Friday, October 11, 2013

Power perspective

A blustery autumn wind blew the power out Monday night, and with it went the lights, my Internet connection, and such other modern luxuries as flushing the toilet and running the dishwasher. The electricity was out for only a few hours, enough time to be a minor annoyance, but not long enough to miss taking a shower or to lose the summer’s bounty of berries stored in the freezer.

We lose power a handful of times throughout the year, most often in winter, but thankfully not usually for very long – anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. With the nuisance factor of a power outage comes the opportunity, by necessity, to alter how we do things. These brief power outages offer a change of pace, a chance to rediscover the allure of reading by the soft glow of candlelight in a normally lit-up world, and a renewed appreciation of some of the flip-of-a-switch conveniences we take for granted.

Because our kitchen has a gas stove, cooking without electricity requires only some minor adjustments – a book of matches and a camping lantern by which to see. We keep a two-gallon jug of water in the pantry for such occasions and a slew of flashlights scattered throughout the house. Because I’m a caffeine junkie, I have two back-up, no-electricity-required systems for brewing my morning coffee. Only recently have I obtained a smart phone, which allowed me during this latest outage to check email, keep in touch with my working-late husband, and call PSNH to see when the power might be back on.

Losing power no longer means being isolated from the news of the world or the happenings down the road. All in all, it’s not so terrible, really; like most things, it’s all in your perspective. I try to take a cue from my children, who consider the mandatory darkness an adventure. The kids enjoy eating at a table lit by candles. They take glow sticks to bed in the absence of their normal nightlights. Reading bedtime stories by lantern light makes them feel like they’re inside the pages of Little House on the Prairie, even if our lantern is powered by batteries and lit with LED bulbs instead of kerosene and a wick.

The spring our twins were infants a Nor’easter knocked trees and power lines down, and we were without electricity for three nights and four days. It was mid-April, but still winter-cold. We blocked off the two entries to our large living room with old blankets, lit a fire in the fireplace, drained the pipes, and hunkered down through the storm.

The babies were only three months old then, so sleep was already a scarcity for my husband and me, which made waking to feed the fire every hour or so through those cold, dark nights just one more middle-of-the-night chore. While my husband absconded each morning to his office, where there was electricity and a hot shower, I remained at home in the living room. When I look back on those few days, I don’t recall how much of a hassle it must have been to change diapers and feed myself and my children in a chilly house without electric lights or running water.

What I do remember is that, unable to vacuum or do laundry or the dishes, without the distraction of the Internet (no iPhone back then), and before I had returned to paid employment, I read my way through a few books and a couple of magazines. I soaked up the quiet and the warmth from the fireplace and snuggled into a nest of blankets with my new children, the dog, and the two cats.

I also remember the morning after the power came back. The winds that had shaken our house a few nights earlier and knocked the power out were gone, along with the mechanic hum of the neighbor’s generator. I bundled the babies into the stroller, grabbed the dog’s leash, and we headed out into the welcome spring sunshine. Birdsong mixed that bright, calm morning with the buzz of chainsaws as crews continued to clear downed trees from roads and utility lines.

That day I did lots of laundry, ran the dishwasher, bathed the children. I was relieved by the return to electricity and running water. I had a new appreciation of central heat. And as night fell, I was thankful for such a little thing as flipping a switch and being flooded in light.

Original content posted by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul on her Blog:Writings From A Full Life. This essay also appears as her Close to Home column in the October 11, 2013 edition of the Littleton Record.

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