Monday, March 7, 2011

The Power Wimps

The gust swept across the deck and blew the wind chimes sideways. It was a wind worthy of Haida Gwaii status, strong enough to bend trees like grass blades. But this time I stood in a house that withstood its force. A house built upon concrete foundations rather than four rounds of cedar. It felt surreal to stand firm while the surrounding landscape was whipped into a frenzy. Another gust hit. The power went out.

It was 10 a.m. I looked at the list of chores to do in town. "Maybe the power's still on there," Giuseppe suggested. It wasn't. We neared the dark library expecting to use the drop off box. But inside, it was business as usual. "Thank you so much for coming," the librarian said. She piled my returns on a trolley. "I'll take care of them later, don't worry." She turned to chat with the other patrons, all of them oblivious to the darkness. "Thank you so much for coming," she said again as we left.

We noted the "Open" sign in the Lake Bakery window. I looked at the grocery list. "You don't suppose The Country Grocer is open, too?" Giuseppe drove in its direction. Sure enough, the parking lot was nearly full. An elderly man, bent against the wind and the first pellets of hail, exited with an armload of bags. Magically, the sliding glass doors slid open. We wandered up and down the dark aisles as giddy as school children on a field trip. If it weren't for the red and white packing tape fencing off the freezer section, you never would have guessed The Country Grocer usually operated fully lit. The baker iced a cake. The café bustled with seniors. At the checkout, our cashier stood in her winter coat ready to scan.

At home, we unpacked our groceries. Suddenly we remembered what a power outage meant when you lived on the grid. It meant your electric stove wouldn't work. We laid out fare for a picnic, still giddy from our adventure in town. But then we started to feel cold. So cold we decided the best place to wait it out was under a down duvet. "This isn't so bad," I said, snuggling up to Giuseppe. But even that couldn't warm us for very long.

I remembered the Great Ice Storm of 1998 when I was living in Montréal. In the cold of January, millions were without power from days to weeks. A state of emergency was declared. People burned their furniture to stay warm. Pedestrians dodged falling blocks of ice. I realized this was nothing in comparison. It was only Hour Six of No Power and already we'd begun to whine. It became clear that in the less than two months since we'd left our off-the-grid cabin in the woods, we'd become power-dependent wimps.

As darkness approached, I got out of bed and filled the oil lamps. I rummaged around for some flashlights. Then I remembered to fill some jugs with water. In our cabin, such provisions had been part of daily life. Light. Water. Fire. Never for a moment did we forget to tend to such elements. No one had to remind us to keep candles in stock and our rain barrel full. There was always a reserve tank of propane for the stove and wood split for the fire. Such small attentions were all that was required to stay warm, hydrated, illuminated, fed.

By Hour Ten of No Power, our new house revealed itself for what it really was—a cold, dark shell reliant on the powers-that-be to make it a home. We huddled again under the duvet. Our festive spirit waned. We began to focus our energies on the BC Hydro gods. Despite the wind, hail, and snow, we prayed they were out there doing whatever necessary to restore our comforts.

Our prayers were instantly answered. The room flooded with light. The fridge began its merry hum. Giuseppe rushed towards the kettle. I rushed towards the thermostat. But within seconds, everything died. Three times everything came to life, then died. Three times we re-enacted our parody, laughing at the creatures of the grid we'd become.

But it wasn't really funny. With power finally restored, I soaked in the tub trying to remember that every drop had once fallen from the sky. I thought about the oil in the furnace, and the endless wires snaking across hills and valleys, trying to trace them to their source. I realized this may seem like a world of turning on taps and flicking on switches, but it's much more than that. And much simpler. It's a world of elements. And I am a creature of the elements. Thank you, power outage, for reminding me of this.

And thank you, fellow creatures, for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment