dehydration. Any mass murderer in this country is given more humane treatment!

In August of 1995, my supervisor, seasonal rangers and volunteers filled whatever gaps were caused by my absence. On my sister's farm, I sat by my mother's bed and waited for Death to come. An intentional death required certain cruel protocol such as my mother being conscious to demonstrate her will to die and a large mug of water remaining within her reach for the whole ordeal. My mom had taught me that you would die in three days without water, but could go weeks without food. That has always figured into my own survival schemes. Surely it figured into her thinking on her un-survival scheme. Hospice told us, it would likely not resolve that quickly. It didn't. Eight days out my mother ran out of hydration to make tears. This did not stop her crying. She would suffer two more days.

I went back to work and sent out letters to all my mother's friends, asking them to remember her exactly one week after her passing. A week after her death, I took the mug that had held the life saving water that she had foresworn and followed that little creek by the Sol Duc water treatment shed up to falls above the intake. As August beat down, I sat in the shade and drank and drank. I felt that cold, pure, wild water pass my tongue and down my throat. I tried to feel it all the way into my bloodstream. I gave thanks for a mother that could share a reverence for water and to live in an environment that could produce such a wonderful supply of it.

A month later I was in the Mohave Dessert on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was brooding about the loss of my mother and how water plays into every picture of life. It was 30 miles from the trailhead at Cajone Junction to the first water source. It's hard not to think about water in that kind of environment. By coincidence, I was walking on footprints left a few months earlier by a young woman who was likewise regretting the loss of her mother. The woman was Cheryl Strayed. She wrote of her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that year, as did I. Overnight, Ms. Strayed became to the PCT, what Stephenie Meyers is to Forks. Ms Strayed's book, Wild, sold millions of copies and put her on the New York Times Best Seller List. A movie was made of her book and, like Ms. Myers, she is worth millions. We both got what we wanted. I write for the community of Forks for free.

Thank you for this privilege.


Even with less than 10% of our usual Olympic snow pack and with California gasping in the throes of a hundred-year drought, living in Forks, it is easy to feel smug about water, Our very name references the convergence of three rivers, all three of which run gin clear in normal flow. We are surrounded by lakes, wetlands, cedar swamps and more creeks than cartographers have creativity to name. We have healthy aquifers and artesian springs. Whatever parching summer brings is answered by a monsoon that seems to invariably begin with general elk season.

Nonetheless, human history or basic biology teach us that it is unwise to ever be complacent about water. In medieval times, no castle walls were ever built without a water source therein. Modern sieges such as the tragedy of Sarjievo show the populace subjecting themselves daily to sniper fire, to secure drinking water. News of natural disasters frequently highlights late found survivors who endured for more than a week by drinking their own urine.

I hope that I would have the grit to drink my own urine if the choice were that or death by dehydration. But there is a bigger downside to drinking urine than the aesthetics of it. The mechanism of a dry death is that the body can not rid itself of uric acid and bodily wastes collected by the kidneys. Urine is mostly water, but contains the exact toxins which are complicating blood chemistry in dehydration. Before toasting a crisis with a glass of my own urine, I hope that I would have the presence of mind to draw from the several gallons of clean water in the holding tank of a toilet or even the half gallon or so residing in the bowl. Boiled or treated with 4 drops of bleach, I would drink of any person’s recently flushed toilet before imbibing in my own urine.

But why bump heads with the family dog lapping from a toilet, when intelligence tells us aforehand that we require water to survive? So much attention is paid to laying in food supplies to assure survival. But one can live for weeks or more without sustenance. Your most immediate need is air. Second to that priority is shelter from hypothermia. Then comes the need for water, which must be resolved weeks before food supply becomes a life or death issue. What sense is there in laying in a years supply of dried food with no water with which to re-hydrate it or, more importantly, ourselves?

A question that comes up is should water be stored in plastic or glass containers? The correct answer is…Yes! Water taste better from glass and stores better. But a freeze, earthquake or nuclear device falling short of Indian Island or Bangor will lay to waste a glass water cache. But the longer water is stored in plastic containers, the more Bisphenol A and (I am told) estrogen leach into it.

On the Peninsula, it is easy to eschew a water cache thinking that we can draw from surface water sources or wells already in place on our properties. But the same natural or man made events which define the disaster, such as flood, earthquake, pandemic, biological or nuclear attack frequently corrupt surface water sources. When you venture out in the wake of such disasters, don’t expect it to be a gay old time down at the water hole. Desperation usually brings out the worst in us human creatures.

If your home sits on a well, you have your water source inside the castle walls, presuming you have some plan to deal with the hordes coming over the turrets. But, with the power out, you may find you have a well with no bucket. You may have an emergency generator, but do you know how to divert your well wiring to emergency power? A home power trick, which any electrician will tell you is not up to code:

1) Determine if your well is 110 or 220 volts; 2) Prepare an extension cord that has the appropriate 110 or 220 male plug on both ends (if in doubt about your pump go with 220); 3) With no power from the grid, throw of the main beaker in your fuse box in case the power comes on while you are violating code; 4) Ideally plug one end of the double male plug to an outlet in your pump house. Then you can throw even the breaker to the pump house to protect the rest of your house’s wiring. But, if in doubt use the 220 volt outlet to which your drier is connected and leave the drier and pump breaker on. Whether your pump is 110 or the usual 220, your breaker box will split the circuit correctly; 5) Start the generator and plug into the appropriate socket on the generator. If something is wrong, your genset or house panel should throw a breaker. Otherwise, your well should come to life. Let it run long enough to fill your pressure tank and kill the genset. Pilfering hordes may be attracted to the sound of a generator and the noise will obscure the sound of home invasion. In times of National emergency gasoline is worth many times more than $5 a gallon…but not nearly as valuable as water.

Many thirsty people covet our water. We need to protect and treasure our aquatic resources, as well.

Water - Laws of Nature and Laws of Man

Before one can confine water to pipe, for work or for sustenance, there are legal concerns that need answers. Water and the fish therein belong, pretty much, to Washington State. Manipulating the flow of any creek in Washington State requires filing for a Hydrualic Project Approval through State Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Any streams with resident or seasonal fish will trigger restrictive management, particularly salmon habitat. In the vicinity of Forks, The Quileute Nation has an interest in fish and habitat lying within their usual and accustomed grounds. State Department of Ecology manages water rights, and such will be needed to draw or divert water out from streams, lakes or the ground.

Then there are questions about land ownership. Any pipe project that does not have the express permission of all land owners involved will end poorly. Court actions such as filing for an Easement by Prescription, are the worse possible scenarios in trying to work things out. Easement by Prescription is not favored by the Court since it comes under the Realm of Adverse Taking requiring compelling arguments from the Plaintiff or trespasser. "Hand shake agreements" without any written contract have some, but limited support in Washington Case Law. Permission kills Prescription, lawyers banter, for if a land owner gives permission, they establish their authority to later rescind it.

A wild creek is a pretty noisy affair. The babble of the creek is so endearing, but in herding water into pipes we wish water to run in silence. Any sound at all from the pipe is an indication of turbulence or air, either of which dramatically detract from the power of water in pipes. The larger the bore of the pipe, the less pipe friction; less loss of pressure and greater flow downstream. Determining static p.s.i. of the downstream end of a pipe is solved by vertical feet in height multiplied by 0.43. But one requires a pipe nomograph and knowledge of flow rate to plot the difference between static or real head vs. dynamic or working head. But a pressure gauge tells you both.

A funny thing about water in pipes is how much it behaves like electricity in wire. WATER is like WATTS. Volts are like p.s.i. Filling up a 50 gallon tub with a garden hose has much equivalence in charging a 50 amp-hour, deep cycle battery.

Any 33.8 foot column of water will weigh the same as a corresponding diameter column of air going all the way up to the troposphere. For divers, 33.8 feet under water means about 15 p.s.i. of pressure. For a pump, it is a limit of 33.8 vertical feet, beyond which water cannot be pulled.

Sometimes our intuition is wrong about water in a pipe and sometimes our intuition of people is wrong. For me, both circumstances came together in the year 2000. A handshake agreement I had with neighbors to allow me to have my pipe on their property in exchange for me building a driveway for them across my land, ended poorly. These absentee land owners from Los Angeles, attacked my pipe penstock on Rayonier Land, because they couldn't find it on their own land. They seized my pipe and I had to walk away from a $15, 000 investment in pipe and ditch.

I worked for a year with Rayonier, Quileute Natural Resources, WDFW, and Department of Ecology to reroute my hydroelectric penstock around my recalcitrant neighbors from Los Angles. My Hydraulic Permit Approval was in hand and Dick Moody had sold and delivered over a mile of pipe. There was only one law that I was breaking, but it was an intractable law of Nature.

The water from my project plunged over a big hill falling about 227 feet to my hydroelectric. The problem was that my intake was about 27 feet below that point going around my neighbors. I believed that I could siphon water uphill, close to the physical limits of Nature. Water would gush out for a minute or so, decrease to a dribble in five minutes and air lock entirely in 10 minutes.

The only way to save my project was to punch out of the beautiful upper Hemp Hill Valley. I would need a 300 foot trench, to be excavated, 12 feet deep at it's shallowest and 27 feet deep on the other end. It seemed like impossible engineering. The pipe would have to lay flat at the bottom of the trench and the trench had to have pitch at least an inch every four feet).

So you get slapped down by a law of Nature you never gave much thought to and then it's back to the laws of people. Human law is supposed to be Let's take care of each other. It was more neighbor helping neighbor than the business of a well digger that built the ditch that restored my hydroelectric. I will always be grateful to Darryl Gaydeski for winning it back for me.

Alternative Energy - A Shortcut to Insanity

Since I walked away from the grid in 1973, it didn't take many nights for Coleman lanterns and oil filled lamps to loose their charm. The fire hazard, smell, and expense of such lighting contributes to the appeal of electricity, even before the advent of l.e.d. bulbs. But running a generator to power a few lights doesn't make sense because your average generator is about a 5 kw unit capable of running 50 hundred watt bulbs or enough lumens to burn the hair off your cat. Your average generator is inefficient for lighting because it produces too much power. The remedy is store that extra power in batteries and use the batteries as backup to the generator. The problem here is that house power is around 120 volts alternating current and a battery is usually 12 volts direct current. Inefficiencies occur with each conversion of power. So, in a scenario where you wanted to put extra power into batteries while running a conventional genset, you would need a big battery charger capable of pouring 50 to 80 amps into a battery bank. Then you need an inverter after the genset goes off line to produce house power off the charged battery bank.

I began my electrification of the Flying S Farm 37 years ago by bringing charged batteries from work. I had some old communication wire I had rescued off a dump pile and strung out car lamps with dc switches. It beat breathing kerosene. Soon I purchased a tiny 700 watt genset that offered built in 10 amps d.c. charging. But it was a noisy little devil and I leaned to apply Ohms Law to evaluating my energy systems. Electricians reduce Ohms law to PIE where Power in watts is equal to I (current in amps) multiplied by E (voltage). Watts equals volts times amps. I said it over and over to myself so I would never forget. With this formula I realized that I was only getting about 120 watts out of a genset designed to put out over 700 watts or about one horsepower. So that was inefficient.

