Losing Power

Last night, while I was packing up to teach this morning, the light blinked, the fan died, and the room was suddenly lit only with the last glow of the sunset. And then it was dark.

The Valley at night, with lights

The Valley at night, with lights

We have underground utilities, and no ice storms–and certainly not in July–so it took me a second to realize the power was gone. I glanced outside, and noticed the neighbor’s lights were off, so it wasn’t just us.

Over the next six hours, I discovered how much I depend on electricity. There was no way to figure out what happened–no TV, no radio, and no internet. Yes, even with wireless, if your moden and cable connection goes, you are without power.

The idea of “being powerless” became metaphorical. The clothes washer stopped, mid-cycle, and I was immediately grateful that the no-sugar, no flour seed and nut bars had just come out of the oven. No creative play, no searching the internet for creative inspiration, no answering emails. I felt sorry for restaurants and stores with freezers, for people in hotels and hospitals who were suddenly on emergency power and feeling helpless without elevators and TVs to keep them calm and moving.

I keep the house at 83 F degrees during our scorching summers, and the temperature began to edge up. It had been a “cool” day–it had been 98F at 5 p.m. but it was humid, so the doors stayed closed.

We went outside and chatted with neighbors, and then came back inside. There was nothing to do–packing requires light and a fan, and the one lantern we have wasn’t enough light. We would move toward an activity, only to remember, again, in the dark, that the power was out.

Forced relaxation and inactivity takes some skill. We started by jumping in the pool and listening to sounds we almost never hear–neighbors outside on their patios. Birds settling in for the night. Children laughing and running. The dreamy summer outside-living that most of North America enjoys in summer is our delight starting in October. After the pool, we went to bed, grateful for an early night.

I woke at 2 a.m. to the cool breeze of the ceiling fan reviving. A small flurry of activity to shut off lights, turn the air conditioning back on, set the alarm for early enough to finish packing, and go back to the deep sleep of cool, circulating air.

We depend on certain expected powers to make life comfortable. When it’s gone, it forces a new way of thinking and behaving. Not bad for six hours, but I’m glad the power is back. I’m teaching a class today and I need all the power I can get.

—Quinn McDonald is grateful. And busy.