I don’t get many phone calls, but for the third time in two days, I just received another sales call from some solar company. I support solar power and had actually looked into getting it for our house at one time. I went through the calculations and talked to a salesperson.
But we live in an old house in an old neighborhood — actually it is an historic district. Our 150-year old place is surrounded on all sides by old trees. The front of the house, southwest facing, is screened by house-high street trees, each seventy or more years old (oak, linden and green ash — we had to take the huge old hollow silver maple down a few years ago, but we had a beekeeper come remove the hive from the upper branches before they took it.) The rest of our lot is bordered with nine or ten younger trees. Of the green ash, oak and boxelders none are more than fifty years old. The green ash reach higher than the top of the roof on the northeast and northwest sides. Up close on the north side, not ten feet from the backside of the house, there was an old apple tree on one side and a pear tree on the other. Both dated to the house’s early days but, sadly, the apple came down in a high wind about five years ago. The pear, however, remains strong. It is now taller than the two-story house and shades about half of the west-facing roof every afternoon.
I like the idea of wind and solar power from an environmental and a sustainability standpoint. A friend of mine is a student of the “peak oil” concept, the idea that one day (possibly already passed) we’re going to have burned up half of the Earth’s finite oil supply. There seems to be a lot of coal, but the amount is finite, as well. Once we reach the peak point, it’s a losing game, not to mention the environmental damage our current oil- and coal-based technologies wreak on the environment and our health.
Personally, I think our future lies with some version of nuclear power, but it may take a generation or two to get general public acceptance. Catastrophic events and failures embed themselves on our psyches, whereas the gradual whittling away of our health or the environment is easy to ignore or dismiss. Think about the science of climate change and how hard it is to get the public to understand it. Politicians and nay-sayers decry the scientists with data proving the damage climate change is doing and dismiss the projected damages. In part, it’s a short-term versus long-term trade off. But it’s also reflective of the foolish but popular idea that any person’s opinion is just as valid as an expert’s studied conclusion.
So, back to the phone. I spoke with the salesperson about putting solar panels on my roof. She was hesitant and expressed concern that the trees around our house, particularly those on the southwest side, provide too much shade to allow the solar panels to be effective. Would I consider trimming and/or removing them? That’s when I hung up.
It’s obvious to me, but maybe I’m thinking too long-term and not considering the salesperson’s commission. Our trees are a part of our home. They help block the strong winds we get off the foothills. They shade the yard and house, and they actually keep the house cooler in the summer (but drop their leaves and allow the sunlight to provide warmth in the winter).
I collect the leaves for our compost pile, and blend the compost into the gardens every spring. The trees complement the shrubs to provide habitat for the birds, squirrels and the occasional raccoons. We get permanent and migratory birds stopping in the yard and a few nests in the trees. Lots of insects, including bees and butterflies, hang out here.
We used to use the apple tree to support a hammock and the pear hosted a swing and a zipline for our son to fly across the backyard when he was little. We’ve had birdhouses on the tree trunks and even hung a gourd with an entry hole in the crabapple tree —it ended up hosting a bird family for several years until the squirrels discovered it.
I guess I think of our home holistically, as a whole interconnected system — people, buildings, trees, shrubs, flowers, critters and all. Maybe someday things will open up and residential solar panels will become more feasible and compatible with large shade trees. Meanwhile, I think I’ll let the solar power work on our trees, so they can continue to provide the oxygen we need to fight climate change, and generally make our home, and our lives, more pleasant.
After all, that’s what home is all about.