Power Failure

We had a brief little freeze early in November but the garden recovered and I was still pulling carrots and beets until last week. The parsley revived. A rose bloomed. Then an icy northeast wind blew down from the Frazer River valley and it really froze. On Lummi Island winds are clocked as high as 67 miles per hour.

It blows and whistles around the house all day and all night.

At about 6:30 in this morning we are rudely awakened by a screaming smoke alarm which goes off when the power fails. We are in the dark. Jerry disables the smoke alarm and makes a fire in the wood-stove.

Our woodstove

I light all the burners on the gas cooking stove which helps keep the kitchen warm when the power is out. We light some lanterns. The well pump on our neighborhood water system has a generator so we have water. The hot water stays hot for about a day when the power is off.

Jerry says he’ll start our small generator which will keep the refrigerator going. He and I have our usual discussion about getting a big generator which would run all the house electrics. It would be good to have such a thing when the power is out, but it would cost around $1500 and be a lot of work to install; Jerry would have to crawl around under the house — hard for an old man to do. And we would have to keep a supply of fuel for it. The power doesn’t go off very often, but then there is global warming and it may get worse. Is it worth the trouble and expense? We never settle the question.

This is looking like a long outage. I call Puget Sound Power but all I can get is a recorded “update” which says they are aware of power outages in the following places: then list almost every village and town in western Washington. I am to travel to England in 2 days and have washing to do. No washing machine, no dryer. I decide to read a book. I have just finished reading “I’m the Teacher; You’re the Student” by Patrick Allit. It was a good read and I am stuck for another book. Power outages elicit stress. I need an antidote for stress. I decide to reread “Persuasion” which I have read many times. It’s comfort food for the mind. It’s on my Kindle, illustrated and with an added alternative climax scene which I had never read. I lie on the sofa near the wood-stove with the poodles and their toys randomly plopped around me. Once again I see in my mind’s eye Louisa Musgrove fall senseless on the cob in Lyme. Once again Mr. Eliott insinuates himself into Anne Elliot’s life. This is not bad.

Jerry is feeling less content. He can’t read the “Financial Times” on the computer. He stokes the fire and stacks more wood for it. We decide to drive around the island and see who else is without power. We discover that some people are illuminated. Then we find the source of the problem. A section of Legoe Bay Road is closed off with barricades and there is tree debris in the road. There is nobody working on it.

After a while the wind drops and we decide to take a walk. We take our usual route, down Granger Way, right on Nugent and up the hill, left on Legoe Bay Road, and as we approach the road block we see a Puget Sound Energy truck going toward it. Hurray, say I, it will get fixed. Oh, says Jerry gloomily, I don’t know. The truck turns on Granger Way. As we walk up Granger we meet it coming toward us. I wave and he stops. Are you going to fix it? I ask. He shakes his head mournfully. No he says. Why not I ask. It’s too big a job he says. A big branch off that fir down there went through all 3 phases. They’ll have to send a crew over and power’s off all over the county. Don’t know when they’ll get out here. He drives away. I ask Jerry what all three phases means. Well, he says, thee are 3 lines and the branch broke them all. I don’t feel enlightened.

We stop at the wine shop; they are operating with cute little kerosene lamps. We have a wine tasting between us and we give Pat and Rich the news. The wine shop is full of people we don’t know, so we go home knowing there will be no power for a while, but I am feeling a sense of peaceful resignation. At least we know what’s happening, we know eventually it will be fixed, and in the meantime nothing more can be done. How good it is to know. It doesn’t change the situation at all and yet knowing what’s happening makes all the difference.

By the time we reach home it’s getting dark. Jerry lowers the blinds and I collect all the candles and candle sticks I can find — there are lots: my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my own Waterford crystal glass ones that Hugh and I bought in Ireland, a few that Pete and I bought in Burma and Thailand  and others of unknown origin. When one gets as old as I am there is no shortage of candle sticks.

The griffin was my grandmother's

Since it’s only 2 days after Thanksgiving we have leftover turkey for dinner. We eat by candle light. The light is warm and gentle and makes everything look soft.

Candles in the dining room

I am feeling calm and contented. I am remembering childhood summers on the Maine coast in houses without electricity. I am not worrying about the washing. Tomorrow I can wash by hand and dry by the fire. I have all day to pack.

We decide we can watch our lecture on the computer run on battery. The lecture is one of a series on the industrial revolution by the Teaching Company. Patrick Allit is the lecturer. Appropriately the lecture is on the development of electricity during the industrial revolution and how it changed the way people lived. We watch it as the yellow candle light flickers and dances. We go to bed and I finish reading Persuasion. Then I read the ending that Jane Austen rejected. The published one is so much better it’s hard to imagine that Austen could write something as bad as the rejected ending. I see that even a marvelous writer like Jane Austen didn’t always write such deliciously sensitive prose. The unpublished ending is melodramatic and heavy handed. She wrote that first and she knew it was bad, so she thought hard and wrote something infinitely better: something imaginative, fresh and believable.

I fall asleep in dark comfort and quiet. I have had a day without machines, without internet, only waiting. Suddenly at midnight all the lights go on. The printer rumbles and clicks. Various things beep. We wake up and go around turning off lights and plugging in things that need to be replugged. We are back in the world of the 21st Century.

I go back to sleep, but my dreams are not so sweet as when I slept in the 19th century.

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6 Responses to Power Failure

  1. Tabor says:

    I would so much like to be in your house when the electricity goes out. It is so romantic and warm and you take wine tours, etc. Here we sit around and wait for it to go on again!!

  2. Hattie says:

    Wonderful reading.

  3. Friko says:

    Not altogether a bad thing to be reminded of life without the machines that keep us busy.

  4. What a lovely post! Happy holidays — and wishing you electricity.

  5. Betty Bishop says:

    So glad you are writing again Anne – just the best read ever. Makes my heart sing. Thanks.

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    Finally getting caught up with you, oh my you have a way with words that pull me right in. I’ve always loved that picture of the house in Manley and how you cope with power outages and well pumps.

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