Saturday, 1 November 2008

Powerless at Pike Lake

November 1, 2008
Sorry I haven't been blogging .... and the photos will come later ...

But I spent two days falling in love and a third getting my life back together and then the adventures started again!

On Tuesday night we had our first snow storm, which turned out to be a howling success. The snow piled up against my back door and froze it shut, but I was snug in my bed and happily oblivious.

Until, that is, a fireball shot across the sky startling both Kenya and me into an agitated state of complete wakefulness. The clock on the radio blinked and died.

Suddenly everything went eerily silent and black except for the wind in the tree barely audible through the closed windows.

I went downstairs to ensure that the floor heating pump was turned off, pulled out a few plugs, gathered flashlights and candles and returned to bed.

I lay there for a while with "must do's" winging their way into my consciousness ... must get a battery for the radio so that I know the time at least ... must keep candles and lighters on both levels from now on ... must get a new cannister of bbq fuel ... must start the wood stove in the morning.

Then the "oh shit's" started. Why didn't I pick up that wind-up radio I saw the other day? I won't be able to have tea in the morning. Hell, I won't have water. I wish I had insisted that O. move the bbq back to its original sheltered spot before he left. I wish I had drinking water stored or that I had got my snow tires on earlier so I could go and get some.

Then a "whew, thank goodness" breeze floated in. I won't freeze. I have sources of light. There is a large bucket of water with javex in it in the utility room that I can use to flush the toilet. I have accessible food. I can heat snow on the wood stove and make bad tea.

And of course Hydro Quebec will fix everything soon. I should phone to report the outage but it's very cozy here so I will wait till morning.

A few hours later I awoke to a cool, still pre-dawn world that was incredibly lovely. I took the flashlight and made a call to Hydro, discovered it was 6:53 a.m. and that we'd have power by 8:15. The electronic voice of the Hydro message was friendly and comforting. I returned to bed and at first light was up taking photos of our first storm of the season.

That's when I discovered that my back door was stuck shut, but a good kick solved that. The fire started immediately and the room temperature V8 juice didn't taste too bad. Certainly it would do till 8:15 when I could make a good cup of tea.

As soon as the stove began to give off heat I started melting two pots of snow. I made the tea as soon as the second pot began to simmer. It was bad tea. Surely it must be nearly 8:15, I thought, and called Hydro. The message was now saying it was 8:11 and we'd have power by 6 p.m. Desolé ... an equipment failure.

A wave of anger swept over me ... don't they know that all my equipment depends on power? Then a deep breath as the realization dawned. Of course I could manage without power for a day.

Once I assured myself that I was okay physically, the day stretched itself out ahead of me ... and it seemed interminable. No real meals. No radio. No computer. No DVD player. What would I do? The thought that I could call Tammy to rescue me with her 4WD flashed briefly and sputtered out. I looked at my to do list for the day. It was all about baking.

Kenya was outside bounding through the drifts and coming to the window every few minutes to invite me to join her.

Yes ... I could go out and shovel and play with her and go for a walk. I could deliver a new movie to Claire. But I couldn't see myself spending the whole day walking around in the snow. I could work on a knitting project that was down to the last ugly stage of sewing in ends and doing seams. I could start a felting project. I could read. I could write ... with a pen.

That is what I ended up doing. Here are some notes from the two days we were without power ...

Wednesday, Day 1

Flo came and took a banana and a pair of boots with her.

I received phone calls from different friends, and Kerry and I talked several times.

I poached an egg and made toast on the wood stove. Imagine being able to do that!

Outside, walking with Kenya, my breath was quite taken away ... snow clotted evergreens ... glimpses of the lake through frames of bowed white branches ... huge tree limbs laden with loads of snow-covered ice swaying in the wind. My summer fence around the newly seeded area had been no match for the weight of snow.

Back at home, hovering near the comforting warmth of the fire at 1 p.m., I poured myself a glass of wine, cooked a piece of the very rare roast I'd had for supper the night before and re-heated some squash soup. This is a very good stove, I thought. Everything tasted better than it had the day before.

Hydro's message by afternoon was that they had no idea what or where the problem is. Who knew when we would have power?