My wife, during these times of early experimentation was an avid reader of Mother Earth News. She pointed out an article by some electrician-turned-out-of-work-hippie that you could wire 8 to 10 batteries in series to produce a jolt of direct current which would power normal incandescent bulbs and run any brush motor such as a circular saw. I bought 10 "Died Hard Batteries" From Vern Poole's Sears below the RAC/Oddfellows building. I constructed a switching system so that I could charge 10 12 volt batteries in parallel and then jump it up to 120 vdc by putting the whole array in series. The electrician-turned-hippie- writer forgot to point out is that this system will fry pretty much any home electronics you plug into it and will burn up switches on your tools...and even your household switches which are not designed for the punch of alternating power. My light bulbs would unscrew themselves, there was so much punch. All my circular saws were on the bench awaiting new switches. But, that November in 1981, I found out that you can drive Christmas lights on 120 vdc and I was on a ladder stringing lights over a wilderness creek, to put squirrels in the proper seasonal spirit, when I first discovered what direct current feels like going through an aluminum ladder. If you chained me to the ladder, I still would have caught air. When I picked myself off the ground, not even 4 strings of already illuminated Christmas lights cheered me up.

I learned that you can wire a house up to code and use that system to convey battery powered direct current to incandescent lights and other low voltage direct current applications. I've learned that unless you sign or idiot proof every socket, someone will destroy some inductive device by plugging into your battery.

In fairness the electrician turned hippie-writer he made a great suggestion. His idea was to take a lawn mower engine and belt a car alternator to it. I found young Alan Quigley working for his step dad at Dilly''s and asked if such a thing would work or blow me out of another ladder. Alan expressed great optimism for the system and helped me with the basic wiring and field control once I had bolted the engine and alternator to a piece of plywood. It was not elegant, nor was it designed to last forever. But it sure charged batteries and didn't use much gas. I was playing around with a 40 watt solar panel, but in January of 1982 it was the artificial light by which I learned to wash dirty diapers and rescue my precious new daughter from their grip.

Ohm and Murphy Weigh In on Alternative Energy

The best time to wire a house for alternative energy is, as you build the house. Partly, it's an issue of aesthetics. Professional electricians become adept at snaking wire into finished walls with a "Fish Tape" which, in layman terms is thing-a-ma-jig resembling a rolled up coat hanger. In the case of the 800 dollar cabin I built with my wife in 1978, we had used cheap, kiln dried 2x4 "dunnage" purchased from Allen's Mill for 4 cents pound for walls. No sooner had we put a roof over these walls, my wife began putting pictures of deceased relatives and dogs she knew and loved upon them. As I would discover, time and again, she was fiercely resistant to the idea of me using those same walls to display my tangled web of house wiring.

Pick up a book on how to alternative energy and the first chapter usually concerns estimating your average power consumption to properly size the alternative energy scheme to support your lifestyle. The average American household uses about 30 kilowatt hours a day - more than one kilowatt of continuous power generation. On a good day, that's what I produce at full implementation of a gallon per second water right and one roof quadrant completely covered with solar panels. Though lack of planning has turned around to bite me more times than a rabid dog, I would skip the chapter about planning for your electrical load. The reality is that you probably won't be able to afford or engineer an alternative energy system capable of sustaining your lifestyle in the city, with the challenges and expenses of building your alternative home in the country. The reality is that, however BIG you go in investing in alternative energy, you will probably use every watt your scheme produces and wish for a bigger system. So, to me, the important thing is to design the system that you can afford with the ability to add on or retrofit up as your expertise and finances allow. Wiring your alternative energy house is as important as...well, wiring your marriage.

If all you wanted to do is emergency lighting (and I am talking about a REAL emergency), you could throw the main breaker on your house panel, disconnect everything connected to any outlet in your home and throw the breaker on hard wired load such as pumps or heating and replace your screw-in 110 vac (volts, alternating current) with 50 watt, 12 vdc (volts, direct current) r.v. bulbs available here in Forks. But not available in a REAL emergency. Assuming that your wall switches are standard issue (not rheostatic or solenoid controlled) you could plug a 12 volt deep cycle battery into any outlet and have emergency lighting with any of those 12 volt bulbs. One reason to not do this, is the inefficiency of incandescent bulbs will run down that batter pretty quickly. Another reason to not try this stunt is Ohm's Law restated as watts equals volts times amps. Accomplishing 50 watts of lighting with 12 volts requires 10 times the amperage of 120 volt lighting. While your regular house switches can usually handle the punch of 4.5 amps direct current, if six 50 volt lights go on in your house, the circuit attached to the batttery will be trying to move 30 amps through it and 12 or 16 gauge house wire is not designed to handle that current. It will heat up and any point of resistance will become cherry hot causing house fire. So added to the REAL emergency that necessitated plugging a battery into your house power, you have the additional inconvenience of a house fire.

Besides a roof fire occasioned by an unscreened chimney, I have been very lucky to have never lost a structure to fire. A sprinkler system is one way to prevent fire from burning your home to the ground. But a more effective solution is to engineer the fire causing potential out of home energy systems. Something that can go wrong eventually will go's just a matter of time. So says Murphy and the the un-mutable laws of probability. Disaster, whether occurring at home, on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico or in a nuclear energy facility on the Japanese Coast, frequently follows a cascade of events. Backup systems often fail with the same unforeseen conditions that caused failure in the primary system.

In August of 2000, I lost my hydroelectric project owing to a dispute with my neighbors. I had a well dug and built a thousand gallon water tower to assure that my family would have an uninterrupted supply of water. I tied my inverter and batteries to a propane fired generator with controls that started and stopped the genset based on battery voltage. We had house power 24 hours a day with the genset only running a few hours. When I was able to re-establish hydroelectric by going around the recalcitrant neighbors, I left the automatic generator feature on as a backup. In August of 2002, I left from Snoqualmie Pass to finish backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail in Manning Park, BC. I explained the many backup systems to my nervous wife and asked her to pick me up in Canada with my passport in three weeks. While I was gone, the creek ran low and the hydro couldn't keep up, so the generator would run to charge the batteries. During the week my wife was gone on a road trip to pick me up, a toilet was running. During that dry summer, the running toilet outpaced our well and the 1,000 gallon tank ran dry. The float switch to protect the pump failed and the pump ran dry. The generator began running non-stop to supply the run away pump. The pump melted down and created a short which caused the inverter to shut down. Going off line, the inverter forgot to tell the genset to turn off, so the generator ran for almost a week. The $3,000 Onan genset overheated and blew out a head. My wife showed up in Manning Park on time, but was without my passport. My argument started with Customs that evening, but went on all night with me howling at my poor wife all the way home. We arrived at 4 am the next morning to find our home without water or power. A leaking toilet had resulted in no water, a burned up pump, a $300 propane bill and a blown up generator. Four or five backup systems had failed in concert.

