Two years ago this December a confluence of events brought my wife Mary and me to think hard about where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. Mary’s family is steeped in Oberlin--her grandfather, parents, and siblings are graduates--and Carl and our son, Stuart, are too. My long standing commitment to Oberlin’s “greening” has created vibrant interactions with the Oberlin: First in the early 1990s with David Orr and David Benzing and then, in 2002, I brought alums together to form EnviroAlums, an Alumni Association affiliate group to champion Oberlin’s sustainability initiatives. Most recently as an Alumni Council Executive Board member, I came to appreciate more fully the quality of Obies and their many accomplishments.
When ever we were on campus, we felt at ease, almost at home. We had been in Troy for over three decades and put down deep roots. Big changes are always difficult but often liberating. We had lived among rolling hills and mountains for a long time. Mary, born in Vermont’s Green Mountain, just couldn’t imagine living in flat Oberlin and growing a house in a corn field didn’t much appeal to me either.
For almost three decades we imagined building a passive solar house. If we were ever to do it, now was the time. One serendipitous event after another came our way--we meet Geoff Andrews at Oberlin orchestra’s January 2007 Carnegie Hall performance who introduced us to David Sonner who became our “scout” and then guided us in the purchase of the Portman’s East College Street property that is not flat. Another string of fortunate events created our LEED team--architects Don Watson and Joe Ferut, builder Mike Strehle and me--that is optimistic about attaining LEED Platinum certification. After a very intense two years, we moved into Trail Magic, our home among kindred spirits dedicated to creating a more durable future.
Trail Magic, being designed as climate neutral, is a gesture to the challenge of living more sustainably. We brought our 3.12 kW photovoltaic system from NY that should provide all of our electricity. We had installed an evacuated-tube, solar hot-water system to provide most of our hot water needs. A pond was dug to provide fill for around the ground floor, for fish to eat, and for geothermal heating and cooling, if needed. A small, airtight woodstove graces our living-dining space to warm Trail Magic when the sun doesn’t heat our passive-solar home.
The tightness of Trail Magic was tested recently when we had constant winds of 20 to 40 mph and the temperature was 0° F. Since the sun had shown that day and the temperature was 70° F at 8 PM, we saw no need to light a fire or activate the geothermal heat. At 8 AM the temperature was 61° F, a loss of just 9° in 12 hours. Our house in Troy would have had frozen pipes under similar circumstances without supplemental heat.
We continue to feel at ease and welcomed by the community. Mary, a 40-year veteran of early-childhood education, is spending time at Eastwood Elementary while I taught a course on humanity’s future at the college. When asked by Channel 5 News how we felt about our new home in Oberlin, I responded, “Like we’ve died and gone to heaven.”