Tag Archives: Power outage

When the Lights Go Out

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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.

 

What I Did When The Lights Went Out

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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.