Category Archives: WinSoL Learning Center

WLc is a natural and simple, biodynamic Learning Center located in the California Sierra. It provides experiential learnings in nature’s hidden living energies.

my eco-dilemna

I constantly live at the intersection of  mainstream or ‘alternative’ lifestyle. Living at WinSol,  there is no cost:  no energy bills, no garbage bills, no water bills, no sewer bills… nada!   Is that alternative? or just nice, even cool?  So when I go live in the mainstream for a few days, I quiet all my judgment, evaluations and comparisons. Over the years I have arrived at a state of equanimity: it just is. I used to just ‘let go’ but eventually found that letting go is the negative form of attraction and is as much of a trap as outright judgment is. So ’empty mind’ and ‘metta’ (as the buddhists say)  fills my mind and heart. But lately, something has come to the forefront of my mind, and I can’t let it go: crockpots!

Lately, I have circled around and focused on crockpots as being the poster child of our continued western decline.  A crockpot by its innocent self contains all the trademarks of our declining civilization going down the rabbit-hole.

At best a crockpot produces a beautiful savory food dish. At worse it could burn your house down. But it’s the space in-between where my judgmental mind can’t seem to let go. Maybe it’s this: in order for WinSol to have a working crockpot I would need to spend over $5,000 increasing my solar panels/controller/battery storage – just to accommodate a 1500watt constantly on electrical heating element. And maybe – just maybe – I am envious of mixing up a casserole, soup or other delicious dish, plugging it in,  walking away… and 5 hours later I can enjoy a savory dish. How convenient is that!!? But the ‘real’ price that I would pay for that is beyond my ‘alternative life style budget’ and WinSol’s philosophy.   Let me explain…

…First of all at WinSol, we live by the sun. We are immersed in the nuances and cycles of nature (real nature). One of our founding principles (WinSol’s manifesto) is that electricity cannot be used for heating and cooling. I’m about 95% there in reality – due to a small solar electric driven freezer.

On a technical basis:  WinSol’s current solar & wind electrical system cannot accommodate a microwave (high-surge induction load), or any electrical heating elements like a toaster, convection oven, space heater, or crockpot. I miss the convenience of a toaster more than anything, but have developed a work-around using a gas burner. I could probably develop an alternative to a crockpot using a pressure cooker or a double pot over a gas burner – but why?  I remember a past eco-dilemna that had to do with making bread….

Bread maker?   I think the easiest explanation for my behaviour change is an electric breadmaker. Before I moved to WinSol , I used an electric breadmaker twice a week to make beautifully home-baked, healthy bread without chemicals. But was it really ‘home’ made? I think it was closer to being ‘microprocessor’ made. A few years back, a friend and I decided to make bread the old fashioned way, and I reconnected with the passion of true artisan bread. There’s something
very cool and ‘right as rain’ about kneading, rising, kneading, rising and baking a loaf of bread from three ingredients… talk about being a purist!! And that’s really what an electric breadmaker and crockpot takes away – the artisan element.  (besides using a WHOLE bunch of electricity, high-embodied energy, shelf space, another convenience contraption, another appliance that’ll break and has designed obsolesce built in… geezh! tell me how you really feel :-)!

Artisans   What would our world be like without artists and artisans? As technology encroaches further and further into minimizing real artistry I will stubbornly cling to WinSol’s ‘alternative’ and artisan lifestyle and not enjoy the conveniences of crockpots.

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Sidebar….What’s ‘Alternative’ ?

Everywhere we hear ‘alt – right’, alternative news, alternative energy… I really dislike the word: ‘alternative’. Alternative to what? Is it a good or bad alternative? Does something really need an alternative? Isn’t it really just different rather than alternate?

Take alternative energy for instance. Most (all?) people know that alternative energy is that green stuff: solar, wind, geothermal. But oil, coal, natural gas are the REAL alternatives, because ALL our energy comes from our only energy source: the sun. One of my fun sound bites is: ‘Oil is renewable, you just have to wait a couple million years’.

So can we agree that ‘alternative’ is in the mind of the beholder?

Winter weirding

This is a record setting January.  WinSol is buried in a winter wonderland of snow with more on the way.

 This is a record January with 237 inches beating the old record for January of 159 inches set in 1973.

The learning center dome has its first real test under heavy snows and seems to be holding up pretty good.  We’ll see what the 72 hour snow fatigue does to the Cupola soon.  It’s really a beautiful setting as long as one has adequate heating, food and water – AND – doesn’t need to go anywhere.


