Being Grateful for Solar Panels and Pineapples

By Cam Mather

(This blog should be sung to the tune of “These are few of my favorite things” from The Sound of Music)

We live in interesting times. The best of times and the worst of times. I probably dwell on the bad stuff way too much. But this is not to say that I don’t appreciate all the amazing stuff today. I try to emphasize this in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times.” One of the keys to happiness is being “grateful,” so today I’m going to be grateful for all these wonderful things. This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada, which makes much more sense to me than compared to the timing of the U.S. Thanksgiving. Celebrating Thanksgiving just a month before Christmas means that everyone has to travel home to be with his or her families twice in 4 weeks. Whoops – I forgot to focus on the positive again.  What I meant to say is that I’m thankful that our two countries share this great tradition.

I’m thankful that this weekend my home will be toasty warm, heated by sustainably-cut firewood from my amazing 150 acres and burned in an energy-efficient secondary combustion woodstove which burns exceptionally cleanly and really emits only the carbon that the tree extracted from the air and stored during its lifetime. I’m thankful that we still have enough sun at this time of year that our showers and baths will be heated by the sun hitting my Enerworks solar domestic hot water heater, which transfers that heat to my hot water tank. I am fortunate that professor Steve Harrison at the Queen’s Solar Lab had the time and money and expertise to engineer this wondrous system, and that Canadian taxpayers had the foresight to provide seed money to Enerworks to commercialize it.

I’m thankful for the wonder of wonders that are my solar panels that allow me to live 4 miles from the nearest utility pole and still live a life like other North Americans. I have lights and appliances and a water pump and fridge and freezer and all these truly unbelievably great machines that make my life infinitely easier than if I had to do all these things manually. I’m grateful to Steve Bergey and his crew in Oklahoma (where the wind comes sweeping down the plain) that engineered my marvelous 1-kilowatt wind turbine that is whirring away as I write this. It is powering my laptop and the internet satellite dish that allows me communicate with the outside world by bouncing my internet signal 25,000 miles to a satellite in space and back and keep me as plugged in as someone in a big city, while I’m surrounded by trees and lakes in the middle of nowhere.

I’m thankful to live in a country where I can vote for the people who govern me. While I often disagree with them at least I have a choice and if I get tired enough of their shenanigans I can get off my butt and run for office to change things to the way I think are more appropriate. I’m grateful to live in a capitalist society that has given me a wonderful standard of living. While I think it is badly in need of a tune-up as it pushes our species to the brink of extinction with its insatiable growth to consume all resources on the planet (sorry, slipped there for a minute) free enterprise has brought most of society to a very good place and has provided the incentive to develop that technologies that allow me to live in the bush and be completely “plugged into the matrix” at the same time.

I’m thankful that 50 years ago a preacher from Saskatchewan named Tommy Douglas looked at the wealth this great country was generating and declared that no family should be bankrupted by medical bills. He started on a holy mission to see universal health care adopted in this country and the New Democratic Party kept his dream alive until there was so much support for it by the citizens of Canada, that the governing parties had no choice but to adopt it. I’m grateful that whenever I’ve needed the system it has been there providing me with unbelievably high quality care, and that everyone I have ever dealt with, from doctors, to nurses, to administrators to people working in the hospital gift shop have been kind and courteous and professional and compassionate. I am grateful to them to have chosen such a challenging profession and still be committed to doing it well every day they go to work.

And I’m thankful for all the little pleasures that bring such joy to my life, like having my daughters home for Thanksgiving weekend, and the sun that falls on my solar array, and the well where I bring cool clear water into my home that I can drink, and to have land to grow food on that enriches my body and my soul, and to the birds that make their homes near mine, and the two deer grazing in the backyard last week and the spring peepers in our pond that tell us that when spring is really here, and the bats that live in our 1888 farmhouse that go out with a racket each night to eat mosquitoes. I’m thankful for gardening pants with foam pads built into the knees and $3 jackets from Giant Tiger. And I’m grateful for the pizza we make on Friday nights and the olives that I put on my pizza that have come from some warm Mediterranean country on a ship all this way, and “Oh Henry” chocolate bars that used to be made nearby me in Smith Falls (which are now made in Mexico and perhaps I should boycott them to punish Hershey’s – whoops, fell off the gratitude bandwagon again) and I’m also thankful for Dr. Pepper which has no health giving properties whatsoever but which makes Friday night pizza all the more special.

And most of all I am thankful to live in a time of such unbelievably amazing inventions computers and the internet that helps me to earn my living through electronic pulses traveling through silicon chips and wires, and iPhones that allow people to have face to face visual communication on a device that fits in their hands, and jets that let the average person travel to the farthest reaches of the planet (not that they should, but they can). I am grateful for the $2.99 pineapple that as a person of modest means I can afford, that has been grown in Costa Rica and somehow managed to get to Canada, probably on a boat, and be taken to a central warehouse in Toronto and shipped by truck to the Tamworth Family Food Market so that I can enjoy this wonderfully sweet and delicious treat and celebrate living in such an amazing time.

P.S. And I know what you’re going to say – I should know better than to eat pineapple, it’s not part of a 100- mile diet, etc etc. All I can say is that I don’t fly, I don’t buy coal-fired electricity, I invest in solar panels that have my propane use to almost nothing, and I grow much of my own food and that I’m grateful we are able to have this conversation where you point out my environmental indiscretions. Democracy and free speech is a privilege. Life is good! Happy Thanksgiving!

One Response to “Being Grateful for Solar Panels and Pineapples”

  • Neil B.:

    Most people who write about peak oil, climate change, etc. are considered “Doomers”. Although I am thankful for their message, when I first read about this subject, quite frankly it scared the heck out of me (causing loss of sleep).

    What helped my sleeping habit considerably was taking one of your courses at Algonquin College. This changed my outlook considerable. Here you were with this “Doomer message” making jokes and being happy, thankful and passionate about the message. I realized that the worst case scenario would be to live like my Grandfather did in the late 1800’s early 1900’s. If my grandfather can do it, I can do it. This realization from your course was very much appreciated and I am very thankful for your course and message. I think you should be called the “Happy Thankful Doomer”.

    I noticed that you are giving your courses again at Algonquin College on Oct. 14th. I highly recommend them and am thankful that you are giving them once again (I am no longer “Sleepless in Ottawa”).
    GEN5052 Self-Sufficient Lifestyle
    GEN5053 Solar Wind Power for the Homeowner

    Thank you for your web blog, your farm and for teaching and giving us the confidence to live sustainably.

    Happy Thanksgiving Cam, and to your family!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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