Four months later, my wife and I separated and divorced. For all my many other failings as a husband, in court under oath, my wife attributed my struggle with alternative energy as the most divisive.

Craters of the Bogachiel

My consuming interest in alternative energy is not the only obsession I have obeyed in steering a dangerous course in modern pioneering. I was born in Brazil. If fireworks could be demeaned to military intent, Brazil would be a major world power. When I was a kid, a U.S penny bought ten Formidảveis. (translated amazing formidables) which was a cardboard pouch of 100 grains of flashpowder with a self igniting fuse. They were like grenades! My family re-patriated to the U.S. when I was five years old, which probably accounts for why I still have all my fingers and can still grow eyebrows. I was bored with the safe and sane displays available to the American public. Early on I learned to subvert ordinary fountains to a pyrotechnic that would lift off the ground and zip around any audience imprudent enough to attend one of my Fourth of July shows.

When I was 23 years old I obtained an Oregon Blaster's License. I procured a Washington card when I acquired part of the Flying S Ranch ten miles from Forks. Some of the stunts and close calls that typified my exercising those licenses were the subject of previous stories for the Forks Forum. I won't repeat them now because I am in the process of applying for a Washington State Pyrotechnic license so I can be on the firing line at Tillicum Park for 2016's Forks Fourth of July.

I will say that I went through a phase where dynamite was my solution for almost everything. Why own a shovel when you had a Blaster's License? In fact, dynamite came to mind when I faced any life challenge. A friend came over, desperately depressed, and asked my wife and me what is the point of living. Clearly, my friend needed a couple of sticks of dynamite detonating beside our cabin to put him right. But I didn't want to blow out the recycled glass we had installed in our $800 cabin. I went down to the soft mud next to Hemp Hill Creek and buried a couple of sticks...or maybe it was five or six. The crater went clear to the creek and our cabin was painted mud. My friend left shortly after the explosion. He wasn't depressed when he left and he seemed to be very interested in living, after all.

The Flying S became my private proving grounds. My wife removed the historic name of Flying S, given by German immigrant Otto Siegfried, and dubbed the farm Craters of the Bogachiel Flying Rock Farm. She asked what I intended to do with so many holes in the ground. At a loss for a logical answer, I said she could use any one of them to bury a goat. She actually laid a goat to rest in one of my craters not long after. But we had many more craters than goats.

It was only a matter of time before my obsession with explosives would intersect with my obsession with alternative energy. I noticed that Coho fry had moved into the crater by the creek in a deep concentration. I needed State Fisheries to approve my plan to seduce a gallon a second of water from Hemp Hill Creek for a microhydroelectric project. I talked a fishery biologist named Randy Johnson into signing off on the Hydraulic Project Application to connect my microhydroelectric with Hemp Hill via a circuitous channel that connected my beloved craters. Mr. Johnson pointed out that this artificial habitat would be a formidable ditch. I assured him that, for me, ditches were not a problem.

When the HPA arrived in the mail, I hurried down to Peninsula Loggers Supply and came back with a case of fresh dynamite, 300 feet of det-cord and about 100 pounds of explosive fertilizer. I used about half of it getting a feel for digging ditches with stumping powder and ANFO (ammonium nitrate). I connected the booms with the det-cord which brought many satchels into one shot. That evening, I told my wife that the next morning I would be taking off the safe and sane and making a once and for all shot. I expected that one shot to complete the project and still leave some land on our property. I talked to her about the safest bunker to repair to with our new baby girl.

I was taping a blasting cap to the det-cord, getting ready to unleash the fury of hell on this particular eco project when Randy Johnson showed up. I thought he was a day late, but he had the HPA in hand and I had started a day early. But he wasn't one to quibble. I asked if he wanted to light the fuse and he thought it might be fun. Fuse lit, I yelled FIRE IN THE HOLE!!! for my wife's benefit. Randy and I ran back to my cabin. At the side our $800 cabin was parked Randy's $15,000 government pickup.

"Didn't you see our vehicles on the other side of the creek?!" I exclaimed, as we sheltered on my front porch with a full view of the impending holocaust.

"Surely you don't expect to have rock fly way over here by your cabin," he reasoned.

"I'm certain of it! If your pickup will drive, you'll leave here with a payload of our farm..."

"But your family is in here," Randy mewled.

"The wife's under a bed with our kid..."

And then, with a roar that is felt more than registered with the ears, a significant portion of our farm lifted into the air. Several rocks hit my shop roof but didn't go through. Then rocks started crashing through the fiberglass roof of a shed. Rocks began falling around Randy's pickup throwing up grass and dirt as they impacted. A big rock came through our living room skylight and my wife cursed and daughter started crying. When it seemed like it was over, Randy ran to the porch's threshold and looked into the sky for any asteroid sized rocks still on the way. He jumped into his miraculously undamaged government pickup and took off with the same expression I had seen on the face of the friend I helped with depression.

A Stand Alone Electrical Plant built in Forks for under $1,000

For all the mistakes I've made along the road to electrical independence, I have exercised some genius in hitching my star to local machinists, fabricators, and merchants that could prop me up with their expertise and engineering. Legendary men of steel like Ron James and Roger Whidden squared off to keep current flowing through my micro-hydroelectric scheme.

I have so much invested in my alternative energy schemes over the years. But a short cut to electrical independence was engineered by Alan Quigley of Forks Auto Electric and I took custody of my new baby last week. I named her Quigley Wiggly.

