The forecast was for high wind resulting in no power overnight, so we filled a kettle with water and ground coffee beans before we went to bed.
I slept through the wind, but when I woke before dawn the absolute dark told me the power was out.
The galaxy of LEDs that illuminates the house at night were all dark: The bathroom wasn’t glowing green from the electric toothbrush’s power indicator; both alarm clocks had gone blank; without the constellations of the clocks on the microwave, the wall oven and the range, the kitchen was a dark cave.
I hadn’t been in such concentrated dark since backpacking during a new moon back in September. I’d forgotten how restful complete darkness can be, and how difficult to find my way without these navigational aids.
So I stayed in bed enjoying this respite from electronic readouts shining at me all over the house. The house itself was silent: no heat recovery exchanger humming, no hot water heater kicking on, no pump. It was as if the house itself had stopped breathing. All I could hear was the roar of the wind, and underneath that, I could hear a neighbor’s emergency generator chugging along.
We don’t have one of those, and so far, we’ve been able to manage without power when it fails, which is usually for less than a day.
We have to make some accommodations: We flush only when necessary and conserve whatever water we have on hand. When a weather forecast includes heavy snow and/or high winds, we fill pots and buckets. We grind coffee beans for the morning. We refresh the batteries in flashlights tucked strategically all over the house. We bring in dry fire wood for the wood stove, and place a box of matches near the gas range, because the automatic ignition won’t work without power.
We’re prepared even when a power outage is the result of a random event, like a drunk crashing into a telephone pole, or a tree toppling over on its own accord, taking down the power line with it. Even if we haven’t filled a reservoir of water, we always have access to it. Right now, there’s still lots of snow out the back door we could melt on the wood stove; in summer, it’s a short walk to the river at the edge of our land, and we have neighbors whose power comes from a different service, so we’re rarely both out at the same time. One Christmas Eve, they brought their dinner over to roast in our oven. Yesterday, we collected drinking water from them.
So while it’s inconvenient to be without power and isolating to be without the landline or internet, we’re resourceful. We know that being without power for a few hours is a first-world problem. In many parts of the world, unreliable power generation is a fact of life.
When the power goes out, I become aware of how dependent I am on electricity. Automatically, I flip the light switch as I enter the bathroom; it’s a habit. The same as I descend to the basement to bring up a new jar of jam. I listen for the click-click-click of the electronic ignition as I try to light the stove, and when it doesn’t come, I remember – and reach for the matches.
The things that do work are basic: We have shelter and heat. The eggs from our flock and the bread in the larder – toasted on the wood stove and slathered with jam from our berries nourish us. We’re warm in our fleece wardrobe, more functional than fashionable, and we have a roof over our heads. So I’m not complaining about being without power for a day.
As we dined by candlelight, Tim said, “It’s still better than camping. We have food. We have shelter. We have each other.”
It’s a good reminder of how much we have, living “simply” in place.
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