Clang! Clang! The sledge rings against a black-iron pipe cap and the copperclad steel rod sinks another quarter-inch. There's a trick to it, just letting the hammer fall; if you hit too hard, the rod bends instead of being driven. If you don't strike squarely, the force mostly just wiggles the rod. The project is best begun shortly after a rain...
I've heard all my life that tech-geeks like me aren't "in touch with the Earth," that we have no "connection to Nature." It is, of course, utter bilge and what I am doing now smacks not at all faintly of some pagan ritual from the mists of Time -- the iron, the hammer, the copper and water, the TOCK! of hammerblows in groups of 16 (about what I can manage in a steady rhythm, then change hands and start over) slowly changing pitch as the rod sinks home. The iron pipe cap saves the end of the rod from getting too mushroomed while giving me a bigger target for hammering.
It isn't a rite of Fall -- or if it is, only by the wildest happenstance. Nor have I daubed myself in cabalistic symbols with blue mud. I'm literally connecting to the Earth and to earth as well, setting an eight-foot ground rod for my amateur radio station. Some hams use shorter ones but that's countin' on damp soil or possibly magic. A lot of folks don't bond to the Power & Light ground, either, which is both wishful thinking and unapproved by the National Electrical Code. Me, I'll find where the electricians connected to the plumbing and link up there: good enough for them, good enough for me. (YMMV -- ask an expert).
What one does in establishing a ground is both wonderful and mundane: establishing an equal-potential surface, or as close to it as can be practically managed, one of very much the same potential as the vast majority of other things -- not, as it happens, lightning strikes or the "hot" side of wall-socket juice. It's important to make sure one's own little puddle of groundedness has a whole lot in common with the one set up for the electrical system! Nor is ground some infinite great sink or sewer that will suck down all noise and wickedness, down, down, down to a nepenthe of darkness and oblivion; sometimes electronics hobbyists and EE students alike think perhaps it might be, but most eventually learn better. That's the mundane side and it's important.
But the wonderful portion, now... Picture a vast, mirror-still pool of salt water. That -- in rather dilute form -- is what that 8-foot ground rod is seeking. It's everywhere, invisible, under the surface. It reflects an image of my antenna above and together like the two wings of a bird, they loft my signal to far-distant lands. Or some guy down the block; as may be. Another way to look at what's happening is to picture ripples in that silv'ry pool, tiny ripples, spreading, widening to embrace the Earth, to tickle other ears a huge distance away: I've chatted with a Cuban hobbyist with 4 Watts into the antenna at my end and not much more at his, each of us using transmitters cobbled together from obsolete vacuum tubes and scrap; past our common humanity, all we had in common was this strange miracle of electrons and nothingness, of brass and the brazen nerve to challenge the Universe with barely enough power to light up the pages of book -- but it was more than adequate to illuminate our shared language of abbreviations and radio slang.
Yeah, it's a hobby for indoor geeks, for shut-ins, for nobodies; people with no connection to other folks, no feel for nature. Sure it is.
I've got the rod about two-thirds driven and it's gone dark. I started on a stepladder and now I'm standing on the ground. Time to put my tools away in anticipation of another dawn. Time to treat the blister forming at the heel of my hand. Below in the basement, my ham gear waits, sleeping. Dreaming. Remembering the vast and friendly darkness, alive with piping signals, words from other souls, other places, other dawns....
1. Spellcheck options, since it's never heard tell of no cabalistic: "ballistic, cannibalistic, journalistic, Bialystok." Hunh? Helloooo? Bialystok? Max Bialystok?
2. It's called eye line-er. And not that much of it, not really.
YANKEE RADIO TOOL KIT, #106
4 weeks ago