Feb 22nd update:  Yep, it’s been a record snowfall for February also.  Lake Tahoe lake level is at it’s highest level EVER.  Kirkwood (my fav ski area) got over 72″ of new snow just
in the past 7 days.

 I keep getting these email updates almost every other day of some ridiculous # of snow inches that just fell.  When you gotta DIG OUT the chair lifts… what can I say:

Unfortunately, the Carson Spur and the ski resort itself is having open/close issues – and this veteran skier is only a blue-bird.  Although I am on my 17th ski day already this year.

WinSol and the learning center came out of the deep snow just fine.  There’s only one small leak on the cupola and NO cracking… whew… gotta but some acrylic bars across that this summer for the next big snow weirding.

Energie Wende

that’s German for ‘Energy Turning’... which is well under way with the utility death-spiral already a reality in Germany, but we have our own ‘energy turning in the USofA’… so here’s annual op-ed on energy:

Exec Sum: It’s time to take a hiatus and chill in our warming planet: it’s all too damn confussing,  as our rubber band has exceeded its stretching limits:  Oil prices will continue to hover between $20-40, coal IS done – fini-  despite trumpian efforts,  wind and solar will continue to enlighten, and the USA will continue to gets its energy ass kicked by Europe and China… we are a laughing stock when it comes to energy policy: cheap oil at any price.  We hardly notice as the world moves on (to renewables).

Between falling oil prices and OPEC’s dysfunction (latest production cut agreement won’t hold long),  trumping around with uncertainty, Paris accords fading, Venezuela’s civil unrest, protesters turning into connected protectors,  fracking getting a pass,  more cars at less MPGs, Tesla’s stock shrinking as marriage to its incestuous cousin is approved, and Gaia keeps turning up the
heat on us frogs, what can I say that’s positive?   Hey – we’re waking up!  slowly but surely we are reaching a tipping point and I’m optimistic that our Big Brains will soon figure out that nature doesn’t really have an opinion and it’s better off without us – any questions?  There’s just one little issue with my optimism: Are we really that smart?  It only took us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage! And that was on top of 55,000 years without wheels!  something about chisels?… but I digress…

We have an energy solution right in front of us, but can’t seem to get past bi-partisan morass. Even NRG can’t figure it out… I get tired reading about the troubles in the renewable business… would the pop media wake up and get some balls – please?  Fossil fuels are not only messy, they’re guey, they stink, their supply chain is extremely inefficient (<5%), when they leak they kill, and we’re addicted like a heroin addict.  If you’ve ever driven up to an active fracking development area, you’ll be smelling and seeing methane clouds miles away; or if you’ve been with a wild-catting/leatherneck crew you’ll soon learn the messy business of dozens of 100ft long steel pipes swinging overhead waiting to be launched into the ground to send a diamond drill bit down,down,down (sound like I’ve been there? – yep in the 80’s… they were fracking then too in Oklahoma and I had a front row seat… but the fracking is WAY bigger & messier now).

(Newsflash on a recent Oil discovery: a HUGE – yes a trumpian huge – oil reserve in the Texas Bakken field was just unearthed that’ll keep oil & gas prices low for years more and renewables in the USA fighting for survival.)

renewables are messy...and renewables continue getting a dose of political uncertainty (again, sigh…) but what’s so messy about hooking up two wires to a solar panel, a couple water pipes to a hot water collector, or erecting a steel tower (once) for a wind blade? Compared to ANYTHING in the fossil fuel industry… absolutely nothing! (sing it Edwin Starr…. music tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck

Here’s an easy solution:  teach a kid how to heat water with a black soda bottle (just put some dark liquid in there and stick it out in the sun), or point out the solar PV panels on rooftops, and maybe even a wind turbine when you’re driving around… but hey! in order to be a teacher, y’all gotta be a good student… so study up and then teach the GOOD stuff to a young-un.

Note: if ya wanna be really cool, do this on the right… super heat a soda can!

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P.S. That’s what the LeLc is all about… FUN and PLAY… and the GREAT TURNING  (WTR)

 

LeLc earthen floor

After nearly three months of hard work and one major physical injury (leg in root cellar manhole!) , the first layer of earthen plaster flooring is done in the Living Energy Learning Center (LeLc).  This is a major milestone.

Dome cupola
Dome cupola

There were four phases to the LeLc Dome:  Foundation and Floor, engineering design & dome frame, Skinning the Dome, and interior paint & earthen floor.