By 6:30 it was dark and I was living by candle and fire light. Clusters of candles in the living room and dining room, single tapers in the kitchen and a few tea lights upstairs to provide navigational light. The only sound was the crackle of the flames in the wood stove. It was warmer than usual and Kenya was bunked out in her crate by the front door, the coolest spot in the house.

I realized I would have to try to eat up anything perishable in the fridge. If it continued I would begin to worry about the contents of my freezer.

Sharon and Tammy both offered shower facilities, but I could not drive yet. Besides Kenya and I were quite comfortable with our bodies and their odours.

I thought about how good it was to know I wasn't completely alone, that I had friends and Kenya; that I could write; and that this subdued light made everything beautiful

I made a phone call to a friend in another city who told me they had trouble with their tv reception because snow coated their dish. Hmmn.

I realized I was in pretty good shape because of my wood stove. One of my neighbours had not got her wood yet and was refusing to get any and start a fire until she had her chimney swept. She was planning to eat and sleep in town rather than being hungry and cold in the dark. I offered her a refuge and suggested she get the wood and have the chimney swept later, but she seemed determined to be angry and uncomfortable.


Thursday, Day 2

I began my day at 6:45 by lighting candles in the bathroom and upstairs hallway and calling Hydro. Same message.

I wondered why we had seen no hydro truck up here. Our neighbours a mile away had power. It seemed to be only this little enclave that was still in darkness.

I began to be a little ticked off. Were we less important than Wakefield villagers?

Kerry talked about how hydro is a big grid and little enclaves often get sacrificed for the greater good during an outage. Personally I was still going with the idea that they hadn't found us yet.

However; the annoyance passed quickly. Walking around the lake I realized that we all seemed to be spending less time indoors and more time out on the road with our neighbours.

And this wood stove! What a blessing. I had not been uncomfortable at all yet.

Kenya has eaten her daily dentibone and is out gallumphing in the drifts. She chases moles and pounces when she finds one. She never catches them but the fun is all in the chase anyway.

What was I missing most? The radio. Funny because I often forget for days to turn it on. It is the absence of outside information and of a voice other than my own, I think.

Marta called to tell me how many gazillions of people have been without power. The hapless folks in some places will be freezing in the dark till the weekend.

Everything that was perishable in the fridge has been taken out to the porch and I am treating it as a larder. I am also experimenting with iron and steel pots on the wood stove. The tiniest iron pot is a Creuset I picked up at a second hand store in Grand Pre this summer. The shop was owned by an eccentric woman in her late fifties who loved to talk. The place was a complete jumble but she knew every book and its publication history and introduced me to the story behind Beautiful Joe. It was written by a Nova Scotian woman for a contest run by the American SPCA. As a result it is heavily laced with references to that organization and the Canadian setting is obscured. A few days later, at a used book store in Wolfville I bought a copy for Arrow. Before I finished reading it to her I was gagging on the saccharine sweetness of the prose and the blatantly fawning references, but I remember it as a childhood favourite. It is likely one of the reasons I love animals ... one of those seeds planted early.

The lake is absolutely lovely in a monochromatic and mystical way, and the two of the Mergansers still in residence sail by, dark shapes against grey water in a white world.

I am always fascinated by the stages landscape goes through as its details emerge in early dawn. From the blackness, like a developing photo, come outlines, then shapes, then shades of grey, and finally colour.

The iron pots win hands down because they hold the heat better than steel. At noon I made myself a grand dinner of Greek meat sauce and rice and decided to make a foray out into civilization to buy water and to fill a jug at the spring. After some difficulty navigating my own road, torn apart from Leonard's enthusiastic plowing, I did that.

Home again, in the darkness, I noticed that Kenya was confused by the silence and the flickering ever changing patterns of light we live by. She was also bored.

It is as if the heart of the house has stilled and only our basic needs are being met. We are forced into a routine in which life happens between dawn and dusk. I feel as if we are in life support mode.

I also need a shower, or at least enough water to take a real sponge bath.

And then suddenly the beep of a smoke alarm ...

It is 7 p.m. and life is restored.


Friday ... the aftermath and anti climax ...

I went to pottery class, ran errands, did dishes and laundry, and generally got my life back on track. I must say I didn't eat any better than I had when the wood stove was the centre of my existence, and I felt less connected with and grateful for each meal.