About 10 months ago I brought unto Alan Quigley an engine off a pump I blew up and some scrap steel. I asked him to build me a stand-alone home power source using this junk that I drug into the middle of his busy shop. A tip about Alan is that if you can get your foot in his door far enough to make a pile of junk on his floor, he is going to have to deal with you. I started the pile on his floor almost a year ago, a $130 2kw inverter from China, likewise 16' jumper cables for $20, two 100 amp/volt meters for $20, each, likewise made in China. But thank American engineering of Bob at Far West Hydraulics for the engine mount plate for $40. Mixed into the mess was an old generator cart. $761.86 dollars later I walked out of his shop with a genset that totally acts as a back up power station or startup, alternative energy scheme.

And, as long as I am detailing expenses, let me tell you about the two great maintenance-free deep cycles for $20 each, Bob Stark, sold me. "Bargain Bob" as Stark likes to be called, is the only vender in Forks who told me to my face, that my writing is boring. So I hope his ears perk up a little in me sending clients his way. Bargain Bob occasionally sells new batteries out the front door, selling the trade-ins out the back door. You can take it from me that Bargain Bob is never too busy selling a $1,500 carbine or trying to match a fitting to keep a city project from flooding to answer any questions you might have about the specs of the batteries he sold me. I think Bargain Bob's number is still in the Forks phone book so you can call him up at two in the morning and ask him about batteries or if he is enjoying Chiggers writing anymore than the last time he visited the subject.

Ad Alan's bill of $531.86 for the fabrication, engineering, research and development, heavy copper wire, quick connects, new tires from Bargain Bob, paint and 12 volt, 3kw alternator with voltage control.

The bad news in all this is that when Alan introduced me to my new baby, the Quigley Wiggly, he told me that this was the last one he was gong to father. He was clear on this point. No more building gensets!

Water to Watts to Mud

In the 1970's, one Seattle TV station was available to us modern pioneers of the Hoh and upper Bogachiel. In consideration for his wife, and gifting to the community, logging and mill mogul, Lloyd Allen established a repeater on Mount Octopus to transmit this "local" TV station to such lonely outposts as the Flying S Farm. To the voice of the surf was added the white noise from this television station in the streets of Native reservations.

I began my own enterprise with home entertainment in 1985. My daughter was 3 years old and fully expressive of her wishes. She seemed a logical ally against an opposing force which was greater than the hush of the frontier. The biggest fence to home entertainment in my daughter's world was her mom. The biggest fence in my war to impose suburbia on a wilderness setting was my wife. For more than a decade I had lived without TV or any home entertainment, partially by technological challenges but mostly by fiat of my wife. I had to wait for several stars to align in my sky before charting a course. I knew that the gravity of Saturday morning cartoons would impose a tidal swell of support for home entertainment.

By this time I had a large bank of old 100-pound telephone batteries that I got surplus from Heartline Battery in Port Angeles. My hydroelectric, mostly for reasons of undersized penstock, was giving only 130 watts. I had scored a significant amount of three strand, insulated #10 exterior wire copper wire and had strung it 150 feet from my hydroelectric to my house where I kept the inverter and batteries. The inverter is what makes house power out of batteries (direct current). Though we continued to use battery (direct current) power for lighting, radio and fans, we were now set up for more typical home power applications such as television. As long as my family kept our electrical consumption lower than 3 kilowatt hours a day, we could go on forever - except for PLUMBING EMERGENCIES! (where ALL rules of wearing boots in the house or profane utterances are suspended.)

Against this backdrop, in 1985, I secretly purchased a well used top loaded, monaural video player from the old Safeway in Port Angeles which rented VCR's. I paid $250 to Safeway, which was like a BAZILLION dollars in 1985 currency. From the Salvation Army came an old 13 inch Motorola, black and white monitor - to see if the old video machine would really work. I knew my own flesh and blood, a three year-old at the time, would weigh in heavily in support of Saturday morning cartoons. But I still didn't want to face my wife's resistance alone. To prop up my courage, I brought some friends along and a "few beers,". (Note to self: Don't use a drunken party with your friends as a proving grounds to your suspicious wife about the redeeming social value of Repo-Man or Dawn of the Dead.) It took all of the powers of diplomacy and food strikes on the part of my 3-year old daughter to get my old VCR and black and white monitor out of my shop, to which it had been banished following the beer bash that introduced it to our household.

Most of us cringe at the sound of Saturday morning cartoons, particularly when the sound eclipses the serene and evocative sounds of nature. There was some pride working in me, that I collaborated with my daughter to erode the Saturday morning silence that had shrouded this land from the dawn of time. Whereas I had personally and professionally resisted the proliferation of large satellite dishes in Olympic National Park, I bought and removed one with my daughter. Such was her authority in the house, that in 1991, we purchased an old hand crank, monaural system from a coworker in the Quinault. It didn't take us long to upgrade to a stereo system, with a servo and motor to point the dish. I realized that I could get more out of my 130 watts by putting all the batteries and inverter next to the hydroelectric and transmitting the electricity 150 feet to our cabin as 110 volts alternating current. Technically speaking it requires 10 times as much wire to transmit 12 volt, direct current, for the same current at 120 volts.

On a frosty morning I made final preparations to receive my inverter. It would perch over on the new hydroshack, over stream and ponds which were the spent water from the scheme. My shack now sheltered my Canyon Industry pelton wheel and a ton of batteries. I just needed to go over get the 4 kw inverter at the cabin and move it to its happy home, protected on it own perch upon my new mega-hydro shed. But, on this Saturday morning, I faced my flesh and blood who was totally engaged and entrenched in her shows. "Please, Darcy," I begged. "It will give you more electricity for watching cartoons before the power runs down. " I whined, "It will only be a minute to move the inverter." I pleaded, "It will be a magical moment in our family's history."

