Thursday, February 26, 2009


On February 22, Sunday night at 12:40 am, the electricity went out. For days before, the weather forecast had been dire. "Armageddon," that's what they said it would be. "Lake effect snow from the North West pushing ahead of a cold front will converge with low pressure from seaward resulting in high precipitation amounts. Post pone all travel plans and ready your storm emergency packs. Prepare for damaging high winds and power outages." We had heard it all before a hundred times. Our local TV station has a weather man named Kevin Mannix, but we call him 'Kevin Panics.' The day had been sunny and clear, so how bad could it get? "Besides, it will be spring soon. If it snows, it won't last long," we told ourselves. We did nothing.
After we had gone to bed, I watched TV. I often have difficulty getting to sleep, so that's what I do to shut my brain off late at night, while my dear husband is snoring blissfully away beside me (I envy his ability to sleep, honestly I do). I watch shows such as 'Trauma - Life In The ER,' 'Mystery Medical Diagnosis' and Discovery- 'An Asteroid Coming to the Earth Near You.' You might think this would be the last thing a person should watch while trying to fall asleep. It sounds like pretty scary, gruesome, fear mongering stuff, which I suppose it is. But, for me, it has the opposite effect; it's mind numbing and puts me to sleep. No nightmares, either (at least, not from that). When I watch that stuff it desensitizes me. Part of my mind believes that if I see enough of it, it will never happen to me, nor anyone I love. While I was absorbed in the medical aftermath of a multiple car pile-up in Nashville, Tennessee, the power flickered on and off three times. Each time the satellite transmission had to reset itself. That meant that I had to start the show over again. So, I got to see the same people intubated, chest tubed, rushed to the OR, and fully coded, three times. Talk about mind numbing! I got up and turned on the lights to see what was going on out the window. It was a total white out, blinding snow pelting horizontally right into the windows. It was an amazing spectacle since it had been forty degrees and sunny that day. Thinking, "well this can't be good," I retrieved a five gallon bucket from our cellar. Then, setting it into the bathtub, I filled it with water. We have a well, so if we lose power, we don't have water. You can endure quite a while without heat, but believe me, when there is no way to flush a toilet, well, THAT will flush you right out of the house pretty quickly. Then, I went back to bed just as the power went out for keeps (my husband continued to snore). When we awoke, the power still hadn't come back on and it was still snowing. There was a foot of wet heavy snow. Trees were creaking and groaning under the weight. The utility lines from the house sagged down into the driveway. We had been hit with a classic Nor' Easter and so, we knew we would be in for a long haul.
We have storms like this every winter and every winter, we lose electricity. Sometimes it's only for a few hours; sometimes it lasts for days. At the very least, it flickers off and on. This requires that all things digital must be reset which is an annoyance. Sometimes this happens several times a day which steps it up from an annoyance to a full blown irritation. Each time the power quivers, it makes me nervous. Of course, everything that matters here is on a surge protector, but still, I fear for my computer and the TVs (think of the gore I'd miss if the TV quit! I'd never sleep again!). But, most of all, I fear days of no electricity. Each time one of these near miss shots whistles across the bow of our little ship called Home, I imagine the pile of dirty dishes in the sink ballooning out like a cartoon, mountains of laundry pulsing near the lifeless washer, and worst of all: the toilets. But, let's not go there.
To some, I'm sure the idea of no TV noise, no ringing phones (that's right: no phone), cozy fires and inventive meals seems like a charming and inviting idea. Believe, me, after about 4 hours the fun is all out of it. I like to read, too. But there's too much of a good thing.
We have a small generator, but it isn't good for much. It takes miles of extension cords to plug anything into it and if it is cold enough outside it is reluctant to start. We only use it to charge my camera battery and run the refrigerator, unless it's cold enough to put things outside. At ten degrees, it was plenty cold enough this time. I had filled laundry baskets (since I wasn't generating any clean laundry to put into them) with the refrigerator contents and set them on either side of the front steps. UPS made a delivery to us in the midst of the outage. Richard (we are on a first name basis with our UPS guy) left his cumbersome, brown truck and walked down our road to our house. While holding the package for me as I came to the front door, he glanced around. "Geez, I'm sorry for standing in the middle of your refrigerator," he apologized. Very funny. "Thanks for bringing the package, Richard. Look out for live wires on the ground when you walk back to the truck," I replied. After all, I wouldn't want to lose such a dedicated UPS guy.
People might ask, "Why don't you leave? Go some place with power, a hotel or something?" The simple answer is that we have two dogs. To take dogs somewhere other than home is just a different kind of struggle to my mind. But, that's the simple response, not the true answer. The real truth is that we don't want to abandon our house. We want to be here to struggle along with it, feel the cold corners of the rooms closing in, hear the ice on the roof, angst about trees that may fall onto it. Our home is a living thing. When it's without electricity it becomes a not quite dead, ailing being pleading for help. So, we can't abandon it to the elements. We want to be here with it, maybe in its final hours. We understand people in other parts of the country who we see on the news (oh, the news, how I miss the news when the power is out!) who stay on through hurricanes or forest fires after they've been advised to evacuate. We have empathy for the conviction they start out with, the sense of control that dissolves into chaos then terror.
Every year we tell ourselves that we'll never go through this again. We will have a proper (synonymous with expensive) generator installed, the kind that goes on automatically and runs everything as if nothing is amiss, invisible life support for the home in crisis.
Why haven't we done this long ago? It's not about money. Money is an excuse, not a reason. It's about our own mortality. We want to believe that we are hardy, invincible souls capable of weathering anything. We want bragging rights that we toughed it out, again, as if putting words to that makes it true. "Three days without electricity is no big deal to us Mainers," we tell people, while actually trying to convince ourselves. The words create an energy that resonates through us like the electricity in our house, intangible while running everything. To have a generator is akin to admitting that we are dependent and vulnerable to the vagaries of a being greater than ourselves. It feels like giving in to something, a weakly defensive posture. Deep in our brains, to ask for help is to expose ourselves to the idea that we need it, and thus, that help might not be forthcoming. Not everyone survives in those medical shows, regardless of the heroic efforts of the trauma team. When an asteroid collides with our earth, there will be no help coming.
Yet another cold night, we go to bed in the dark. The dogs sleep with us shoving their way into the warm spaces between us. Soon, soon the power has to come back on. Lights and order will be restored. We will be liberated! I can't go another day without e mail, I'm an addict and I admit it. "I'll have to take my laptop to someplace where there is electricity," is my thought as I drift off to sleep. In my dreams my laptop is wrapped in a red bandanna suspended on a stick over my shoulder like a hobo. This can't last for long. Spring, the greatest narcotic of all, is coming.