Still it is lovely to be able to watch a film and use the computer again. And to have a bath in a tub.

At midnight, exactly 48 hours after being rudely awakened by the ball of fire that took away the power, I was awakened by light flooding my bathroom and hallway. What the...?

I got up. Some big truck with enormous lights was at the top of my laneway.

Leonard? Getting sand and salt mixed because he couldn't sleep and didn't want to be caught unprepared for the next storm?

I put on my pink fluffy housecoat and went to the door with Kenya. As I opened it allowing her to spring outside, ears pricked, voice at full volume, looking like a dangerous creature, I saw two men descending the unshoveled steps.

Who are you?

Incomprehensible mumble.

Where are you from?


Not very reassuring.

Are you Hydro?

Yes. Are you 47?

No. That is one of the cottages past me.

They went back up the steps and I ended up following them to tell them that no one lived in those cottages in the winter; that they must have the wrong place. A sort of conversation ensued. It turns out they were lost. At one I returned to the house and they pulled out at 1:15. I was wide awake and Kenya was more confused than ever.

Oh ... who did I fall in love with? My wood stove. Reliable, comforting, warm. Not very sexy, but oh my ... just the companion you want when the power goes out, the winds howl, and you are isolated.



I have learned a few things and re-learned others in the past few days.

Water is essential ... for drinking, cooking, washing and basic comfort. I reveled in the hot water that poured out of my tap onto greasy dishes and pots left from the two days I was without. I was able to deal with melting snow and cooking with bottled water I had on hand. I was fine with one flush per day using water I had stored in a large pail. But the comfort I derive from a shower or bath and the convenience of having hot water emerge from the tap are remarkable. I have a poster in my kitchen depicting an African man carrying jugs of water on his bicycle. I chose the photograph long before I was without power during this storm, but now I understand water on a far deeper level than the intellectual or the sympathetic.

The human voice and news from outside become far more important when you are isolated by weather or a power outage. I didn't expect that since I am usually quite content with being a hermit.

But I also learned that with something as basic as a wood stove you can attend to most of your needs pretty well as long as you have a cache of food and fuel.

I have learned that I must prepare for the next outage by storing water, ensuring that I have such things as candles and batteries, and by learning how to hook up the small generator to run the fridge and freezer if things go past the first 48 hours. And I have to make sure my car is ready to go when needed, and that means parking closer to the public road once winter starts in earnest.

I think the most important thing I learned is that even without power I am not powerless.


Tamarak said...

That was a great read!!!

I was wondering where you had disappeared to, after posting the one I were composing!

Today I am going to organise and get creative in the studio...maybe tomorrow we could venture out?

Did the snow survive yesterday's warm-up in temperature?

Barbara Carlson said... grateful I am to be in apartment in winter, but envious of your adventures up there and post-storm feelings of empowerment.

We live a kind of half-life in cities, rarely without power. In the August power melt-down a few years ago my first thought was for my balcony plants and I carefully covered the soil around each with plastic bags to prevent evaporation. THEN I worried about my own water requirements, but a store was nearby with bottled water...we would just climbed down 22 flights of stairs...and then back up.

A friend came over with her wind-up radio and we would turn it on every 1/4 hour for updates. At first all she could find were French stations and this usually very kind, Christian woman got mad and said (to her chagrin): "Oh, speak ENGLISH! It's an EMERGENCY!"

At other times, usually brief, I have found myself thinking what I could do -- "I know, I'll make myself a cup of coffee..." or "I know...I'll write in my journal...[in the days of electril typewriters]." Nope, just sit and read while there's light and get spooked by the quiet of it all.

We are much too dependent on electricity but in the "end days" you'll be equipped and well-functioning while we in the city will wail ineffectively in full-panic.

Oma said...

Tammy ... there is still snow but it is not as pretty as it was. Maybe the Ottawa Valley Guild of Spinners and Weavers?

Barbara ... You city folks will just have to come up here and bunk out all over the house when the city loses its amenities, I guess. The wood stove's culinary qualities will be put to the test with a gang.

deb said...

The pictures are beautiful. It is amazing how short our memories are when it comes to snow...we love the first one of the year and then bitch from January till April about it.