Sitting in the Dark Without My Toys

OMG, is this the wildest November ever? The election, COVID, hurricanes, Zoom Thanksgiving. Is God pissed off or what?

What a weekend I had. It would have been enough to play and sing at St. Anthony’s in Waldport for two funerals in two days and then do a regular weekend Zoom Mass.

Friday we said goodbye to Phil Rilatos, a good guy whom I didn’t get to meet. Saturday, our Mass was for a beloved friend, Roy Robertson. Since he and his wife Mary Lee Scoville were musicians, we musicians turned out in force—as much as we could while following the COVID restrictions, masks, distancing, and limited numbers. When the barbershoppers sang the same song that Roy and his quartet sang for my husband’s funeral, I became a weepy mess. We all were. Roy was probably up in heaven grinning his gap-toothed grin and singing along.

So there was that.

And there was Gov. Brown’s announcement that Oregon would be going into a two-week lockdown starting Nov. 18 to try to stop the soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases.

But there was more. Thursday night into Friday morning, we had rain, lightning, and high winds. Early Thursday morning, on Birch Street–the only way in and out of our neighborhood–a tree fell on a power line, knocking out the electricity.

A long, dark day and night followed. Fifteen powerless hours, most of them spent huddled by the wood stove in my den. I wrote, played guitar, tried to read, made phone calls on the ancient Princess phone that still works, and ate cold food by candlelight.

Staring into the flames made me think about a lot of things. Being alone. Sitting around campfires with my friends. How much I depend on the distractions of cell phone, computer, TV, and all my other toys. How I should have bought more AA batteries.

The power returned at 8 p.m. Dazed by the light, I thanked God and the power company and eased back into regular life. That was Friday night.

Saturday we attended Roy’s funeral. Lots of tears. After my friend Pat and I ate a substandard lunch in a chilly restaurant where they were clearly starting to scale down staff and supplies for the coming shutdown, the St. Anthony’s choir did the second Mass.

Finally, at 5:00, I could go home. It was raining again, the wind blowing so hard we could barely stand in one place. But at home, I could eat a hot meal, watch TV, and hang out with Annie.

God had other plans. As I turned off 101, I noticed the lights were out. Swell. But there was more. Turning onto Birch, I faced a wall of fallen trees and dangling wires. I could not get home. I got out of the car and looked for a way to walk or crawl through, but it wasn’t safe.

I called 911. They said help was on the way.

How long would it take? Should I go to a motel? I had no other clothes, no pills, and my old dog Annie was alone.

Total darkness. Now my cell phone didn’t work. I had no one to talk to except God. I prayed.

It was too dark and spooky, and I was surrounded by trees that could fall. I drove up the highway to the South Beach Post Office where there was light and phone service. As I sat in the parking lot, rain sheeted down the windshield while wind pummeled my car. I was cold, hungry and starting to need a restroom. My black slacks were wet from walking out in the rain.

After a while, I drove back to my neighborhood and parked behind the big Public Works trucks. A guy in a yellow slicker told me they would try to clear the road enough to get a car through, but it would take a half hour or so.

I sat in my car, rain pouring, my hazard lights blinking lest someone unaware come barreling into the back of my Honda. I watched the green arrows blinking, watched the rain pouring down my windows. I prayed my house was okay, that none of my trees had fallen.

At 7:10, the yellow slicker guy told me I could drive through, carefully. And I was home! It was dark and cold, but I only cared that I was home. As much as I could see, everything looked fine. I built my fire, lighted my candles, scavenged dinner for me and Annie, and waited for daylight.

            Early Sunday, I heard chainsaws. At 11 a.m., the lights came on. It was dark for 18 ½ hours this time. I threw out most of the food in my refrigerator, glad I hadn’t found the energy to go shopping last week.

            Monday, I bought food at Fred Meyer to restock the fridge. The store was jammed with people stocking up for the shutdown. Toilet paper was disappearing fast. Here we go again.

            Do I trust the lights to stay on? No. The wind is blowing hard again today. But there’s a little patch of blue between the clouds. I’m just grateful to be here and so thankful for the workers who go out in the dark and the rain to clear the way for people like me to go home.

