What I Did When The Lights Went Out



First of all, there’s not much you can do without electricity.

In my home, when the electricity is out, there is no computer and no telephone. The pump bringing water in from the well will not function without electricity, so water use has to be kept to a minimum. The only light, after the sun goes down, is candlelight and the occasional glow from the propane heater. Travel is impossible; I am shut off from the world.

It seems there isn’t much I can do, besides read…and eat…and sleep.

Yesterday, a winter storm came through Beaver Island. It started with rain, then sleet. By afternoon it had turned to snow. At my house, the snowflakes were almost as big as the palm of my hand. The landscape was quickly transformed from bare, wintry ground to a beautiful white landscape.

I thought of putting a soothing pot of soup on the stove, of baking bread, and batches of cookies to take advantage of the warm feelings brought on by the wonderland outside.

Then the lights started flickering. Out for a minute or two, then back on…then out again a few minutes later.

I made a simple dinner, lit candles, put dishes in the sink. I was having a dish of cottage cheese and pineapple when the lights went out and stayed out.

I finished my dessert.

I pulled out a soft comforter, picked up my new digital reader (lighted screen! genius!), blew out the candles and made myself comfortable on the sofa.

I have three books downloaded on my reader that I have yet to finish. The one I’m reading now is a mystery by Tana French, Into the Woods. Her stories are set in Ireland and feature an interesting cast of Dublin police officers. A fairly new author, her mysteries have an unpredictable quality that I like. This is the second of her books that I’ve read, though it’s the first in the series.

Cozy on the couch, with the little dog curled at my feet, it seemed like I read for hours.

I have a word game on the reading device, too, and thought of spending some time with that. Then the little icon popped up, telling me my battery was low. I held my watch up to the lighted screen to get an idea of the time. Oh. Eight-thirty. I read for a few more minutes, then turned off the device and went to sleep.

For twelve and a half hours.

I could have roused myself sooner, but without electricity, there seemed little reason to throw off the covers. When the dogs needed to go out, I got up.

No coffee.

Well, there was, in fact, about a half cup of yesterday’s cold coffee in the bottom of the pot. If it had been hot…and more…I would have been happy.

My friend, Laura, had just sent me home two nights earlier with Christmas goodies: home-made “kahlua”, chocolate nut clusters, chocolate covered pretzels…

I put the cold coffee in a loaf pan with a slosh of the liqueur, and set it on the propane stove to warm. I opened the tin of peanut clusters. Hard times call for hard measures.

Over “breakfast”, I read The Peasant Kitchen by Perla Meyers. I’d found this vintage book several months ago at a sale, and had barely given it a glance since.

My friend, Doug, pulled in around 11:00, with his plow truck. I bundled up and went out to greet him. It had taken him almost an hour, he said, to get from his driveway to mine, just a little over a mile to the south. “Lots of trees down, too”, he said. “Do they know the electricity is out?” I wondered. Doug didn’t have the answer, but said he’d look into it. I made a feeble attempt at clearing the heavy snow from my car, then retreated back inside while Doug cleared my driveway.

Too much snow on our usual trails, the dogs and I headed out straight down the Fox Lake Road for our daily exercise. Doug had cleared the way from his house to mine, so that’s the way we headed. The county road trucks hadn’t been down this way yet, so there would be no other traffic to worry about. So beautiful! So thrilling! All the new snow combined with a change from our usual route had the dogs leaping in the air and wagging tails in excitement. By the time we got home an hour later, we were ready to settle in quietly again.

I pulled out another cookbook. This time, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, purchased with great anticipation last September, never opened until today. It’s beautifully written, basic and inclusive. It made me want to be boiling an egg or roasting vegetables.

I finished off a bag of tortilla chips, for lunch. Opened the tin of chocolate covered pretzels for dessert.

Steve Hamilton has a series of mystery stories set in and around Paradise, Michigan, in the upper peninsula. I’d checked his latest out of the library when I’d stopped last week. I pulled it off the shelf.

Doug stopped back to report that the electrical outage was almost island wide, that our generators were running, so there must be outages on the mainland, too, and that he and another guy had just had to help each other out of the ditch on Paid Een Ogg’s Road. “The road crews have been down the King’s Highway, but it’s still not good. The other roads are terrible. Now it’s starting to drift”, he said, “I’d advise you not to try it today.” Well, I’d been looking forward to going to work for the coffee and hot meal I could get there, but I wasn’t excited about the drive in. Seven and a half miles can seem excruciatingly long and lonely on Beaver Island when the roads are bad. Doug agreed to call in to explain from his land line, at home.

I decided perhaps a nice winter’s nap was in order. I read just long enough to make me drowsy, then settled in for a snooze.

Without electricity, this house is perfectly still. There are no traffic noises, no motors, no voices other than my own.

I was awakened by an electronic beep…my answering machine coming back on.

So twenty-four hours later, life is back on track. I had a hot meal. I’m drinking evening coffee. The best cup of coffee! The road crew came down the Fox Lake Road. I’ve had phone calls from each of my daughters. I am better rested than I’ve been in a long time!

All in all, a nice day.

14 responses »

  1. Oh, Cindy, I miss snow so much, and have been longing to be snowed in just once this winter. But you’ve made me have second thoughts. Seriously, you might want to give hibernation some consideration!

    • Consideration?! I felt today that I was putting hibernation into practice! I think our ancestors – forced to let the natural light dictate their workdays – must have been absolutely bear-like in the winter months! Today’s snow was beautiful, and I’d miss it, too…but I have second thoughts about it all the time! Thanks for reading, Kate. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Pan enforced day of quiet and rest with great, no guilt, meals thrown in ! Ah the blessing of a snow storm! Glad your power is back though one day,even two is okay, more than that I start to worry about too many things.

    • Now that it’s over, I can say it was wonderful. While it’s going on, I worry how long it will continue, and think of all the things that could go wrong. Thanks for reading, Joss…Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  3. That is SOME serious snow. The weather is just what the doctor ordered to give you a complete rest. If you had a gas cook stove it could be converted to propane. You would not have to be without hot food. But I don’t know how long you go without electricity on your island when the weather is severe so maybe a short inconvenience is not too bad. I enjoyed reading about what you did when there was no power. Very interesting.

    • The only gas we have here on Beaver Island is propane or bottled gas, which makes it pretty expensive. When I’m able to replace my stove, I have been thinking of going with gas, though, as I prefer it for cooking…it would certainly take away my excuse for eating chocolate for breakfast! Merry Christmas to you!

  4. Yes, I’d say you have been hibernating, indeed. I’ve enjoyed times without power. Once in 2003 we went without for 6 days after an icestorm, but in Haiti, we only had power for about 8 hours a day–10 tops. And I didn’t mind. It simpllfied things. I, too, read a lot! Merry Christmas, my friend!

    • 6 days sounds quite extreme to me! That’s much more than I could comfortably handle. I think daily limitations wouldn’t be bad, though…it would be a way of setting priorities. Merry Christmas!

  5. I don’t think people who’ve not been without power for long periods of time really understand how challenging it is. I am so glad that your electricity is on~~and wish you the Merriest of Christmases, dear Island Cindy.

    • I’m so fortunate to have heat when the lights go out. Electric heat is one of the most reasonable options here on Beaver Island (for those that don’t have their own woodlot) and a lot of people depend on it. With my propane stove, at least my house was warm! Thanks for reading!

    • Thank you! It was such a beautiful day, all I had to do was point and shoot, and every photo was lovely. It was the perfect combination of sun and snow. Thanks for checking in, and for your kindness!

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