Unseen

It’s 20 degrees (unseen) Fahrenheit in Atlanta (seen) this morning. I just finished rolling the trash (seen) to the curb, and adding air (unseen) to my front left tire (seen).

Friday morning we awoke to a rare powdery snowfall. (We usually get sleet or the dreaded ‘wintry mix’ causing power outages that are dangerous to a populace that usually worries more about heatstroke in the summer.) Interestingly, our furnace wasn’t working. My first thought was “low gas pressure”, since every furnace in the county was trying to battle the cold snap in the mid-teens. My second thought was “If, in fact, I have to call a repair company, they will probably not be able to schedule a visit before April.” My third thought was that I remember the furnace quitting before, and that it was something simple that time.

After taking some other critical steps (made coffee, plugged in a small electric space heater in the den), I finally decided to do what any self-respecting home repairman would do – I laid down for a nap, to think and warm up. (At this point it was around 50 degrees in the house). I lay there alternately snoozing and listening for the familiar sound of the fan, which would indicate that my first guess was right. Alas, no fan was heard, But I could definitely hear the furnace stepping through its cycle. And I remembered that the previous problem was a limit switch that a loose door failed to actuate. Eventually, somewhat warmed and encouraged, I decided to get up and try to diagnose the problem.

The furnace is in the crawl space of my house, which might explain my original reluctance to jump right on the task. I first checked the limit switch, and verified that, yes, indeed, I had fixed it last time. That was not the problem. I then activated the circuit board’s test mode, which briefly cycles through the major components to verify that they are all working. They were.

Finally, I called my frigid spouse (fortunately a temporary condition) and asked her to turn the thermostat to “heat” so I could watch the cycle, To an observer unfamiliar with furnaces, the problem was unseen. But I noticed that everything was working right except the ignitor. In a bold flash of insight, I realized that if I could do the job of the ignitor on its behalf, the house (and the spouse) would begin to warm. My first try was kitchen matches. But the gas jets were so powerful that they blew out the flame. My next try was a butane lighter, one of those with the piezoelectric crystal to generate a spark, and a long nozzle, good for lighting candles and starting fires. It didn’t have much fuel in it, but I was hoping that the spark might be enough.

So once again I sat in the cold waiting for the furnace to cycle through its start-up dance, until I heard the sound of the gas valve opening. I stuck the lighter into the right place, and pulled the trigger. Immediately and dramatically, the unseen gas became a very visible flame, and the furnace began its slow, steady process of heating up the house.

Perhaps due to the nap, I had the presence of mind to remove the old ignitor, and was able to find a replacement at the local hardware store while the house warmed up.

If your cultural antennae are tuned the same as mine, the notions of the seen and the unseen have perhaps evoked thoughts of philosophy and theology. Of course, in contrast to the spiritually unseen, all of the “unseen” items mentioned above are measurable by scientific methods. I remain intrigued by the notions of the impact of the unseen on the visible world, whether we are talking about the keel of a sailboat (unseen from aboard the boat) to an empty object in Blender (previously mentioned) which, while unseen in a rendered animation, has visible purposes and effects.

“See” you later.

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