I Follow The Sun

In Magazine by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

My name is Crispy.  

I’ve been part of the Carbondale family for over 11 years, finally settling here after 30 years in Fort Collins, Summit County, Boulder, Steamboat and Durango.  While I’ve traveled to more than 25 countries, I’ve never lived more than 100 miles from the continental divide since I moved to Colorado as a wee lad back in ’62. Since my mom,  my grandparents on her side, all my siblings, and my mom’s siblings were born in Colorado, I’m gonna claim native, even if I was born in LA. I graduated from high school in Buena Vista and went away to CSU in ’77 to study Electrical Engineering (EE) because I believed that Jimmy Carter was the smartest president ever by putting solar panels on the White House. I was off to save the world and cover it in PV.

Little did I know that EE’s did not work with solar as much as I thought; beer was very cheap; freedom was lots of fun; and EE was really hard.  I worked up at Climax mine in the summers, (so I had lots of money for a college kid back in the 70’s that made it to school on grants and scholarships), oh, did I mention that beer was really cheap!

Forging Pathways

Unfortunately, Reagan got elected in 1980, the panels came off the White House, I became disillusioned with the world– or more truthfully, my place in it. I moved back to the mountains. Skiing was the solution to my newfound cynicism. It was during that period of outdoor adventuring, working outside as a surveyor, windsurf instructor, softball umpire, PV installer, and eventually a world cup freestyle skiing judge, that my path evolved in front of me.

If I could combine the passion I felt for the outdoors, with the tedious minutia of hard core physics and math, using PV installation as a basis for STEM education, life would indeed be grand! At the ripe young age of 50, I proposed to rejuvenate the Solar program at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) that had been initiated by Johnny Weiss and Ken Olson years before (incredible humans, way ahead of their time).

Through all those years of playing, I had returned to college. I studied Policy, minored in Physics, and pretended a year of grad school in Global Environmental Policy. While thinking of all the problems we create just by being us (and being made to read chapter after chapter of environmental degradation) I realized I needed to be back outside–at least part of the time–instead of continuing to feed the developing ulcer brought on by our impending doom.

Creating More Than a Livelihood

CMC was incredibly supportive of my proposal and so the Solar program came back into existence. My students helped with the 102kW build on the Rifle campus, the animal facility up on the Spring Valley campus, as well as designing and installing three large PV arrays on the Silt, Newcastle and Carbondale libraries. The program revolved around critical and logical thinking while including a concept of shared trust.

When you ski or climb with someone and place your trust in their ability to protect your life and vice versa, much of the superficial BS goes away. The same can be said when you work on a project for the collective good of a community. When you work with people on something that will last and that benefits your community, you have a tendency to share your knowledge, wisdom and dreams while learning critical thinking skills. I believe this concept of experiential, community project-based, service learning is the best form of hands on education we can provide for not only college kids, but K-12, marginalized communities and disenfranchised people of color.

As the product of a half Latina/half Native American mother (and 4 step dads before I finished high school) I have learned that life can be incredibly hard at times. I was lucky to be able to attend college, be a ski bum, travel around the world to places I read about as a child, and work in the arena in which I am passionate. Life is also incredibly beautiful and worth protecting with all the ability we have within us to make that happen. While I still believe we are in some pretty deep shit, environmentally, politically, and socioeconomically, I feel we are also on a path to wisdom and sustainability never before attained.

Sticking it to Climate Change and Poverty

Currently, I am working with an extraordinary group of people at In Our Hands. Our concept is to provide affordable, sustainable housing projects with Solar PV, to marginalized communities, affordable housing authorities, and low income housing. We are building foamcrete dome houses that can withstand extreme climate occurrences and be self sustaining energy wise. Our hope is to provide no interest, no down payment projects that are funded from our foundation. It is not just a gift, but a low enough mortgage that becomes equity immediately. The money is paid back and then reused for other projects. Our process will be to get the community involved in its’ own sustainable creation, as well developing cross cultural trust for long term projects and hopefully, friendships. While this may seem a little farfetched, why not have business model that does good, has fun, seeks adventure, has a commodity that can be sold without taking advantage of people’s weaknesses, and has a training process to keep the model moving forward.

Imagine a community that has shared trust, respect, and a zest for life that can be inclusive. Sound familiar, and while our little bubble is not perfect, I have not found a better place in all my travels to not only figure out “If I could, What would I”, but also how “I can, I will”, locally as well as globally!

Cheers mates,


Christopher P. Ellis

[email protected]