My daughter would learn to run, when she heard me utter the words magical moment. But on this bright and cheerful, blue frosty morning in November in 1992, I whistled as I carried the 4 kilowatt Trace, made in Arlington, WA, inverter from household to hydro shack. I was whistling when I attached the inverter to the heavy battery cables running to its new perch. I was whistling as I turned on the inverter and went to connect the inverter to my entire grid with an oversized plug. But the 40 pound inverter was resting on frost and the pressure of trying to push in the plug scooted the thing right off its perch, through six foot of air, two feet of water and one foot of mud before its battery cables halted its downward progress into the mud. You wouldn't want to power up an electric hair drier in the shower and this was liking dropping your entire power company into the tub with yourself. A jolt was felt my nature. It would be the end of all cartoons for some time to come!

I was not whistling as I went back to tell the news to my daughter.

Batteries - The Heart and Heart Break of Your System

There are many things to think about wiring a house with alternative energy, foremost of which, it is easy to burn your house down with it. The usual alternative energy scheme involves some sort of charging system like photovoltaics (solar panels) or microhydroelectric, deep cycle batteries to store the energy, an inverter to transform low voltage to house power and a house breaker box that is usually wired 110 volts as opposed to the usual 220 volts going into most American homes.

Nothing burns down a house faster than a short in a battery bank. Once I was transporting charged storage batteries in a pickup along with some other freight including a garden rake and shovel. In my rear view mirror I thought I was seeing lightening until I realized that it was a fountain of sparks coming from one of the batteries. Investigation revealed that the shovel had fallen across positive and negative posts, leaving me with a handle and a puddle of molten shovel blade welded to the bed of my pickup. If ever there is a need to keep wiring clean, appropriately sized, well labeled and absolute discretion in polarity, your battery bank is that necessity. Direct, high current fuses are available from alternative energy supply venders such as Backwoods Solar
Electric out of Sand Point, Idaho, but they are expensive. And it’s easy to trip or blow those fuses operating within the normal parameters of the inverter. My Trace inverters handle 4 kilowatts continuous output and 20 kw surges. A 20 kw load at 110 volts alternating current amounts to 833 amps pouring out of 24 volt direct current battery bank. Wires designed to carry that load are thicker than garden hose and made out of pure, stranded copper. Even welding cable is undersized to the task. The longer the run from batteries to inverter, the thicker the wire required to avoid line drop. So the inverter needs to be close to the batteries to avoid spending ones entire budget on copper wire.

That said, it’s a mistake to have the inverter directly over the battery bank. When the batteries are charging they emit hydrogen sulfide in water vapor. Those fumes are happy to eat up and corrode the delicate wiring inside the inverter. There needs to be voltage control to protect the batteries from overcharging. Over the course of 35 years I destroyed tons of batteries by allowing them to float at too high a voltage. I have had voltage control by both an alternating current load (such as an oil filled heater) that turns on by sensors in the inverter backed up by a direct current load that turns on if the inverter fails and the batteries have no other load. Over the course of decades I have destroyed tons of batteries by setting my voltage too high.

I built my alternative energy house in 2000 to move my family out of an alternative energy shack. I built a special bunker for my batteries, encased in 8-inch concrete walls to protect from hydrogen explosion. I set the float voltage (which should rarely be exceeded) for 750 pounds of battery at 28.6. I was always having to put distilled water or rain water in them and eventually they wouldn’t hold a charge. When I went to replace them I found that the out-gassing from the batteries had eaten through 4 inches of the 8-inch concrete. I went to James at Heartline Battery in Port Angeles who has provided me with many fine, slightly used battery banks (phone batteries, train batteries, golf cart batteries and the like), all of which I had destroyed. I learn that the correct float voltage for my 24-volt system is 27.5 volts or 13.75 for a 12 volt system. Once a month, (or once a year if you listen to James) a 24 volt system should be brought up to 29.5 volts for an hour (14.75 volts for a 12 volt system) to “equalize” the cells in the battery.

The more usual path to destruction of lead/acid batteries is to leave them undercharged. The chemical electrical process that goes on with storage batteries depends on sulfur molecules migrating from sulfuric acid to cling to the lead plates of the battery. Left in an uncharged state the sulfur bonds to the plates and the battery will resist charging. Charged batteries seem almost freeze proof, but uncharged batteries are destroyed at 31F. A deep cycle battery has less porous lead plates than an automotive battery, which allows it to be cycled far more frequently without sulfication, but storing uncharged deep cycles for an extended period will destroy any lead acid battery

A couple of important safety tips: Wear gloves and eye protection when handling batteries. Keep baking soda near batteries to throw on spills of sulfuric acid. Keep an ABC extinguisher nearby, install a battery cutoff and have some kind of eyewash and body wash station, even if it’s just the bucket of distilled or rain water from the bucket you use to water the cells. Do not disconnect charging cables while charge is in process. Charging causes hydrogen out-gassing and the spark created by disconnecting a charging source will ignite the highly flammable gas.

The few of us living in un-electrified neighborhoods have a reputation for eccentricity. Those of you who knew my previous neighbor Phil on the Hill might agree that he raised the bar on my neighborhood’s reputation for crazy antics. Early on in his battle with home power, he borrowed a 55-amp charger from me to charge his two 6-volt deep cycle batteries. I could hear him running his noisy generator in the distance, which he was using to power the battery charger. I heard a loud explosion and then the generator stopped. When Phil on the Hill returned the charger it was drenched in sulfuric acid. Phil’s clothes were already tattered rags and Phil himself looked like he had stuck his head in a microwave and pressed the POPCORN button. He was charging a 6-volt battery with 12 volts 50 amp current. He reported that when he disconnected the positive alligator clamp to check for a spark, the battery exploded like a grenade.

Batteries - Can't live with them, can't live without them.

