Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Sweetwater, Sweetland

In many other countries, fresh water is referred to as “sweetwater.” In Europe, as in “sweet, not carbonated.” In Mexico, as in, “sweet, we can drink this!” It’s taken us quite a few weeks of being stateside to get used to the fact that we have unlimited fresh water available now, though we are trying not to grow so accustomed that we take it for granted. But it’s nice to not have to keep one ear tuned to the water pump in case the tank runs dry.

Velella is currently enjoying some R&R tucked away in her slip in Seattle, being bathed daily by sweetwater falling from the sky. Meanwhile, Prescott and I have been staying at his parents’ house in the Columbia Gorge, preparing for our upcoming wedding. When I wake up these days, I see 20 acres of rolling golden hillside, and the huge hulking snowy peak of Mount Adams out our window. Despite all the water flowing out the big windy Columbia River nearby, the sea feels very far away from “The Land.”

But the folks who live out here on The Land exhibit a level of conservation awareness that reminds me a lot of what we found in the cruising community. And in some ways, the cruising community could learn a lot from them. We walked over to the neighbor’s house to borrow something yesterday, and since I’d never been given the tour, I got to have a look around.

The main house was all of 500 square feet, but the design took advantage of that space so well that you’d swear it was twice the square footage. The concrete floors were luxuriously warm under my bare feet, heated by pipes that siphoned hot water directly from the woodburning stove that heated the room. The outdoor living space was three times the size of the indoor space, with beautiful grey-water-fed gardens downhill of the house, an enormous porch roofed with leafy vines, and an awesome cedarplank freshwater hottub. Oh, and an outdoor brick oven in case you want some perfect woodfire pizzas. The lap of luxury, to be sure, but also quite possibly the greenest living space I’ve ever seen.

Behind the house an enormous 16-panel solar array pumped out three times the energy the owner needed. He simply feeds the excess energy he produces back into the grid (and gets paid for it by the watt by the state of Washington!). Next to the solar panels is a set of black glass tubes that essentially use the sun’s heat to passively heat the house’s hot water (to 140 degrees!). The bathroom is a small separate building, a glorified outhouse, and uses a fully compost-based toilet. (Note: It smelled nothing like an outhouse and way better than many normal bathrooms and certainly any ship’s head. Can you imagine how much cleaner the earth might be if we all composted our sewage?!) All the waste water from the house (such as kitchen sink runoff) was fed directly into the garden, where they grow all edible plants and vegetables.

W. O. W.

I mean, wow.

I smiled to learn that the owner of this home spent years of his life aboard a cruising sailboat–sailing from South Africa through the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard with his family. He took all the best of cruising conservation know-how and applied it to land living in an almost seamless way. Small house, big yard? Solar panel power? Passive water heating? Sounds familiar. I hope very much that someday we too will make such an elegant transition from sea-green to grass-green living.

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1 Comment»

  Caitlin wrote @

holy cow. that is AWESOME. totally sweet. water. 🙂


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