The weather is always a good topic of conversations in these parts. Last winter the water cooler chatter was about the record amount of snow we were getting, which roof collapsed, or whether ice dams were forming in the attic. The weather caused many construction projects to be delayed, but also meant that ski resorts and outfitters profited. Twelve months later all is reversed. The talk, often accompanied by sighs of relief, is about how mild it has been. Those industries that did well last winter are suffering and vice versa. Continue reading Centerbrook Saps Suffering
A violent storm last week blew our wisteria right off its trellis. Once the rain soaked deck dried up, a crew of our strongest and limberest architects hoisted the hardy plant back onto its perch.
Being neither strong nor limber, I chose the much lighter video camera…
The wisteria, shown below in full bloom, is an integral part of our rooftop garden.
It rained and rained Monday and Tuesday. Then it rained a little longer, stopped and poured some more. Mother Nature can be so redundant. Sepia-toned water arched over our dam, turning white and foamy when confronted with an obstruction or the rocks below.
At the end of the day, the badminton court was under water, along with the walkway from the lower parking lot (by several feet). The only cars down there by mid afternoon Tuesday belonged to tourists who had come to see the show.
The wooden picnic table in one greensward above the torrent was almost entirely submerged but held its ground, as did a heavy metal bench at the end of the other grassy promontory. They both seemed like sure goners. The power was turned off in the lower buildings at the end of the day Tuesday.
The Gold Coast Building, the one closest to the dam, held strong thanks to the piers that it now sits on. During the Great Flood of 1982, its predecessor had rested on terra firma and was knocked off its mooring and destroyed, as were several other Centerbrook office buildings. This time the water gushed harmlessly underneath, never quite reaching the base of the building. We could have sold tickets to the Gold Coast picture windows, with their aerial views of the floodwaters where they make a left turn below the frothing dam.
Wednesday morning: the waters have abated leaving debris scattered about. You still can’t walk outside without looking at the sound and the fury signifying that we ultimately are not in charge.
Spring comes earlier for maple sappers. Robins or green shoots in the garden means a missed maple sugaring season. The first unseasonably warm day in February, or even January, is our harbinger of Spring. I panic, thinking I’ve missed the early run with highest sugar content destined to become Grade A light amber. I tapped six sugar maples right here at Centerbrook, down by the Falls River, and nine more at my home in Deep River.
For a few weeks in February, maple syrup is my raison d’etre, occupying enormous amounts of time collecting the sap, boiling it down, finishing it off, and then, of course, consuming it. During ideal conditions, when nights are cold, in the twenties, and days are sunny with temperatures in the forties, each tap can yield as much as a gallon of “sweet water” per day. The drip from the spiles replaces the weather forecast: slow drip means daytime temperatures slightly above freezing; fast drip means upper thirties and into the low forties; if the bucket is full, there was no need for a winter jacket.
Evaporating takes the most time, reducing approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup. The evaporator is also what defines making maple syrup a macho sport. The discussion of “rigs” is akin to NASA or Nascar palavering. I’m not writing about stainless steel reverse-osmosis technology, shiny commercial evaporators with automated controls and manicured cordwood stacks. This is about backyard sugaring with a Connecticut Swamp Yankee ambience. Continue reading The Big Drip by the River
Late this week here in the Land of Steady Precipitation has been dreary to the Nth power, unless, of course, you are calculating the kilo wattage that the winter freshet is producing at our corporate dam site out back, as “rain man” Bill Rutan is wont to do on his PC. The word that our hydropower plant was inching toward producing 10 kilowatts, a record, oozed inexorably along the architectural grapevine this morning: 9, 9.1, 9.2, 9.52 …etc. Typically, 7.5 is a good number.
Bill can monitor all things green and electric thanks to Spire software, which keeps hourly tabs on water, solar and geothermal power generation on site, which combined accounts for about 40 percent of office needs. Spire also tracks how much juice we are using in each building. On sunny days, for example, the “Gold Coast” office building, (there are a bunch of buildings here) with its solar array on its west-facing roof, is exporting electricity into the Great Greedy Grid.
It is also worth noting that despite this ever-so-gray day, the solar panels are producing a handful of kilowatts.
Ten kilowatts power one hundred 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, or more than twice as many of those more efficient compact florescent versions that we use here. A lot of our electric usage, however, comes from our computers and servers, and we are working on ways to reduce that demand.
The hydropower plant has been operating since 1982, and last year Bill did some maintenance that improved its performance.
So the weather outside may be frightening, but rain or shine we’re making hay.
Update from rain man Bill: At 5 AM this morning (2/26), the hydro peaked out at 9.97 KW. It has been over 9 since Wednesday morning.