We got lucky. It’s post storm, and all is well here–our idea of moving inland away from things like the airport and coast were excellent ideas. The idea of trying to get off the grid immediately–at least as much as possible, has paid off in spades. I’m not chasing sheep around my land washing fleas off wool, carding yarn, and making my own underwear…yet…but maybe someday. We just moved, after all, give me time. Wool is probably a bad idea anyway–I maintain wool underwear was the single thing that spurred Europe to colonize the world–if you were wearing homespun wool underwear itching your most intimate parts, wouldn’t you be cranky enough to take over continents that had things like cotton and silk? That’s probably why the Scotts invented the kilt and looked mad in all the movies–they were threatened with wool underwear.
But I digress. I probably won’t get sheep. I’ll get chickens–when my husband isn’t looking. He’s paced out our 20×40′ garden for the spring, but said I was being ridiculous about the chickens. “No chickens,” were his words. To quote him directly, he said, “No $#%$%^ chickens, that’s #$$^^% ridiculous. They’ll get eaten by coyotes anyway.” He’s probably right. He usually is right about these things.
When we moved, we got the basic homesteading starter kit–wood stove, four cords of wood, and a generator. Being a New Englander, I had basic storm prep down–fill bathtub with water, get some paint buckets and do the same, prepare the French press coffee pot. That’s the key–caffeine always trumps food. I canned enough chipotle peach salsa to last until the second coming anyway. I have a gas stove–during power outages, it still fires up. I just need to take a match to the burner old-style, turn the knob, and try to remember to tie back my hair and avoid burning off my eyebrows when I light it. It’s a critical detail.
When the power went out, we were ready. I thought. Entire prep checklist done. Food. Water. Gas. A book. Then, I heard a voice.
“Mom, I’m bored.” The five-year old. There was no way to prepare for this. No checklist detailed enough. “Can I watch a show?”
“Well, buddy, the power is out. We can’t watch shows. Let’s read a story.” Nice suggestion. One parent point for me.
“But I’ve been good. Can I watch it later?” Excellent logic, no dice.
“No. We have no electricity. The TV needs electricity,” I explained about plugs and power grids, science, and energy dependence. And of course the old standby protagonist of every grid-based story, Al Gore, and why we needed to conserve our resources so the polar bears won’t die or end up in our back yard trying to eat the deer. Seemed like a good geopolitical lesson to me. I addressed conservation, oil exports, and solar power leading to energy independence. All top-priority components in United States’ domestic and foreign policy this very election. He nodded.
“How about a Disney, Jr. game on the computer?” He was clearly missing the point. I felt I was teaching a seventh-period class to freshmen on the day before vacation.
“Sorry, we might not have shows for a while…” He started to cry. “Listen, don’t cry, let me tell you a story,” I feared my story would not be an adequate substitute for “Octonauts,” but it was worth a try.
“Once upon a time, Mommy was five. We didn’t even have a big TV. We had a little tiny TV. And it was only in black and white…it didn’t even have color. There was no remote–we had to get up to change the channel. We only had three channels–there was no such thing as Nick Jr. There was only PBS–but not PBS Kids, PBS Adults. Like Victory Garden. We didn’t have video games. They hadn’t even been invented. There were no such things as iPads or computers. There wasn’t even email. We just had to talk to each other. That’s what we did for fun. And if we were really, really good and didn’t leave the top off, we could play PlayDoh. But they only had four colors. And we ate our vegetables. We never cried. And we all had a lot of fun. The end.”
“MOMMY, STOP IT! That is a SCARY story! It’s not Halloween yet!” And he cried some more. So much for old-school entertainment. No wonder old people get surly–they spent five decades playing stick ball and drinking Postum. We’re soft.
When we finally did get the generator in action, you can be sure that the first two lines that went out were to my freezer–I didn’t spend all year foraging, canning, freezing, and sourcing meats for nothing–and to the Holy Grail–the TV. Everything and everyone was saved.
During this storm, I felt very blessed. Two years ago, we weren’t as lucky. I got a call at school on the day of the Great Flood, “Dad said we’re getting a little water in the basement.”
“Okay, I’m teaching, what does Dad need me to do. Do I need to come home?” As in “Is this critical, because I have 25 kids staring at me that shouldn’t be abandoned.” I left. It turned out to be critical.
By the time I drove home, I was lucky to get there at all–entire stretches of the highway were flooding, soon to be closed. My exit ramp–generally about 12 feet in the sky, was at sea-level. I made it home and rescued what I could, bailing and pumping water for the next two days. We were lucky–we lost some stuff. At the end of the process, we saved the heater, and survived. I learned some critical construction skills as demolished and rebuilt most of the basement myself–an exercise in construction and zen. Entire neighborhoods lost their homes. People I knew. I was grateful.
I am grateful again. My thoughts are with my friends who were not so lucky in this storm, and I hate the feeling of taking inventory as I check down the list to make sure everyone is accounted for and okay. Seems the East Coast has had to do this a few too many times in the last decade. So far, I’ve heard from those flooded out on the Hudson River, and I received a check-in tweet from Jersey with a report that “pictures do not do the damage service, whole towns are destroyed.” One college friend waited several days to hear receive a text from her parents, finally discovering they were fine, and another was only slightly inconvenienced by needing a few extra days to escape New York and get back home to the West Coast. Many more report they will be out of power for a week to 30 days. But that they are lucky. They are helping, and receiving help. Everyone is becoming a community again.
It’s funny how our perception of gratitude shifts, isn’t it? I only wish that it didn’t take this type of suffering to remind us. My thoughts and prayers are with you all, and I’m hoping Mother Nature is kind to everyone this coming winter.