Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Out of Sync Shut Down

When I was the operator for a hydroelectric power plant, one dial that was a "must read" on the indicator panel was the Synchroscope. It measured the compatibility of the outgoing AC being produced by the plant generator with the current already existing in the utility company's power lines. It was vital that the plant AC be completely "in sync" with the outside AC in order to "go online" and send electricity out to the system. The utility company could then measure what power we added to the grid and compensate the project accordingly. What made this "sync up" so important was that the AC (alternating current) traveling through the power lines was used in homes and businesses for lights and appliances set to use it in precise measurements. If the current sent to them was "out of phase" or out of "balance," a lot of damage could occur to these lights and appliances for which we could be responsible. Therefore, the Synchroscope was installed to ensure we would not create catastrophic "brown outs" for the nearby community.

This vital instrument not only allowed the operator to know we were "in sync" when operating, it determined whether or not you could operate. The Synchroscope simply, as a protection to the power grid (and its many customers), would not allow you to go online unless the generator was absolutely "synced" to the outside lines. Thus, during startup, the operator carefully controlled the turbine speed by adjusting the flow intake gate. Too slow? A little flick of the wrist here. Too fast? A little nudge there. Sometimes this could take a while as you "felt" through the process. When the needle finally stayed straight up, you were in sync.

CLUNK! Pressing the "close contact" button locked in the generator frequency, and activated the automated turbine governor. You now could walk away and let the computer do the rest. The power plant was now "in sync" and did not require your complete attention. Go home or drive up to the cabin for a nap. I spent many a night, in all sorts of weather, standing in front of the control panel, fidgeting with the turbine speed to get that sucker "in sync," so I could climb back into my sleeping bag on the powerhouse floor. Old men at the Platina bar still talk about "that idiot" that skied the 5 mile road to the powerhouse one night when the snow was too deep to drive. I HAD to. All that snow-melt runoff represented a lucrative "harvest" for the project.

Anyway, once the generator was "in sync," running on its own, it would continue going until something caused it to shut down. The causes were many. During rainy season, debris in the water might clog the intake screens and force a shut down because too little water was in the pipe to drive the turbine. In the middle of winter, heavy snow might bend a tree limb over and short a power line. The short produced a "phase imbalance," which in turn sent the power plant "out of sync," causing an automatic shut down. In response to this, the plant computer called me on the phone and summoned me back up to the project to fix the issue and start the process all over again. The point is that the Synchroscope was finicky (and rightly so for safety reasons described above), and when it detected a "phase imbalance," it shut down the system to avoid catastrophic damage.

Such can be the case with the human soul. Life conditions can be delicate, and the adjustments necessary to finally feel "in sync" can prove tediously laborious. A little nudge here...a little flick of the wrist there... while you hope that things will finally feel "locked in" and "running smoothly." This is not to pursue the mythical "easy life," but instead to achieve a relative level of "balance" that does not require CONSTANT tweaking. It is, by no means, easily achieved. The "synchroscope of the soul" points up, and the deeply felt connection with one's surroundings seems safe, the "contact" is like no other peace in the world. It's what Hebrew tradition calls "Shalom:" the peace and well being resulting from good, meaningful connections with God, man and creation. It's among the most coveted of conditions known to humankind. This peace and "balance" can be felt in friendships, in families, at work or in one's community. You sense it when you visit the restaurant where everyone knows your name. You can feel it when you lie in a hammock with a spouse on a perfect Spring afternoon. You can detect it when friends hover around a campfire and tell stories about about their ancestors.

It's REALLY tangible when the connections truly "sync" at a local church. Friendships develop, confidences are held, prayers are shared and tears are shed all as part of the procedure of inching into "sync." It's a painstaking process, but when you're in "sync," you finally extend the vulnerability-inducing trust of "closing" the connection (meaning being truly connected). You're in "sync," and there's no feeling like it in all the world. What, then, if something causes a "phase imbalance?" A personnel change; a communal upheaval; a tectonic shift in polity or culture and a "phase imbalance shutdown" can ensue. Conversation seems suddenly overrated, and a systematic retreat from communal gatherings seems not only safe, but strangely wise.

I am there now... and it's perhaps just as well since I have nothing useful to presently offer "the grid" anyway. Oh, a new "start up" may result in productive outgoing energy in the future (none can know how soon), but that's a painstaking process that starts over from "square one" all over again. It's a long drive back out to the wilderness in the middle of the night, where you throw on the skis to traverse the miles of snow-blocked road, then don the wetsuit at the cabin so you can dive into the icy water and scrub debris from intake screens in the pitch black of 12 feet of water at 2 am. Then warming back up at the cabin before hiking to the powerhouse, where you start over from scratch getting this sucker back online again. Such is the labors of re-syncing the soul to one's surroundings after a "shut down."

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