The power was out for 60 hours. We used the last of the wood we’d put up for the Y2K crisis. Yes, those last pieces were punky, but when the house is at fifty degrees you shove in anything that will burn. The ice storm of 2008 was more eerie, coming during a full moon; no artificial light, but stark moonlight bearing down on the icy branches. Familiar scenes took on unreality, a martian child’s recreation of your neighborhood. The decorations down the street, where the entire lawn is given over to Christmas displays, had a skeletal appearance, frozen reindeer and angel-shapes motionless beside the black stream. With the power restored it’s back to its cheery, random self now, penguins and shepherds cavorting incongruously. I’ve looked down my nose at it all these years, but no more. I love it.
The changes in amount of ice according to altitude were dramatic. There was a clear line at about 500 feet elevation: below, there was light ice and a few branches down; above, thicker ice and branches everywhere. Driving up Mills Hill in Dunbarton was to cross through three clear zones, with changes at 500 and 750 feet. That hill is one of the best places in the state to observe such things - a 6% grade for 1.7 miles through overhanging forest.
Class envy reared its ugly head the night the power went out. The people next door and behind us were unaffected at first, and I watched resentfully from the porch as they watched their TV's. They were in the same boat soon enough, but then they got their power back before we did as well. Happy, fortunate people are so irritating when luck goes against you. I read recently that this is hardwired into us, left over from the centuries that we lived in small bands where strict egalitarianism was necessary for group comity and survival. I am always ashamed to find such pettiness in me, but it reminds me again why such resentments are potent politically. For others to have something they "don't deserve," while we go without grinds against us. Our own good fortune - many people are still without power here - is no longer a matter of gratitude, unless we make a specific effort.
Forty-eight hours is about the crossover point between temporary inconvenience – something of an adventure, really – and the hunkering down for the possibility of major problems. The inefficiency of it all is draining. Everything requires flashlights. Precooking on the woodstove, switching to the barbecue, then not daring to go back down to the stove again. There’s always the chance that this trip will be more involved than just throwing on a few logs, and the chicken will blacken. In the end, it’s two hour’s work with only a simple meal, a refilled hurricane lamp, and a fresh wheelbarrow load of wood to show for it.
Modern people entertain the fantasy of going back in time and impressing the benighted with the brilliant technologies we could create on the spot. Not unless you had someone to meet all your basic needs while you were doing it, you wouldn’t. There wouldn’t be time for you to fabricate even the simplest inventions. I mentioned a year ago how few spare calories people had for extra labor before 1800, and there weren’t many spare hours either. You might get to explain to someone about prestressed concrete or carriage-springs, but you’d likely not get the chance to demonstrate them. Little energy, little time, little light after sundown.