Drilling for heat

Mid-morning. I look out my kitchen window in the direction of the noise. A quarter mile away, the well drillers are working in the rain, boring holes below the new house site, digging not for water but for heat. A geothermal heat-pump will supplement the woodstove and passive solar design, and for that, four deep holes need to be drilled.

I can’t see anything from here, though. The wild apple out back, stripped of leaves, bends under its load of lumpy fruit. I rub an absent-minded hand over my scalp, still adjusting to the strangeness of short hair.

It’s not that I liked having long hair; I didn’t. I thought it looked dumb. But I’ve always feared conformity: the chanting, the pledging of allegiances, the mob with its own cruel agenda. I guess I’m a product of the American individualist myth that says a social collective can never be other than a Borg, threatening to erase all differences and obliterate even the impulse toward independence. Much preferable, in my mind, to court outlandishness and be obvious and erratic as a planet among the anonymous stars.

But now I’m a Roundhead, fit for a new New Model Army, to all appearances as subservient as the moon in its orbit and in its kenosis — which begins again tomorrow, I think. The last I saw it two nights ago, through thickening clouds, the almost-full moon was a blurry nest of light, alone in the sky.

I hear random crashes as the drill bores through the nearly vertical shelves of rock, laid down during a barren time following a great extinction event of unknown origin. Did a piece of the sky fall, or did the planet become too active and ejaculate too much volcanic ash all at once? The Juniata formation is a brick-red sandstone too soft to build with, and though virtually free of fossils, it did once yield a fist-sized concretion that tumbled out of the road bank and into the track — an oblate spheroid with concentric ridges as if from the fingers of some ancient potter.

Late morning, I grab camera and umbrella and walk over to the new house site. The rig stands about as tall as the trees behind it, and together with its truck reminds me almost of a mosquito. I don’t know the names for the things moving up and down and back and forth as its complicated mouthparts probe the earth. As I walk up past it I get a lungful of exhaust. How could we have forgotten what even our cave-dwelling ancestors knew, I wonder: this is no round rock in space, but a warm-blooded beast, impossible ever to fully domesticate. Let’s hope its tolerance of parasites will persist.

9 Replies to “Drilling for heat”

  1. Yes, that’s one thing I’ve never been kept up about at night: worrying about you becoming the man in the gray flannel suit :-)

    Wow, they’re really drilling for geothermal there?

  2. Geothermal heat-pumps, woodstoves and passive solar design, oh my! I would love to hear more about all of that.

    If you are walking around with a camera and an umbrella, I don’t think you ever need to fear conformity.

  3. Keep that shorn head warm with a cap or such. Of all the things I’d imagined my round rocks to be, I’d never looked on them as shaved heads. Now I probably won’t be able to see them as anything but that.

  4. Hi all – Thanks for the comments. I should have said that, although this ended up as an essay, it was prompted by a ReadWritePoem suggestion to trying facing down one’s fears. Such things almost by definition seem silly when brought out into the open.

    Sorry for the lack of photos, but the light wasn’t really very good. I haven’t wanted to blog much about the new house (except obliquely) because until it’s finished and occupied, vandalism is always a possiblity. But it will be a caretakers’ house, and replaces the home of our former neighbor Margaret McHugh, whose derelict house I’ve written about more than once. We’re making it as green as possible.

  5. Dave, I was curious about your geo-thermal heating. Had thought that was something only available in Nordic countries conveniently situated on top of volcanic activity. Thankfully, I was wrong and this geo pump is a nifty way to go. My neighbors did buy the cheaper “Heat Pump” that is supposed to perform magic inside out air exchanges. It lasted about a month before they got rid of it for one of the traditional gas sucking furnaces of Missouri. I was, however inspired to write a ditty.

    Too Late To Exchange

    There are different kinds of heat pumps
    Some are inside out exchangers
    Geos burrow in the earth
    But with the first kind there are dangers.

    If your climate is quite temperate
    You’re fine with heat exchange
    But if not you might be thinking,
    “These heat pumps are really strange.”

    If you’re counting on some warm air
    During winter best beware
    Cause along with thermal heat
    We’re sporting thermal underwear.

  6. Joan – Great point about thermal underwear! We could save so much CO2 if people would simply bundle up a bit. I find 60 degrees F quite comfortable; too warm and stuffy and it’s hard to think.

    Yeah, heat pumps that just use the outside air don’t do much for winter heating. The below-ground temperature is in the low 50s – good for air conditioning in the summer, and a real boost for heating in the winter. The groundwater systems are expensive to install, but pay for themselves within a few years.

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