Yesterday was poised to be another productive day on the farm. The sky was a brilliant blue and the clouds were like white cotton candy -- a perfect day for working in the kitchen garden. As I sat at my desk, finishing up the day's editing work, I noticed the wind picking up. It started out gentle at first, playful, but as the dark clouds rolled in, it became menacing and then violent.
At first, small things were blown over -- a few bird houses, a chair, the kids' swing hanging from their favourite tree -- and then I began to worry about the tree itself as it whipped back and forth like it was made of rubber. The wind was unrelenting as it hammered away at our metal roof, screeching like a howling banshee. I took a step outside and from deep in the woods, I could hear the trees snapping like matchsticks. The power flickered on and off and then at 10:30 a.m. it went off for good. The house was eerily silent, save for the screaming of the wind.
By 11:30 a.m. the wind had died down enough that I thought it safe to venture outside. At the edge of the woods, I could see bud-tipped branches torn and lying on the ground, trees cut in two, and even one cedar knocked completely on its side, roots still clinging to the earth that once grounded it. I started walking down the hill towards the ponds and I noticed one of the hydro lines that bisect our property looked "wrong" -- it was sagging lower than its twin.
Returning to the house, I put Henry on a leash and walked out towards the road. It was covered with branches and the tops of several trees, but it was passable. I turned on to the main road and walked to the nearby power transformer. There was the other end of the saggy power line, severed and blowing in the wind.
What I didn't know at the time was that this windstorm, with 100 km/hour gusts, darkened hundreds of thousands of homes across Ontario. More than 65 utility poles were snapped and the damage was widespread. Of course, this was nothing compared to Wednesday's tornadoes that ravaged six southern states, killing hundreds of people.
I returned to a still and quiet house, put Henry inside and went back out to the road to clear away the debris. Even though the wind was but a breeze now, the creak and occasional snap of the trees made me nervous. It was humbling, that feeling. We have such hubris to think that humans can govern Nature, that we are "in control," when in an instant, all our structures, our brilliant engineering, our lives, can be taken away.
As the day progressed, I grew more impatient and agitated. We'd been without power before, but never for this long. While I'd reported the outage to the utility company, and subsequently my discovery of the severed lines, the hotline was no longer answering calls or providing any updates on when service would be restored. The generator, which is stored in the garage, is too heavy for me to move. I started worrying about the contents of the fridge, the absence of running water, the rising water levels in our basement sump.
I told myself that this really wasn't a big deal: Lucas would set up the generator when he got home, which would power the well pump, the fridge, the kitchen lights and one outlet that we could use to plug in the sump pump. It wasn't minus 30 degrees out, so we didn't need to worry about heat or frozen pipes -- and even if it did get chilly, we had the wood stove in the kitchen. When the kids got home, I planned on telling them that this would be an adventure -- just like in the pioneer days. It would be fun!
Instead, by the time they returned home, I was grumpy, stressed out and short tempered. There was nothing fun about this.
Because I work from home, I feel obliged to be accessible between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. I felt like I needed to do "something" productive, so I trundled the kids into the van, dog in tow, and drove halfway to town where I could park at the side of the road and access the Internet via my phone. As we turned onto the main road, I noticed the line was still severed, with no utility vehicles in sight.
I responded to a number of work emails, read a few news releases that detailed the extent of the damage and then called Lucas. I'd asked him to bring home some food basics -- bread, yogurt, fruit, etc. -- because I hadn't done any baking or food prep before the power went out. He told me he hadn't yet had a chance to get to the grocery store but he'd be home in 10 minutes and we'd figure something out. I burst into tears.
I felt so ridiculously incompetent, powerless and unprepared -- something as minor as a power outage had thrown me into a major tailspin. I was embarrassed and disappointed by my reaction. I don’t think it was the power outage, per se, that affected me so much; it was one more stress on top of everything else -- we're low on wood, we're low on hay, I'm behind on the garden, gas prices are way up (along with everything else), and now this; or moreso, it was the reminder of how much we still have to learn that seemed like another bump along the road to "simpler living."
24 hours later and we're still without power. It could come back today, but mostly likely it'll be several days -- who knows. Given the amount of widespread damage (most recent update: 45,000 people restored, 130,000 still without), the utility company has to fix the areas that affect the greatest number of people first. I get that.
I also get that being without power offers opportunity. On my way home from yoga last night, I drove through pockets of the countryside that were still and quiet in absolute darkness. Such beauty! Then as I turned into our driveway, I could see tiny flickers of light in the windows and a lantern that Lucas had left me on the front step. Walking into the house, I was met with the rich smell of beeswax and the dance of dozens of candles -- a simple and loving gesture from a man who knew I needed some comfort.
In the light of the day, I can be pragmatic about this experience and the many lessons learned: that a power outage can happen at any time and it's not good enough to have an emergency preparedness plan in your head. While we were well stocked food-wise for the winter, I've let our reserves dwindle, which is a mistake. While I spend a lot of time learning about working towards greater self-reliance and sufficiency, there is much more that we can do. In the meantime, the generator is working well as a stop-gap measure, keeping our fridge humming and the (oh-so-cold!) water running. And compared to those people whose lives have been destroyed by violent acts of Nature, we're facing a minor inconvenience.
I know we'll be better prepared next time. I guess I just had a tough time embracing the "simple" life when right now it feels anything but simple.