September 2010

Power to the people?

By David Feela

I camped two nights in LaPlata Canyon, early June. Spring runoff was at its peak. The sight and sound of water just 100 feet from where I rested my head had to be exactly what the manufacturers of sound therapy machines were after when they digitalized the soothing nuances of nature and recorded them to be played on portable devices designed for a bedside table.

I suspect the manufacturer of the portable generator running in the campsite beside mine was not concerned that the word “soothing” would never be used to describe its product. Watts, fuel consumption, total weight, peak performance and efficiency had to be its buzz words. And buzz it did, all afternoon, cranking out the power to run my temporary neighbor’s second home.

His 36-foot fifth-wheel trailer with dark tinted windows and an expandable room sucked power like the dry earth sucking up the spring runoff. I checked the rig out when nobody was home, paced its length and scouted its license registration. A few neatly sawed logs were stacked picturesquely beside the fire ring. They gave the campsite primitive look, but the image that popped into my head involved roasting marshmallows over a burning generator.

I also checked out the machine, a 7.8 horsepower gas model, scanning it for a kill switch I could flip if it continued its rattle. Who would leave it running all day without at least returning before sunset to shut their power station down?

The first night of my camping expedition, a truck finally pulled in, parked, and somebody promptly turned the generator off, exhibiting a modicum of woodsy etiquette. Park campgrounds everywhere prohibit the use of generators at night while campers try to sleep.

The next day after I returned from my morning excursion, the same generator rarified the air, and again, nobody home. How rude, I said to the tree beside me, to leave a noisy generator running without being obliged to listen to it.

I am not, however, blind to the advantages of the gas engine. I had just anguished over the purchase of a lawn mower for my three acres, having spent days looking at rechargeable electric models.

I wanted something small, quiet, and more responsible than a traditional gas mower, but every online forum recommended an electric for cutting up to an acre. My lawn exceeds those expectations, especially when I spend so many summer days camping.

The back of my pickup truck held a reconditioned gas mower. Any moral high ground over my neighbor had been leveled by that purchase.

As dusk approached, I scouted my neighbor's site once again, scrutinizing the generator more closely. Then I had an idea.

When he finally pulled in to shut off his generator, I would climb out of bed and start my new lawn mower. Maybe make a few passes around my campsite, spruce up the grounds around the old spruce trees. Maybe be a good neighbor and offer to cut his site. Let the engine idle for a half hour or so between our campsites, break it in properly.

When he actually pulled in and shut down his power plant, he spoiled my plan. I wanted to get out of bed, but the sound of spring runoff rushed through the open window. A breeze stirred the aspen leaves above me. Birds chirped. Even better than silence, the sounds of a primitive campground returned. Powered by nature.

I fell asleep and slept deeply all night. I woke before sunrise and packed up, prepared to head home. I did slam the truck door quite a few times. Unnecessary, really, but not uncalled for.

David Feela writes from a quiet location in Montezuma County, Colo.