Monday, December 15, 2008

Power Outage II

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.


TigerHawk said...

I was up in Exeter on Thursday night, and as I drove south on Friday morning I thought that the power would be down a long time. I bet the line crews are exhausted.

Erin said...

I just heard on the news it could be WEEKS before Derry, NH has power!

Anonymous said...

This morning I read an article in the local newspaper about an experiment with dogs. There were pictures of a border collie "shaking hands" with no treat given. The dog sitting next to him did the same trick and got a treat while the border collie watched closely. Then when the border collie was asked again to "shake hands", it looked away, refusing to do the trick, and appearing to have hurt feelings.

Once, when we had been without power for three days and I called the power company to ask when we would get it, they told me I would receive power when it was my turn. Well, I understood that, but I was having a severe problem with my autistic daughter freaking out about no light and no TV and therefore no daily Who Framed Roger Rabbit. So I packed her up and drove down to the office and walked in and stood there while she screamed for some minutes. The clerks descended on me, "What's wrong? What's going on?"
I told them that until the power was restored this was what I was living with. When I got home, there were men working on the power pole. I gave them a big box of homemade chocolate toffee.

bs king said...

My mom and I had a similar conversation to this when she was telling me about their experience. We agreed that the whole "it gets dark before 5pm thing" took on a whole new meaning when you lost power. We also figured that the 48 hour mark was about when "man, this isn't fun, I REALLY need to take a shower soon" started to kick in.

Glad to hear you're back up and running.

karrde said...

When I was young, my parents lived in an area which suffered power outages about once a year, during heavy (summer) thunderstorms.

Since we were on a secluded byway of the electrical grid, we always seemed to get the power-lines repaired last.

It was a little bit of an adventure, though it got boring after about the 48th hour. Especially when our choices were (A) find a battery/motor combination to keep pumping the water out of the sump-crock in the basement, or (B) bail the sump by hand.

However, during the summertime you can sit up late into the evening and read books...

OBloodyHell said...

> 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.

You start to appreciate modern technology.

1) MREs can be had for a reasonable price, and aren't a bad idea to stock. Kept in a cool closet (or better, in a cold basement closet) they can keep for 5 years and more.

2) Ceramic Gravity Filters for water (you can't be certain a power outage will be in the winter with fresh snow on the ground) are also a good idea, particularly down south where there isn't snow but may be a weather based extended power outage.

3) Sorta duh, but I'll bet more and more people up there are going to be buying household generators in the next few months. Down south -- around the Gulf of Mexico -- that cycle's already been run through. The price of a household generator is down to where almost anyone who owns a home can afford one. Then you just need to have enough gasoline to run it at least part of the day.

P.S., I obtained a 1905 Encyclopedia Brittanica for my own library. Might never be of any use at all, but if things did break down, there's a wealth of stuff in there that's been utterly forgotten, like how to make soap and candles and things like that. God forbid I ever need it, but it's not a bad thing to have lying around just in case.

OBloodyHell said...

> I was up in Exeter on Thursday night, and as I drove south on Friday morning I thought that the power would be down a long time. I bet the line crews are exhausted.

Well, they could pay extra to get crews to come up from the south, but hey, that would be price gouging...

Can't have anything unfair like that.


Erin said...

They actually have crews as far away as South Carolina working up here.

Anonymous said...

After dark, we decided that we couldn't just go to bed, so we went in search of electricity. We found it at the shopping district in Manchester. After doing some shopping that had to be done, we decided to check out Barnes and Noble. We weren't the only ones happy to see electric lights and flush toilets! The place was packed! The first night of the outage, my younger daughter went to Penera because she knew she could get an internet connection. So did a hundred other people! She said it took 5 minutes just to load one page. Besides using the mens and ladies rooms to bath, the other common activity was charging cell phones. Oh, and some people actually bought food.

It's easy to be philosophical about it now because I'm not one of the 10s of thousands still without power.

And, btw AVI, the entire drive through Dunbarton resembled a war zone. It is going to have an eerie feel for months.

Anonymous said...

One thing power outages show is how well we have it today. As late as the 1930s in Nebtaska, there was no rural electricity, and most work was done with human muscle or horses. Life was hard. Try cutting wood with an axe and a crosscut saw as opposed to a chain saw. And when it got dark.... well it is easy to see why people went to bed early and got up at daylight.

MaxedOutMama said...

When I was in high school living up north we used to have blizzards that would kick the power off regularly for two or three days. Rural = first off, last on.

Always had wood, kerosene lamps and stored water ready. We cooked with gas. I used to look forward to it, because the whole family would be off together. No power, no work, it was like a little family Christmas. I hated to see the power come back on.

It's not a bad thing to learn. These things happen. You have to have fuel and stored water, though.

Believe it or not, in south GA there was an ice storm back in the 90s in March. The power was off for nearly two days. It must have been global warming!!! Luckily, we had wood and fireplace. That was only rare because it happened out of hurricane season, though. Most of the lines are buried due to all the storms.