Friday, January 27, 2012

A Week Without Power

Our power was restored Wednesday when everything decided to finally melt off. We'd been out of power for a week and were honestly expecting much longer. Being the only power source for the water supply of the closest city probably saved us.



Contrary to the feelings of many others around us, our week without power was quite wonderful. The dogs are actually playing with each other in this picture, though it might not look like it. They both thought the snow was incredibly fun.


Much like our transition to a television-less household, had you asked me about going power-free I'd have thought we'd be sitting pretty well. After all, we no longer had a T.V., we have actively transitioned most of our family entertainment away from anything digital, and all of The Barracuda's schoolwork is book centered (the actual, paper, bound books). Most all of our food is dried, canned or cellared so refrigeration isn't necessary, our heat is all wood, our water is on the city fire line/water supply. Mainly, our bases were covered. This might have been a big reason that our situation was better than others around us.

What I hadn't accounted for was timing. Everything takes longer without electricity. Water does not boil in five minutes. To get it to boil in five minutes would require me chopping down our wood into lots of smaller pieces, getting the fire really going, and then placing the pot on. That process would take a good 30 minutes. There are no showers. This is a major well duh! Somehow I didn't understand just how much I'd miss the shower. Dishes are all done in shifts because the signal pot of boiling water you placed into the sink eventually gets cold and very shortly there after so do your hands. This meant we were never, ever, really done with the dishes. When the sun goes down, the work must as well. When the sun isn't up, not much can be done. The way our life is currently structured is not conducive to this power-free lifestyle. It was an amazing learning experience and one I hope to repeat again before the winter is over.

Tuesday at around 6 pm:
Jules is passed out on the couch. He does this occasionally. After multiple, stressful days and burning the candle at both ends, he collapses shortly following dinner. The power has been flickering all day long, but it has hung in there. Snow started falling 2 days ago, though the accumulation right now is still only about 6-8 inches. The morning commute was a doozy and we thought for sure school was going to be canceled. No such luck, apparently down the way it isn't quite so bad. As the weather continues to deteriorate, loosing power is only a matter of time.

With the lack of permanent residents in our area and the remote terrain we have been warned that it could be a month before it is turned on again.

Wednesday: SNOW DAY!
Lee was home today as even the big city was nasty enough for no buses to travel. Much fun has been had and a quick trip to the store for some cooking free supplies was in order. We had to dig the cars out from over 18 inches of snow. It just keeps on falling hard and heavy. Fortunately here the snow is light and powdery, rather than the dense, wet glop that falls in Portland. We'd never lived somewhere that doesn't plow before, but luckily the neighbors all have plows on their tractors and take shifts. From the looks on the faces of most of the men, this isn't exactly a chore.

Thursday: Day 1
The power hung in long enough for me to get a pot of chicken stock prepared, a two chickens defrosted, and then promptly cut out. We're keeping the fridge closed and the water to luke warm hoping it will only be out a short while. At least that's what I tell myself.

Jules figured out quite the system of candles. Nights might just turn out to be quite relaxing after all.


Friday: Day 2
I didn't start the fire early enough to get the water on to boil. It took darn near forever to receive tepid oatmeal. Both the boy and I were so hungry we didn't care. Around 9 am the entire house vibrated with the sound of a very large motor. We looked up to the road, expecting a colossal plow or construction equipment, but nothing. After much inspection outside, it turns out our neighbor has a commercial generator which has just kicked on to power his house. Looks like even in a power outage, Mr. Plasma will keep his name and be able to watch his obnoxious plasma screen television. Around here old toys have been pulled out from long forgotten spaces and the art of play has been regained.

The dogs think this whole snow thing is the greatest ever. They go out romping far more than they are inside. I have to drag them in, dry them off and put them in front the fire to get them warm again. So far, there have been very few complaints.


Saturday: Day 3
The dogs went out to play this morning and didn't come back. We waited, we called, no dogs. Jules became frustrated and went in with The Barracuda while I post holed my way across the flat and down the river trying to find them. Half a mile down, Guadalupe pokes her head around the corner and stops. I call, she wags her tail, but she won't come. There is no Optimus. She is very nervous and I get nervous. It is really hard to run in 3 feet of snow covered with over an inch of ice, but when I get closer she runs off again. She waits, I run. She runs off, waits, I run forward. Every Lassie movie I watched while sick from school is seeming much less fictional at this point. Eventually it becomes clear that she needs me to look over the edge of hill leading steeply down to the river. She's fussing like mad and won't stop wiggling everywhere. After defogging my glasses I can see that Optimus has fallen down the hill and is clutching to the bank with his two front paws. His back end is submerged in the freezing rapids of the river.

I tell Guadie to stay in my best non-panicking Mom voice, and make my way down the embankment. Optimus was manhandled and encouraged out of the water (you can only encourage a 220 pound dog. He is literally twice my size, I can do very little). I kicked steps back up the slope as best I could (I've never kicked steps for a dog before), dried him off with my coat, and we made the slow journey back to the house. He is doing fine after drinking warm chicken broth, having blankets thrown over him, and curling up with Jules for quite some time. Two of his front claws have been ripped from clinging to the bank, but he saved himself from complete hypothermia. His massive size came in quite handy. Somehow, he had fallen down the slope into the river and Guadie wouldn't leave him. I would have walked completely past without knowing had she not lead me to him. He's a very lucky dog.