It’s quite exhilarating & calming to look at the emerging floor and its ceramic tile mandala, and the amazing ‘space’ as it evolves into something magical…

Pictures (click to enlarge):

1st layer
1st layer
work in progress
work in progress
root cellar hole
root cellar hole

 

 

 

dif wet vs. dried
dif wet vs. dried

 

 

 

 

as

 

with the LeLc Dome… this post is also under construction… stay tuned…

systems thinking & LeLc learning programs

Everything is interconnected.  Yes – and it’s complicated and simple at the same time.  I’ve been there.

With the LeLc (Living Energy Learning Center at WinSol) I’m going to be exploring the simpler side of this interconnectedness.

I spent five years on the complicated side:  (2001-2006) with some of the leading brains in the world from Peter Senge (MiT)and his SoL org and their first Congress in Vienna,  then with Dr. Andrew Ford at Eastern Washington U and his ‘environmental modeling’ work, and Dr. Braungart in Hamburg with his EPEA Cradle-to-Cradle.  I have fond memories of speaking at a Systems Design conference in Bergen, Norway and a ‘moose safari’ in the fjords with a executive friend from Det Norske Veritas in Oslo.

I worked with Peregrine Systems, PowerSim software, and Cisco Systems on developing some pretty advanced complex SD (System Dynamic) models for lease holdings and workplace productivity.  And the result?  Once again (sigh), I was too far ahead of the curve and couldn’t squeeze a profit to keep the business operations going.

But, man did I learn a lot!  Things are complicated and counter-intuitive, and they sure are interconnect
ed!  And it sure was fun teaching it at CSUS’s GBO program on sustainable business practices… carbon bathtub and all.

Fast forward a decade, and now I find myself deeply engaged with Joanna Macy’s WTR work – and trying to figure out how to leverage that for some good.  And by good, I mean RESULTS.  I learned as an auditor for the Senate Baldridge Quality Award, that results are what matters – the rest is mostly marketing (aka window dressing).

So the challenge with the LeLc (Living Energy Learning Center)  will be how to incorporate all of this SD modeling, educational intents, inspiration, ancients’ wisdom, Gaia’s pleadings: calling us to PLEASE STOP this destructive onslaught… into real RESULTS for LeLc attendees that effect real change.

Fast forward to experiental learning.  i think that’s the sweet spot.  All the lecturting, field trips, powerpoint & prezi shows are fine, but figuring out processes and exercises and DEMONSTRATING things in a lab type setting so that people can PLAY with things – that’s my new passion, and that’s where the LeLc (Living Energy Learning Center) is headed.

I ran across this interesting business playwheel (aka mandala? 🙂 about STEM and learning – what do you think?  is it worthwhile  pursuing?  stay tuned…

 

 

…  my opinion:   I think it’s a lot better than Bloom’s taxonomy – but that also has its purpose.  Sometimes I wish permaculture PDC and other programs would have some discipline in putting their learning programs together, rather than just follow some book or concept or brainstorming… but focus on REAL learning methods: like a taxonomy of learning?

stay tuned… now that the LeLc construction is winding down… the REAL thing begins… wheeeeeeeee……

 

WinSol & LeLc update

As of this post, the interior of the LeLc (Living Energy Learning Center) Dome has been painted white, the cupola is finished with 360deg screening.  The openness and acoustics are amazing.  From July 8-30th there will be continuous work parties pouring the 1200sq.ft. earthen plaster floor inside the dome.  This is the first announcement – so if y’all want to help out, please email us (see resource tab).

Here’s a view from the outside of the entire LeLc and interior cupola:

LeLc ext SideView1
LeLc ext SideView1
Dome cupola
Dome cupola

 

 

 

 

Oscillating between the Bay Area, Lost Valley ecoVillage and the hi-Sierra it is all too evident that we are at a great turning point (WTR).   I wonder if this is our last golden age.  If this is our peak – as far as reaping the spoils of Gaia with minimal consequences, and if we are pivot point – either a great unraveling, or a great awakening.  It’s good to be optimistic about the latter, but is it reality?  How can we tell?  Knowledge and science go only so far – in both this unraveling or it’s turning for the good.  It’s really up to each and every single one of us.  And education is the great mediator.  But our universities and K-12 have utterly failed us.  The web provides little alternative.

I don’t know or propose solutions here – just an observation and a call to wake up.  To let go of the numbness, embrace the pain of Gaia.  We are her children and she’s about to get pissed!