The power of a power outage
The winds were howling the other night. A powerful reminder of nature’s fury. The burst of energy felled trees and wreaked havoc on property and on myriad power grids. Some homes were unscathed, others have roofs in need of repair, and in my case, a tub of unopened Hagen Daas ice cream liquefied over the 25 hours I was without power.
In the absence of electricity, one considers what a post-apocalyptic life would be like. I would be unprepared. Reliant on the modern conveniences, I have never invested in solar capabilities, nor a green vehicle, nor a wind turbine. My level of preparedness is low. Candles, batteries, extra propane or bottled water are on a perpetual shopping list that rarely gets filled.
It is humbling to realize with such clarity how reliant we are on the uninterrupted flow of charged electrons. Humbling and a bit unnerving when the flow stops abruptly. I was up north when the lights went out. The lengthening days of spring kept things lit until dinner. Two burned down red candles illuminated the meal. A nice addition when done by choice; a signal to eat quickly when the flaming stubs are the only ones to be found.
It’s the uncertainty of power outages that cause a certain degree of angst. In life too, when we face sudden change or loss, it is the uncertainty that destabilizes us. But ultimately, we return to our roots, to our core sense of survival. Basic necessities become the focus. An inventory of resources available is made and there is an inevitable waiting period. Whirring appliances have ceased. Open the fridge once for a last long cold pour. Relax, we tell ourselves, it won’t last long. The honeymoon period of board games and star gazing ensues. The spring peepers offered the sound track to the blackout this time. Thousands of tiny amphibians seeking companionship with seemingly identical verbal personal ads – nature’s version of swipe left, swipe right.
In a power outage, we are drawn closer together; drawn to a solitary lantern illuminating the card table or to the crackle of a warming fire or to a piano where skilled musicians can play in the dark, play by ear, by feel. Modern music lovers have Bluetooth enabled speakers and digital libraries of music on their handheld devices with batteries that generally outlast the outage. There is something about the communing that takes place in the glow of emergency light sources. There is a quietness, a camaraderie, a connection. We listen better. Perhaps because everyone has a story of a time in the dark. The mini baby boom of August 1966 is attributed to a large-scale blackout all along the eastern seaboard in November of ‘65.
I like the simplicity of life when all bets are off for anything but the basics. Once those needs are met using whatever means you have at your disposal and through the skills of your compatriots of the dark, there is consideration to what can and should be done. At a cottage, there is always work to be done. A tree felled at the end of last summer beckons when the power remains elusive in the morning. Never do you hope that there is enough propane in the bbq tank more than when your morning cup of Joe relies on it. Fed and watered, thanks to a little outdoor kitchen ingenuity, energies focused elsewhere. The chainsaw is fired up and the work begins. The physicality of the process is enjoyable. Progress and sweat are matched effort for effort. The wood is dragged into the bush or stockpiled for firewood. There is satisfaction in completing the task. Getting it done is a part of cottage life. And a lukewarm beer is welcome reward for a job well done.
The ceiling fan moves, the fridge hums, and light floods the space. I doubt I am alone in saying that the sudden return of power when it happens is a bittersweet moment. There is joy at the return of societal ease that comes from a working water pump, coffee on demand and light at the flip of a switch. But I mourn the closeness imposed by the outage and the ensuing scatter and spread of people as the necessity of being in close proximity dissipates.
I have my list of things I need to replenish and stock up on. Truth be told, it will likely languish on my phone until the next time nature takes aim at whatever bit of property I happen to be inhabiting. It is always good to be reminded that there are things in this world we have no control over, only our response to them. And it is likewise good to realize that survival is an instinct, and when push comes to shove we do what it takes to get by.