The extreme wind coupled with heavy freezing rain over the last two days has knocked out the power for the entire town closest to us and half the surrounding area. It's going to be a while before anyone cares much out us way out in the middle of nowhere.


Sunday - Day 4
At this point, the rationed hot water is long gone and the fridge has been replaced by the snowbank of our deck. With 2 and a half feet of snow, we have to dig out anything we want to keep cold, but so far the animals haven't discovered it.

The house is beginning to resemble a ski lodge. We've figured out a system to hang all the layers so they can dry. We have enough mountaineering clothes to keep us cycling through and able to get outside for walks and playing quite frequently.

We've taken to wearing wool all the time and walking the dogs everyday instead of allowing them free play on the flat. On our trip up the road we were able to survey the damage from the wind. Our neighbor lost a tree across his dock, but it was nothing like the scenes along the road. Power lines are down everywhere, poles are snapped, and trees litter the ditchlines. Let the scavenging begin!

Around here, people don't let much go to waste. Even the local trash drop off has signs that read "No Scavenging." In some places scavenging might be considered stealing, but not here. Scavenging is an art form and a prized trait. The fine line between scavenger and thief is upheld quite strongly. We have already had many discussions with The Barracuda about the difference and it is reinforced quite strongly.

Before we could get out to collect, chainsaws of the neighbors and other locals were buzzing. Snow storm or no snow storm, no sizable tree is going to be left down without an attempt at harvesting.
Math done by candlelight isn't quite as romantic as it might look. The Barracuda has gotten quite driven with getting his schoolwork done during the daylight hours and leaving the playing for the evenings when work is finished


Monday - Day 5
We went into the big city to visit my dad and take showers today. Laundry was done, phones and cameras were charged, Facebook was checked. Everything got done and important business was taken care of all around. It was quite the productive day. The glimpse into life without power has been quite rewarding. My work ethic is much stronger, the house is somehow cleaner and we are going to bed at a decent time. With the days work confined to only the lighted hours, a sense of urgency overtakes you. When there is work, it must be done right now!

When dusk hits we begin to light candles and let the world calm down as the lights burn themselves out. Once gain we have started talking more, playing more, and laughing into the wee hours.

Tuesday - Day 6
Today it was supposed to melt off. It didn't. In fact, almost a foot of snow came down before 11 am. The local schools were all released early. We took the truck into town because some paperwork had to be faxed off and almost didn't make it home. With a child wound tight from over a week without seeing his friends, and dogs a bit stir crazy by now as well, it was a long day.

It seemed the powerless-ness was wearing on me all day. My phone wouldn't charge at the library. The line for the Internet computers was really long. The Internet was taking forever to load since it was on the fritz. The frustration was mounting. After a week of putting off our virtual lives, it has become obvious how dependent I am on getting into cyber space. Not only do I make money, but multiple other writing and correspondence jobs are handled via the Internet. Even with our power restored, for much of this last week everyone's Internet has been down. This is definitely a place I need to think on for the future.

Wednesday - Day 7
The melt off has begun. Everything outside is drippy. It will take time for the snow to actually melt, but I can see the tops a few items still out on the deck as the snow melt continues. This is probably a good thing. I've been wracking my brain to come up with more warm, dinner items that do not require baking. Much of our life can be handled by snacking, but after a week solid the snackable items in our house are vastly dwindling. Jules and I are pretty firm on not getting a generator, but we do think a propane oven is a good place to start. I know Jules' schoolwork has to be backed up like crazy. With all the grading needing to be entered into the computer, yet at the same time, his need to get home before everything deteriorates further, he hasn't had any time to stay after work and get much done.

The power was restored at around 4pm Wednesday. I'm very glad it didn't last a month!

The first thing I did was take a shower!

It doesn't matter what the conditions, we just like living in a place where this is our front yard.



A Few Things We Learned
We learned quite a bit. Mainly, we have fallen out of natural rhythm by controlling all the light and electricity. Our family felt better when we worked and then slept in a more natural flow. We need to find a way to either bake off the grid, or to have other food sources which don't require it as much. Lastly, we need to have a larger supply of medium sized, hot, wood. It is referred to as "hot" wood because it burns quickly building the fire in the woodstove up to boiling and cooking temperatures. I need to find a better way to have Internet correspondence when we don't have power here. The virtual world isn't going away and the work I do I find fulfilling, so much thought needs to be put into where I could work if we needed to. Currently, a week seems to be when we feel the strain. Perhaps, like everything else once that initial discomfort is worked through the experience isn't taxing. Over the next couple of weeks we will be working on pushing that week out into a month or more, but for now, we are just glad to be back on the grid.

2 thoughts:

Mr. H. said...

Makes you glad you have a wood stove doesn't it. So glad that your dog is OK...sounds like he almost wasn't. We once went almost two weeks without electricity due to an ice storm that ravaged the area. It was a wonderful experience in the sense that I was faced with the reality of not being prepared as much as I could have...we are now. I'm happy to hear that your power is back and all is well in your neck of the woods...stay warm.

Mel said...

Wow- Glad Optimus is ok. What a good friend he has in Guadie! Sounds like an exciting week. I bet you'll be totally ready for it next time.

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