  1. Now, this is exactly why an old farmhouse is best (and I miss ours so much). You would have a wood-burning cook-stove in the kitchen and along with a battery powered radio and an old-fashioned non-mobile phone you would be all set. We shivered and worried about the pipes freezing.
    Have you ever heard this traditional Mother Goose Rhyme?
    "The north wind doth blow,
    And we shall have snow,
    And what will poor Robin do then,
    Poor thing?"
    It popped into my head when I was reading your post...

  2. Robin, thanks for this. This is wonderful writing, wild in its own way. I appreciated the commentary on the eyes of the Hawk Owl, and the whole piece really. That Barred Owl on Popham Beach with Sequin in the background is a curious and evocative photograph. And, of course, the butterfly experience in Paraguay is a poem, which I am still feeling on my skin. I’m really glad you are there, doing your work with your camera, as a lover of the natural world. I’ll keep track of your blog. . . .

  3. Oh how I remember those endless hours and days with no electrical juice, although never on the frayed edges of the Atlantic like you guys! And I'm thinkin' I really don't miss it a bit...........But you do have lovely heat& cookstove and lots of windows to have the all important daylight to read by.....OK, I have a feeling not even those things will cut it after the four hour fun ends........Come visit anytime, OK????????Love you guys, K-toid

  4. So...if you invest in the "expensive" generator, that would be great for relieving concern for your home and habitants. would take the edge off of your storytelling which would be sadly missed. Send something to yourself weekly so Richard can check up on you guys.

  5. Robin, Poor Andrea, I had to leave and do the work thing back in NH where there was PLENTY of power. She had the grandkids, naturally they wet the beds, pooped a hundred times in the non-flushable toilets. Luggin water, tending the fires, she loves & sorry I missed most of it. Yea right

  6. Uh,Dave,
    Ya might want to keep an eye on "Brad"...:-)

  7. Love your lost blog entry. I feel the same way only about alternative hot water during an outage. I've had a generator now for 4 years that runs the whole house EXCEPT hot water. Every year, I say I'm going to somehow get my hot water hooked up.
    Definition of a generator from a person who lives alone: It's the greatest feeling of independence I've ever known. That coupled with my dogs, life is good.

  8. I know the feeling Robin. Only thing is, we have a fireplace which eats wood like some kind of monster. I slept very little the 2 days we were without power... had to feed the monster.

  9. Robin, You are a fabulous writer- I can never get enough! So descriptive I feel as if I'm there enduring the cold house with you! You are right four hours of no power is more than enough- time to get that generator though- old bones will really creak in the coming years! There won't be enough clothes to keep you warm!