When the electricity goes out, as it does – often – this time of year, my home becomes a different place: no lights, no heat, no telephone, no computer. It’s the wind that causes the outages. Our beech trees are diseased, and dying. Many are still standing, dead. Strong winds topple the trees, which sometimes then take out power lines. Often in remote locations, running along pathways cut through the woods, it can be difficult and dangerous to find the line and correct the problem…especially at night…and in the middle of a storm.
I hold good thoughts for the guys doing the work, out there in the wind and driving rain. Twice in recent weeks, not too far from my house, downed power lines have started fires in the woods where they fell. This time of year, when dry leaves cover the forest floor, fire is always a big concern. I worry about my aunt, and others, who depend on electricity for their oxygen, and struggle in the darkness to make the necessary adjustments. And I attempt to deal with my own minor inconveniences.
First, there is darkness. As the calendar creeps toward the shortest day of the year, and Daylight Savings Time runs interference, the sun sets at about 5PM here. It’s important to have candles out and in holders, the matches where they can be found, and the flashlight in it’s predictable location by the kitchen door. My little flashlight even has a snap hook, so I can attach it to my belt loop. Stumbling around in the dark trying, by feel, to find a means of light is not fun. I’m sometimes caught unprepared by the first electrical outage of the season; after that, I am ready.
Second, there is quiet. Sounds that go unnoticed for their commonness – the steady hum of the fan that cools the computer, the whir and whoosh of the refrigerator as it runs through its cooling and defrosting cycle, the whine of one electric heater, the breathy grumble from the other – now draw notice for their silence. When the dogs are startled by a branch rubbing the window or the lights of a car driving past, I jump at the sound of their barks, a sharp discordance in my quiet home. Then, the wind, as it whips through the trees and rattles windows and doors, is what I listen to.
Third, there is stillness of mind. When the lights go out, so does my list. I cannot have cleaning time. Even if I could see, I can’t run water when the electricity is out. I cannot cook, so there is no sense in worrying about what to prepare. Candlelight doesn’t really provide enough illumination for reading or doing book work. I can’t watch a movie, play a computer game or make a telephone call. I am forced into meditation mode.
I put on warm pajamas, heavy socks, slippers and my fleecy robe. I sit on the couch wrapped in a comforter, with a dog on either side. They both enjoy being the center of attention as I stroke their fur and scratch their ears. When it is dinnertime, I feed the dogs, then prepare a bowl of cereal with milk for myself.
I pour a glass of wine. Desperate for productive activity, I work on getting caught up on my correspondence. I pull out a legal pad and my good pen. I move two fat candles to the dining room table. There, for as long as the lights are out, or until my arthritic fingers revolt, I write letters. With none of the usual rush and brevity that is caused by too many competing activities, I write long, newsy and – I hope – entertaining letters. The kind of letters I used to write before there was anything like “unlimited long distance.” Before the internet. Back when – not being especially good at face-to-face conversations – letter-writing was the best means of communicating I had.
Eventually, the electricity comes back on, and my world returns to its normal pattern. I reset the clocks, and restart the heaters. Looking over my stack of letters, I see that my handwriting suffers when I can’t see what I’m doing, and hope the recipients can read them. I blow out the candles, mostly. I leave the two on the dining room table, pour another glass of wine and just sit. It’s not necessary to return, just yet, to life as usual. I pause, then, to reflect on the peace and calm that happens…when the lights go out.