            So that was my weekend? How was yours?

Wrapping Christmas presents in the dark

Ah, electricity. Invisible and unappreciated until it’s gone.

               
Like most of the west coast, we here in South Beach, Oregon got hammered last week by back-to-back storms. Rain came down in sheets while wind did its best to rattle everything loose. On Thursday, everyone was talking about the big storm that was coming. When I woke up to blue skies, I rushed out to finish my Christmas shopping and maybe take myself out to lunch before the storm hit. While I was in the checkout line at Fred Meyer’s in Newport, I saw people coming in huddled in wet coats and knew the storm was starting. Folks were talking about getting over the Yaquina Bridge before it was closed. Forget lunch. Time to get home.
               
Rain spattered the windshield harder and harder as I drove south. Wind gently nudged the car as I crossed the bridge. But it wasn’t bad. I still had power to warm up my leftover pizza, to read by while I ate it, and to finish my work at the computer.
               
The lights flickered. I closed my files, but Facebook grabbed my attention until suddenly, silently, the computer screen went dark. Oh. It was 2:12 p.m. Twilight outside, twilight inside. All the little green and red lights on my various equipment were out. The pellet stove, which runs by electricity, had stopped. The only sound was the rain on the skylights and wind thrashing the trees.
                
Okay. I had a plan. Power failures are not unusual around here. I have flashlights in every room, a large supply of candles, and two electric lanterns. I have wood for the wood stove in the den. I have cold food to eat, plenty to drink. One never knows how long the power will stay out around here. Once it lasted two days. An area farther south stayed dark for almost a week.
               
Since I couldn’t work at the computer, this was my opportunity to wrap my Christmas presents. So I did, with loud music playing from the battery-operated radio I keep handy for storms. The sound is tinny, but it’s company.
            
I wrapped and wrapped until it got so dark I couldn’t tell blue ribbons from green.  Now it was lighter outside than in. The rain had stopped and the wind had slowed, so I took Annie out for a short walk. Soon we heard the chatter of a radio from an emergency vehicle and came upon the source of the power failure. A giant tree on the next block had fallen into the power lines. Rain-suited crews from the electric company had cut up the tree and were now restringing the wires from the highway to the street that connects with mine. Big trucks. Bright lights. Noise. “Thank you for what you’re doing!” I called.
               
 “No problem,” a guy hollered back.
             
Satisfied that eventually the lights would come back on, we turned back home, running into our neighbor and her children coming to see what was going on. We’re all nosy.
             
I had thought I would work on my Christmas cards, but darkness in the woods is truly dark, not like back in suburbia where night is only slightly different from day. Instead, I talked to a friend on my cell phone, then settled in front of the wood stove to build a fire. Big logs, little logs, kindling, building from a spark to an orange finger of flame to a roaring fire.
              
I sat back and watched the fire, all other duties canceled due to darkness. I thought about the days before electric lights. Even with candles and lanterns, the light is limited and full of shadows. You cannot see to do anything intricate. If you spill or drop something, it’s difficult to see where it went. It’s hard to stay clean. And surely you go to bed much earlier because it’s so dark.
              
Electric lights have changed the way we live our lives. Natural light has become irrelevant. Many people work round the clock under artificial light. If we need more light, we just plug it on and turn it on.We forget how easily that light could disappear.
              
It’s not just light I was missing. I would not be able to heat my food. The food in the refrigerator would spoil if the power stayed out. My cell phone would lose its charge, the house would cool down, and I would not be able to watch my TV shows. But I could adapt.
              
Luckily, I didn’t have to. At 6:00, just as I was about to make a ham sandwich for dinner, the lights came on. “Yay! Thank you!” I shouted as I hurriedly threw a fish in the frying pan and a potato in the microwave before the electricity changed its mind.
                
Despite predictions of 90 mph gusts, it turned out to be a pretty average winter storm here. We just had a few trees and branches down. In Newport, the big sign outside Bank of America blew down. In Portland, a tree fell on a car, killing the people inside. California had flooding and mudslides. But here in South Beach, we just had a little electricity-appreciation lesson.
              
Lights. I like ‘em.
How is your weather? Any storm damage? Please share your stories in the comments.