• Annette Marquis

An Earth Day Lesson: Balance Begins with the Little Things

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

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This week we celebrated the 49th annual Earth Day, a day focused on raising awareness of and commitment to environmental protection. When I think about protecting the environment, I don’t imagine a world in which we give up the modern conveniences we have grown used to. Instead, I think about balance—what we take from the Earth, we have to put back so that future generations of all species can survive and thrive. If we cut down trees to build a house, balance calls us to plant more trees so that sometime in the future, someone else can also build a house.

That becomes harder, though, when we burn oil and gas to drive our cars, trucks, and RVs. We can’t just plant some oil, so it’ll be there fifty or a hundred years from now. We have to develop alternative sources of energy so that oil and gas reserves buried deep in the Earth have the millions of years they need to recover.

I have 200 watts of solar panels on my RV, which charge the batteries in the same way gas from the generator does. With that, I can run lights, DC and USB outlets, and even the refrigerator. Sun comes in when it’s available; power goes out as I need it. Balance.

On Earth Day eve, Wendy and I used our membership in Harvest Hosts for the first time. According to the Harvest Hosts website, “Harvest Hosts is a membership program that provides access to a network of wineries, farms, breweries, museums and other unique attractions that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight.” In exchange, members are encouraged to support the businesses by making a purchase of their goods or services. Another example of balance.

For this first outing, we chose to stay at a farm, Wildwood Alpacas, rather than a winery or other attraction, because it seemed to me that a working animal farm would be a great place to celebrate Earth Day.

The old and the new in motor vehicles

After meeting our hosts, Sue and Judy, we drove our van to a rise at the back of the property, behind the red-clover covered fields, by the larger of two red barns, and near the red antique Chevy truck. Wendy mused about how she wished we had a red Travato, rather than the granite-colored one that was my preference. That would have added even greater artistic balance to the old and the new in motor vehicles.

As soon as we parked, we hiked back down the hill to visit the alpacas, llamas, and chickens living together in several fenced-lined paddocks.

"Manly men" alpacas

The “manly men” alpacas, as Judy described them, live in a separate paddock, so as not to bother the females of the bunch. Their rutting and orgling sounds, which resemble a car engine refusing to start, are best left for planned encounters on this active breeding farm.

By the time we headed back up the hill for an afternoon and evening of reading, writing, and card-playing, my mind danced with images of brown, black, and white alpacas, while I admired Wendy's cute alpaca hat, and my hands caressed socks and dryer balls made from their squishy soft coats. I struggled to imagine these cuddly Ewoks in a couple of days when shearers would transform these balls of fluff into sleek, long-necked deer. And, once again, I found balance in this annual exchange of fleece for the alpacas' ability to tolerate hot Virginia summers.

It was at dinner time when balance called on me again. After a casual walk down a country lane through the middle of the property, passed fenced and unfenced fields, marshes ripe with mosquito larvae, and roads fit only for feet and four-wheelers, we returned to the van to prepare dinner before settling in for an evening of gin rummy. Or at least that was the plan.

We started by turning on the Truma heater to stave off the spring chill. Within seconds, an error code flashed on the wall monitor. W45H. We’d seen that one before. The GCFI outlet had been tripped. A simple fix. All it takes to restore balance is to lift the bench cushion, reach into the compartment where the Truma Combi unit lives, maneuver a finger into the small opening under the plug, push the button on the outlet, and like magic, the W45H error disappears. We did it, and it did. Balance restored.

But then, an unfamiliar code, W212H, glared at us from the monitor.

“What’s that mean?” Wendy asked, eager to hear I had a similarly easy solution to this error.

I had nothing. “I’ve never seen that one,” I replied.

Without hesitation, Wendy reached across the passenger seat to the side door pocket where we keep the plastic expanding file folder containing myriad instruction booklets and manuals provided to illuminate the mysteries of the van and all its systems. She rummaged through until she found the listing of error codes.


  • Combustion air infeed or exhaust gas outlet closed—check for obstructions such as slush, ice, or leaves and remove them from the openings.

  • Switch for gas shut-off valve open—Close switch for gas shut-off valve.

  • Gas pressure regulation system defection. Contact Truma Service.

  • Overheating protection has responded. Switch off furnace and allow to cool; if necessary, fill the water container with cold water. Check warm air outlets and circulated air intake and remove blockages. Switch furnace on again.

  • Electronic defective. Contact Truma Service.

Geez! Couldn’t they use more than one code to identify five possible issues! What do all these things even mean? Where do we start?

I started by calling Truma Service. Closed—of course—for the Easter/Passover holiday weekend.

“Well, let’s go ahead and have dinner,” Wendy suggested, in her signature optimistic voice. “We can figure it out later.” I agreed since memory of the Easter brunch we shared with friends earlier in the day was fading with the setting sun.

She turned the knob on the propane stove and pressed the ignition button. The igniter sparked but nothing lit. She tried again. And again. Nothing happened.

I tried. On my third or fourth attempt, a flame flickered then evaporated like our plans for a relaxed evening. I sniffed for the rotten egg smell of propane. None of that either. At least that's good—I guess.

“I can fire up the generator so we can use the microwave. Will that work?” I asked. It did. One crisis abated. Although our simple dinner of masala and rice didn’t hold a candle to the eggs, ham, loaded tater tots, fruit, buttermilk biscuits, and mimosas that we devoured at brunch, our headaches receded, and we could return to problem-solving.

LP Gauge buried deep underneath the Travato

Wendy, being the more agile of the two of us, crawled under the van, first on her back on one side of the van and then on her stomach on the other to examine the propane lines and snap a photo of the gauge. Plenty of propane, so that’s not the problem. Nothing else looked amiss.

I consulted my go-to support resource, the Travato Owners and Wannabees Facebook group. Within seconds, I had many suggestions and ideas, all of which we tried, all of which failed.

At that point we had a choice, continue to fret about solving the propane problem, or bundle up and play cards. We chose balance. We had done all we knew to do. We could let it upturn our evening completely, or we could return to the evening we had planned. Tomorrow, we would solve, or more likely, get the problem solved, and, it, too, would be in balance again.

On reflection, I’m most proud of the fact that neither of us considered calling it quits and driving home. We were only an hour away, so that could have been an easy solution. But then we would have missed the laughter that ensued when Wendy walloped me at cards, the cuddles in the not-so-spacious camper bed, and the sight of alpacas across the fields when we opened our blinds in the morning. Going home would have been the unbalanced solution—a missed opportunity—an unfinished experience. '

How we balance our natural resources in this time of global climate change is a monumental undertaking. No one of us can solve it. A part of the solution begins with balancing the little things in life: sheering llamas, so they’re cooler when the temperature rises, separating the “manly men” llamas from the females until it’s appropriate to breed, not letting life's trials upend our days.

Balance doesn’t always mean that everything stays even. Just like the teeter-totters of our youth, sometimes one end is higher, and sometimes one end is lower. A consciousness of balance is the most important step in making the Earth whole again. How we:

  • offset our carbon footprint,

  • reduce consumption,

  • recycle and reuse when we do consume,

  • respond to challenges we face,

  • help family and friends restore balance in their lives, and

  • challenge those who take without giving back.

Living in balance is a choice, but it is only in exercising that choice that balance can be restored to our lives and to the Earth.

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