Many producers of alternative energy get by without batteries. In Washington State, Public Utility Districts cooperate with home owners so that the output of customers producing alternative energy is played into the grid. So a home owner can put up maybe 10 to 30 panels to amount to, say, 3 kilowatts, when in full illumination. The inverter synchronizes the cycles per second and meters the sale of power back to the PUD. No batteries are required for this scheme and it is as green as you can get by not requiring the hugely polluting, toxic spewing batteries. To those purveyors of alternative energy I tip my hat, but my remarks are more directed to those that feel hillbilly in their bones.

The thrill of having lights and creature comforts while the rest of the world lumbers in darkness along with other egocentric reasons, such as personal survival, require batteries or a generator running a lot. The new car, so-called "camper package" are factory installed systems including an extra deep cycle battery. Accessories operating off of a circuit that are isolated from the starting circuit battery with a rectifier. Hillbilly does not need diagrams or how to books to go straight to the concept if one battery can be charged for RV accessories, why not five more batteries to power source such as a pickup truck. A false bottom in a pickup bed can store considerable batteries to which the hillbilly home can be attached by heavy duty 240 volt type plugs or, better heavy duty direct current connectors, with large Frankenstein switches on the wall. And for hillbilly charm, there is always my suggestion to convert a lawn mower to battery charger by replacing the blades with a pulley wheel for the alternator. As one hillbilly to another, it's worth harvesting electricity off your car alternator if you are spending an hour in your car, to and from your electrified home in the wilderness. This kind of hillbilly wiring requires mondo jumper cables running from the car/truck's extra batteries and hillbilly engineering requires that polarities are made idiot proof. If you get enough solar panels on your roof or hydro power, you can run the hillbilly electricity back at your yuppie Volt, or other all electric vehicle.

A usual mistake is to get a household generator with is large enough output to handle the biggest electrical load the home owner requires (everything turned on at once.). That means that they will be running a huge power plant to charge cell phones, a few lights and maybe a t.v. Those of us that regret the sound intrusion, will suffer the slings and arrows incurred by battery systems. When we run generators, we hope for short run times with as much power as the generator can produce dumping into the batteries. Obviously, in times of civil defense, the price of gas is dear and short run times are a huge advantage

As expensive as plumbing parts seem, the price of electrical parts can be more shocking. So I have used copper pipe for jumpers and battery connections. Usually there is a p.v.c. or poly pipe the next diameter up which can be used for insulation. Flatten out the ends coming out of the insulation in a vice and drill out to make dandy hillbilly connections. Don't forget to keep all electrical connections clean and set with electrical grease.

At some point near or by the batteries will be any series circuit instrumentation such as ammeters. American made Trimetric meters and other shunt based instrumentation allows the meter to be installed remotely from battery bank with a finer wire run. Chinese made, ground series connect ammeters, that tell you everything you need to know such as voltage, amp hour, kilowatt hours are available from Lemmonhobby Instruments at a fraction the cost of the American made Trimetrics. Some Chinese idioms are helpful for any warranty issues. "Solly, Cholly," is spoken here.

One more word of caution about avoiding any kind of mis-connected polarities. If you create a dead short with a wrench, the tool will melt in your hands as it creates Forth of July caliber fireworks in your battery room. It's no good designing a battery room bunker to protect the house from an explosion if it's you standing in the battery room causing the ignition.

More On Batteries

I intended to discuss basic house wiring for alternative energy several months ago but distracted myself with stories about batteries. Sadly for my pocket book and the environment, I have destroyed tons of batteries by mismanaging voltage. Most of my batteries over the years have come from James at Heartline Battery in Port Angeles. Mostly I have utilized previously used lead acid batteries. My first set were 100 pound, clear plastic 2 volt cells from the phone company. 33 years ago, I was spending all my energy on pipe friction trying to run 60 gallons per minute through half a mile of 2" polypipe. My microhydro unit only produced 120 watts. My family was somewhat constrained on using much power since all of our loads (lights, stereo, fans, radio communications) were low voltage applications. The half ton of batteries liked being charged at 10 amps. But we ran the batteries all the way down occasionally and after so many cycles all lead acid batteries go belly up.

L-16's are a standard battery for alternative energy applications. They are 6 volts, so you string them in series to make 12 or 24 vdc (volts direct current). I had acquired a 1963 firetruck with only 16k on the odometer for a thousand bucks. That truck had dozed for 20 years in a CCC garage across from the Elwha Ranger Station. Coming down the Elwha hill from Port Angeles, with a big load of those batteries aboard that truck...Maybe I was too easy on the breaks. Or maybe that old firetruck was barn sour for for its sleepy corner in the old garage. That truck seemed in a big hurry to get down that hill. I drifted into the oncoming lane coming on to the busy bridge and a couple of batteries tipped over, in spite of my expert lashing.

Before transporting serious battery cargoes it's appropriate to reflect on what it would be like to take a shower in sulfuric acid. Was I out of my mind! I made the event a family outing! I had scored a deal on huge 2 volt submarine batteries and needed to pick them up in Bremerton. I talked my daughter and her friend into coming with me to Bremerton in that firetruck to pick up a ton of batteries. The truck was sprung for 2 1/2 tons, but only got about 8 miles per gallon. We had to divert to Port Townsend to hike at Fort Wordon as part of the deal I had cut with my daughter. We had a great time. I remember regretting the cost of all that gas back when gas was way under a buck a gallon. Now, I imagine what the price might have been if things had played differently. Any accident involving extreme deceleration would put that ton of batteries in the cab with us. Any life that survived the crushing would be sterilized with sulfuric acid.

