February 25, 2014
The Power Outage
When I awoke for the first time this morning the red, glowing numbers on the digital clock read 4:48. I reluctantly got out from under the down duvet and tiptoed to the bathroom so as not to wake my warm and light-sleeping husband. Back in my feather nest I settled down to sleep once more. I woke up again, a muted morning light in the room causing me to lift my head to check the time, concerned I had overslept. This time the clock was blank. The power was out. My husband, awake by then, acknowledged the power outage and we snuggled down under the duvet to let the fact sink in.
When I was a child a power outage at my parents' house only meant one inconvenience: no electricity to power the lights, television or kitchen stove. The gas furnace still worked and our water, provided by the city where we lived, still ran hot and cold. During power outages my family sat together in our living room, talking comfortably by candlelight, enjoying the novelty.
Where I live now, in a small, rural town in the eastern Fraser Valley my well water requires an electric pump to fill the pipes and thus, the kettle. The gas furnace requires an electric ingnition to send the heat through our two story B.C. box of a house. We have one gas fireplace with the pilot light left on all winter in case of a power outage. We rarely use the fireplace because it is in the downstairs family room next to our bedroom. The family room used to be used more often and much of the space was taken up by a ping-pong table. With the boys gone most of the year now, the ping-pong table sits in the garage as the girls rarely use it. They do use the piano which is in the room along with my husband's cycling trainer, weights and medicine ball. Other than the addition of a dart board on the wall, the family room is fairly bare now.
Needing to find out the time, I rose and put on some warm clothes. I climbed the stairs, listening to the wind howling outside. The upstairs was full of early morning light; the day promising sunshine, at least, after two solid days of blowing snow. I turned on the battery powered radio - another safety feature in our house along with an easily found flashlight and a case of bottled water - and waited for some news of the whys and wherefores of our power outage. I found out that the elementary school near our house was closed for the day due to the outage, but that was it. The high school my daughters attend was open. So, ours was the only area of the town affected. I woke the girls who complained about their school being open. I asked them if they would rather stay at home in a cold house with no power or go to school where it was warm and the computers worked. They chose the latter.
My kind husband set up his Primus stove in the garage and heated water so we could all start the day with a hot drink. Then, he gathered his razor and some other toiletries, put his suit in a garment bag and left for work where he could have a shower. The girls, their hot beverages encased in thermal mugs went off to school bundled up against the windchill.
I, left at home to cope in a cold house, changed into even warmer clothing. I ate my cold granola and yogurt and willed the power to return so I could get to work on the computer. I put away the dishes and tidied the kitchen as best I could. By 9 a.m. I was cold again, all traces of the warmth of the mug of instant espresso gone. I put on my crocheted hat and the Pashmina shawl that my eldest had bought for me on a hot sunny day at a market in Venice. I went downstairs to sit by the fireplace. I pulled the chair out of my bedroom, sat down with a blanket across my lap and put my feet on the tiles of the fireplace hearth. I proceeded to read a few pages of my fat historical novel. The gas fireplace was a pathetic match for the frigid room and the wind howling down the chimney; the fireplace had once been a real one for burning actual logs cut from trees, not formed in a mold from some kind of flame-proof ceramic material.
I could have put on another sweater and pulled the down duvet off my bed to wrap around my entire body like a caterpillar's coccoon. I would have been perfectly cozy if somewhat immobilized. While I considered the duvet, my mind began to wander off the page of Rutherfurd's London to a cafe downtown where there would be heat, light and real, hot coffee.
Bundled in my heavy coat I walked down the road from my house. The BC Hydro crew was working at the end of the first block, cutting the limbs off a tall, scraggly cedar that, having finally succumed to the night's relentless wind, had fallen on the power lines, causing the outage. I made my way around the trucks and estimated the power to be back on by noon.
Larry, the owner of the Oasis cafe welcomed me. He, probably noticing my unwashed hat-hair, asked if my power was out. "It's good for us," he said cheerfully. The place was busy and I recognized some neighbours. Ordering an Americano and a blueberry scone I sat down at a table by a window to enjoy looking out at the cold, bright morning from my perch in the warm cafe. After reading through the Life and Arts section of the Globe and Mail left on the table by a previous reader, and finishing my scone, I took out my notebook and pen and began to write.