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?

Just Your Average Oregon Coast Storm

A super windstorm hit the coast Sunday and Monday. You might have heard about it on the news. Sunday night, a 98 mile an hour gust blew off part of the roof at Izzy’s restaurant in Newport. I can’t believe it didn’t blow mine off, too. Pieces of trees and yard decorations were flying all over. The wind chimes were doing somersaults. Meanwhile, I was packing for my trip to California, wondering if I could really go.

On Monday morning, it was still raining, still blowing, with reports of damage and road closures. My route was clear so far. I checked the reports over and over. I prayed. I asked my Facebook friends if I should go. I loaded the car. Once the dog was sitting in the driver’s seat, it was hard to change my mind.

I got as far as Lost Creek State Park, about a mile and a half from home, and decided to get off the road. The wind was blowing from the south so hard it was like trying to drive against an invisible wall. The rain slammed against the windows so thick I could barely see. This is nuts, I told the dog as I pulled into the parking lot and stared at an ocean that was all froth and fury.

We can’t go, I decided, but somehow when I came out of the parking lot, I turned south toward California instead of going home. The rain had eased a tiny bit, and I decided to keep going.

I had to take Annie east down Highway 34 to the kennel in Tidewater. I saw just small debris going, but 15 minutes later, coming back, there was a tree across the road. No cell phone service there. Several men had already parked and were cleaning up the tree branches with their hands. When they got one lane cleared enough, we drove over the rest of the tree and went on.

Back on 101, I turned south again. Wind, rain, water on the road, rivers rising nearby. Gripping the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt, and my accelerator leg hurt, but I couldn’t relax for a second. Speed limits meant nothing; we had to drive much slower than usual just to keep from sliding off into the ocean. I kept thinking: where will I have to stop, how will I rearrange this trip, I’ll never travel on Thanksgiving again.

I finally got to Florence, praise God, houses, stores, stoplights. I found the restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch, the Hot Rod Inn, with old cars literally sticking out of the roof. But it was closed! For sale. I drove on, hoping to eat at another place south of Florence. It was closed, too, for lease. Nuts!

The thirty-eight miles to Reedsport took forever, water blowing across the road like waves, car losing traction every hundred yards. But I made it to Harbor Lights, at the intersection of 101 and Highway 38. Got soaked on the way in. I highly recommend this restaurant. Specials in colored chalk on the blackboard on the far wall, display case with pumpkin muffins, carrot cake, Marionberry crisps, lava cake, yum. Meat lovers can order wild elk or boar, and there are eggplant sandwiches for the vegetarians. I had a mushroom burger on chiabatta bread, oozing mayonnaise. Heaven. Perfect French fries, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.

I talked to a guy there who was worried about the road north to Yachats. Just rain and wind, I said, but it could change with the next gust of wind. It turns out we both went to San Jose State.

As I paid my bill, the waitress wished me a nice evening. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon but dark as twilight when I ran out to the car, getting wet again, and started my eastward trek along the Umpqua River away from the ocean.

I saw more elk than ever at the elk preserve, most of them close to the road, most of their land under water. Usually there are crowds of camera-bearing tourists taking pictures. Not this time. Too wet and wild.

The rain began to lighten up after Elkton, a few more miles down the road. I looked around and remembered how incredibly beautiful western Oregon is. I cranked up the radio and made it to Yreka at 6:00. Clear, light wind, temps in the 50s. After all these years going back and forth, this motel room feels like home.

I had put a call out on Facebook, asking my Oregon friends whether or not to go. My friend Pat, from Massachusetts via California, said don’t go. My friend Sandy said, too late, that newscasters were telling people not to drive if they didn’t have to. My Oregon friends said check the weather and go if it’s not snowing. My friend Lauren said she had just driven to Eugene from the coast against 60 mile an hour winds. Go, she said, we’re Oregonians.

Exactly. We pull our hoods over our heads and go.

Somewhere up ahead, there’s sunshine.