An un-fused battery short can easily turn all the wire in a household red hot. But if you want to see white hot you have to move closer to the battery. Attaching the hose-like, heavy copper wire to the inverter requires a tork wrench. Without sufficient pressure, the ghost-like hand of electro-magnatism reaches out and unscrews light bulbs and threaded nuts. Really. Almost 20 years ago I came into my battery room to see why the lights had gone out. I found the negative 24 vdc input on the inverter glowing like a light bulb. As the lugs are relaxed by the unscrewing nut, they develop partial contact which causes the current to pour through a constricted circuit and build up heat. Heat causes further resistance and things get out of hand pretty fast. You don't want to try to unscrew the ground at the inverter while it's white hot and the huge spark you produce by disconnecting at the batteries, on the other end, can cause an explosion

Looking at the price of copper and the necessity of plumbing, there are instances of my plumbing carrying electrical as well as aquatic current. To this day, my photovoltaic and hydro-electrical negative input to my batteries is bussed to ground on my 110 vac panel. About a year ago I was in my battery room pulling heavy wire that had run from my 24 vdc genset (The Quigly One). The fusing was on the end that I had disconnected, but I was certain that I could keep that big positive dc wire from touching anything electrical. As I drug it through the wall, the positive lug came in contact with my black iron propane line and there were fireworks. Two ac electrical outlets melted in the time it took me to turn off the fireworks. I'm not sure what the code says about such things, but I am coming to believe that it's best to avoid using live propane lines for wire.

Goodbye for Now

In conclusion of my story on alternative energy, I have always wanted to impart the advice I got from a life long do-it-yourselfer about harnessing gensets. The lodge/resort where he worked was inholding to a wilderness section of the Rogue. There were two old gensets both undersized to the job of moving large amounts of water from a deep well. He said he wired both genset outputs with an extension cord running from one into the other. He opened up the extension cord and to bare the hot/black wire. To each two hot wires running back to the gensets, he attached a series connection 110 volt, incandescent light. With both gensets running, the sine wave, frequency disparity caused the bulb to illuminate. By adjusting the throttle of either genset, the light would increase or decrease in illumination. When the light went out it was safe to disconnect the light and switch both gensets in parallel circuit to the load of the pump. The gensets were entrained, connected by a common electrical field. They were slaves to one another. If one genset runs out of gas the other will go down trying to turn its partner’s dead rotor. It is electrical fields connecting moving copper remotely - matter obeying some invisible force of Nature.

If I had more time on earth to share my scant wisdom about alternative energy, I would emphasize the need for skylights and other natural lighting when building in the rain forest clime. Many people will tell you that skylights always leak. That may be an overstatement, but goes to the importance of flashing. Few people have less understanding of flashing than I, but I have constructed many skylights on the Flying S that didn't leak...and a few that did. Nonetheless, when it came to building this 3,000 square foot home in which I currently reside, I contracted out the roof and nine skylights to Brian Moody. In fifteen years of living under this roof, not a drop of rain has invaded this space. Part of living off the grid is knowing how to do things yourself, but part of it is knowing when you need professional help and making sure that critical expertise is applied to crucial projects.

I have written almost 32 articles on the subject of alternative energy and somehow failed to mention the issue of phantom loads. These are things like old instant-on TV's, computer monitors, motion detecting lights, mobile land-line phones and such. They actually can amount to a fair amount of energy and will prevent load seeking inverters to shut down properly. One remedy is to put all computer devices, stereo and entertainment systems and such on multi-outlet rocker switches. Another approach is to know precisely the time weighted wattage of such intermittent loads as freezers or refrigerators. Inexpensive watt meters from the Internet can give you this.

I was 23 years old when I walked away from the grid. I am 65 years old now. Three years ago I learned that I have cancer. The radiation treatments I sought controlled the cancer in my prostate. But before modern medicine declared nuclear war on part of my reproductive system, the cancer jumped ship. Cancer set up house in my lymph glands, where it was able to travel. I recently learned of this metastasis and have had to roll back my life expectancy. Life regrets include the reflection that I was more a father to my hydroelectric scheme than I was to my flesh and blood daughter in the years that we lived under the same roof.

I live in a big, warm, dry house that I built myself, under the roof with skylights built by Brian Moody. Rain is currently falling on that roof. The same rain that falls on my creek. I'm typing these words with water power from that creek. The coffee I drank this morning was water from that creek. The stream power allows thoughts to type words to conclude a story about alternative energy that is smeared over three years of The Forks Forum.

92% of the blood that is pumped by my heart is water. The brain that conceives these closing remarks is 75% water. The rain falling on the roof, the stream that powers the computer, the creek water that served me caffeine in the form of coffee, my blood and even my thoughts are of the same rain on its way to the ocean.

I stand in awe of myself. With so little innate ability; against such ignorance; with such reluctance to read a book on the subject; and with so little invested in professional help (but more than a little help from my friends), I built a farm that powers itself. These 32 articles have chronicled mistakes I made along the way. Persistence and determination were qualities upon which I deeply depended. To anyone aspiring to re-wire their life with alternative energy, I would wish them much of those two attributes.

The other side of the coin, is knowing when to throw in the towel and sell the farm. This is the side of the coin that landed face up last week with a needle through 2/3rds of my body. It was a biopsy to confirm the concentration of cancer in my lymph glands. So along, with the conclusion of this column on alternative energy, I am quitting this farm. And, if one is quitting a column AND quitting a farm, what better way to go out than posting an advertisement in the context of a column on alternative energy?

FOR SALE – 18 ½ acre farm, 10 miles from Forks, two miles from Olympic National Park. Powered by two micro hydroelectrics and 1.2 photovoltaic scheme. All cedar, 3000 square foot house is 4 bedroom, two bath. Two rental cabins, two wells, two septic systems, three large barns, two green houses, two ¼ acre fenced gardens, ¼ mile of Hemp Hill Creek, meadows, old growth forest, truck bridges, large shop...Wildlife habitat protected by Conservation easement. MAKE AN OFFER.

Quitting a farm is one thing and quitting a column is another. But by whatever wind that is left in me and not pure flatulence, I wish to convey my world view. An example of world view is: All of us are dying, but some of us faster than others. My dying request is that you, dear readers, join me for my next column which will explore world view and the Meaning of everything.