Today is election day, and there are plenty of important issues on the ballot. If I were a better person, perhaps my title, “Without Power,” would be in reference to our privilege, in this country, of having a voice about the people and ideas that hold sway. This essay would be about the importance of each of us asserting our own values and priorities, with the power of our vote.
Alas, I am not that good. Instead, my sole purpose of writing today is to grumble and moan about a power outage that was a big inconvenience to me. I wasn’t the only one affected. All of Beaver Island was without power for a while, and even that was a part of a larger outage caused by storms that swept through Michigan on Saturday. But, true to form, I am talking mostly about myself. Saturday evening was when it began,
I spoke on the phone to a friend on the other side of the state. “The sky looks really weird,” she told me, and asked if we were expecting bad weather. It had started raining here on Friday, and continued off and on, but I didn’t anticipate any major storms. The forecasts that I’d heard talked mostly about marine conditions. Since I had no plans to be out on the water, I paid little attention. I was not concerned.
I’d had dinner: baked chicken with cauliflower, and my dishes were stacked in the sink. I warmed fresh apple cider, added a cinnamon stick, and sat down to read. The wind was picking up, but I was cozy indoors. The lights flickered, then went out, then came back on again. I lit a few candles, and went back to my book.
Shortly after eight PM, the power went out again. This time, it didn’t come back on. This isn’t unusual. We have lots of trees in close proximity to electrical lines. Our beech trees are dying, and come down easily in any wind. Great Lakes Energy, the cooperative that provides the electrical service here on Beaver Island, has a full time employee here, and he works hard to keep us all going. Outages are usually a few hours at most. Inconvenient, but not impossible. A few things happened to complicate the issue this time.
First, our full-time electrical service guy was not on the island; he was with family on the mainland, due to the death of his grandmother. Two other employees were sent over to replace him. However, as I understand it, the corporation decided to pull them off the island on Saturday. Maybe because they didn’t think the storm would be so bad; maybe they thought their presence elsewhere was more crucial; maybe they didn’t want to spring for hotel rooms for them here. I don’t know.
Second, the island was assailed with strong winds (50mph) for many hours. The main pole that brings electricity to the island was knocked out. Several other lines were down, around the island. There were difficulties with our back-up generators. And, we had to wait for the sun to come up on Sunday before it would be possible to get a crew back here to work on it! So, for many reasons, this was an unusual and extreme outage.
Without electricity, I have no internet service. I never have cell phone service at my house. When the lights go out, I unplug my cordless phone (which depends on electricity), and plug in an ancient, large, ugly beige, corded telephone. On Sunday morning, that worked. I called the toll-free number to report the outage. I listened to the recorded message telling me that over 17,000 customers were without power, and that they were working on it, and that if it wasn’t resolved by 10PM, I should seek shelter elsewhere. By Sunday evening, even my corded phone had gone dead. Evidently, when the power is out, even corded phones depend on batteries, and our island telephone company doesn’t have enough battery back-up to keep all of us going.
With consideration to my two dogs, and the knowledge that likely everyone on the island was in the same predicament, I did not seek shelter elsewhere. Still, by Monday morning, I was anxious to find out what was going on! So, I drove to town. I enjoyed the first cup of coffee I’d had in over 24 hours, got the rundown on what had happened, and received the good news that those of us who still were without power could expect relief by that night. Which it was!
I was one of the twenty-five households here that were without power the longest, about 53 hours. As I was able to get back on-line, I saw many offers of help from those islanders whose power was restored earlier. “If you need water, or a meal, or a warm place to sleep…” was a common refrain. One friend sent me a message, telling me she wasn’t at home, but the generator was working, and I was welcome to go there. A volunteer at the Community Center made big batches of soup and chili, and put the word out that anyone could come there for a hot meal.
Now that it’s over, I guess it wasn’t so bad. It could have been better, though. I could have had kettles and buckets filled with water, for when the faucets ran dry. I should have made sure my tablet was fully charged, and that extra books were downloaded, so that when, in my boredom, I blasted through the last pages of three titles, I’d have another to turn to. I should have checked that batteries were handy for flashlights and lanterns. The next time I hear mention of a “weird sky” or a storm coming through. I’ll pay attention!
Now, though, I’m off to vote!