It’s our usual time for what I call the vacation (being on our boat in Connecticut) from the vacation (being retired and living in Florida). Our life here is very different from that of being in our home, living in a couple hundred of square feet on the water, and in the locale of my working days. Everything must have its own place and must be secure when we run the boat, which with each passing year is less and less. When a boat is a home (even for a few months) it becomes more of a challenge to secure for running and to deal with the umbilical cords to the dock, the power lines, the water line, the lines that hold us secure enough so our fixed satellite dish does not stray from its southwest target. And then what we did as a younger couple on the water takes energy and sometimes daring, wares in precious short supply as we age. And finally, we’ve been to most ports worthwhile visiting on the Long Island, Block Island, Vineyard, and Nantucket Sounds, and we are happily content at our dock or at our mooring off the Norwalk Islands.
Missing from our boating life here, though has been a small boat, one to take us on a cocktail cruise in (diet coke for me, the Captain), together or with friends, on placid twilight evenings. Recently we were able to buy such a boat – a fairly new one, so it’s likely that we’ll be out on the water more often now. That is how it should be. Naturally, we are happy to share it with our son, Jonathan, who has practically grown up on boats. He’ll help keep it standing tall.
But, aside from our usual routines, the shopping and provisioning, meeting friends for lunch or dinner, my early morning walk in Shorefront Park which adjoins our marina (marveling at the rebuilding going on there and the raising of homes still in the aftermath of super storm, Sandy), there is the endless working on the boat and, for me, some writing (working on some short stories). I also have my “summer reading” list. Along with reading short stories by John Updike and Alice Munro, I squeeze in a novel here and there and my most recent read, Solar, by Ian McEwan, certainly classifies as “summer reading,” not literature at the level of what I read before by McEwan, Saturday, but, still an engrossingly, compulsively readable novel.
I was curious about how the author would handle, in fiction, a subject that has interested me ever since I was exposed to it in high school: solar energy. At a high school science fair, GE put on a demonstration of solar energy using a small model car on stage, shining spotlights on its roof and miraculously the small car moved across the stage. I was hooked. If I had more of a scientific bent, perhaps I would have gone into the field. Mind you, this was the late 1950s.
So while the technology has been around, we’ve been slow to use it to partially solve our energy needs. The State of Connecticut sponsored a rebate program in the early 1980s in the wake of the gas crisis, for installing solar powered hot water and we were one of the first houses to line up for it. It was the most basic of systems, direct heat transfer, a pump circulating a liquid that quickly absorbed heat and then transferred it through a number of coils in a special hot water heater which had an electrical back up heater when the sun didn’t shine. There was no battery storage of energy. But it worked! And by timing our hot water usage we squeezed everything we could out of the sun before reverting to electrical back up.
It’s disheartening we haven’t more rapidly developed this technology to make much more widespread use of solar energy, especially now with battery storage of energy becoming much more efficient. It’s one of the reasons I admire Elon Musk’s vision, huge garages with solar panels on top, powering his Tesla tethered automobiles. Even the rooftops of Manhattan could be outfitted, but instead the luxury buildings there have pools and cabanas. Where are our priorities?
Ian McEwan’s Solar deals with the weighty subject of global warming and the solar solution through one of the most despicable protagonists I have ever encountered, a Noble Prize winner who is a compulsive liar, over eater, sexaholic, and criminal. One can hardly cheer for his success but McEwan’s novel makes interesting reading as a satire of everything Michael Beard – our prodigiously plump, reprehensible physicist who can’t save himself but sees himself saving the world -- comes in contact with. No sense going into the plot in detail as it is readily available on line. But if you are up to some beach reading, and like McEwan as I do, it’s worth the time. Some of the novel is very funny, so it is a change of pace for McEwan, as Straight Man was for Richard Russo, although the latter overshadows McEwan’s work for sheer hilarity.
But Solar is about a serious subject, and one can only wonder why as a nation we haven’t made it a greater priority for solving our energy needs.
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