Power For The People

As I wrapped up my various projects at work, I glanced at the clock.

“Crap. It’s getting tight!”

Living on an island makes you a slave to the ferry schedule. In years past, missing a boat would have just been mildly annoying, but now with kids to pick up from daycare, simply going across the street and having a beer while I wait for the next boat is no longer an option. I HAVE to make the boat. No excuses.

As I bolted out the door and headed to my car, I was quickly reminded that living in New England means that the weather is never to be trusted. Though the tiny, high windows at my shop, I had noticed that it was raining out. This, as it turned out was not accurate. What had been actually happening was freezing rain. As I bolted out the door to the parking lot, I noticed with an expletive flourish, that my car was neatly encased in a quarter inch of ice. When I needed to hip check the driver’s door to encourage it to open, I knew that the scraping necessary was going to be athletic. Boy, was I right.

Peaking through the tiny holes I’d managed to clear and with a judicious use of sneaky back roads and a lot of colorful language, I did manage to get to the boat just in time and picked up the kids when I reached our little home off the mainland. When Action Girl finally ended her shift and made it home as well, it was pushing eleven o’clock. The rain continued to fall and freeze everywhere it hit. Trees were starting to bow and the roads were truly treacherous. We were asleep by midnight, pots of water filled and sitting on the counter in anticipation of the power taking a hiatus and giving us that “Little House on the Prairie” experience that we’ve come to expect in bad weather. This is far from our first ice storm and with both of us being native to New England, we’ve gotten used to Mother Nature trying to freeze us to death every year or two. You make the preparations you can and hunker down.

Confession time. Power outages don’t worry me any more. I don’t have to since I can make my own. I have a generator.

Growing up, I had gotten used to the power going out for prolonged periods and since we had a wood stove, the most a blackout meant was a game of Parcheesi rather than TV and sandwiches and popcorn instead of something warm. Honestly, I liked it. It was sort of like an adventure and best of all, it gave a valid excuse to get the hurricane lanterns out and play with fire! Action Girl had it a little rougher growing up in rural Vermont. They too had a wood stove to keep the children and pipes from freezing, but they also had a well. What that meant was that no juice equaled no water. If they suspected an outage was on the way, anything that could hold water was filled. I, having lived more suburbanly, had city water and could flush the toilet with reckless abandon.

When we moved to the island, we essentially combined aspects of our two, different childhood environments. Our neighborhood is packed pretty tightly like any suburb yet, we live on a well. If the weather is bad enough, no one is going anywhere and it wouldn’t matter much any way since everyone else on the island is in the same situation you are.

A few years ago, we experienced a North Atlantic thrill. It was dubbed the “Patriot’s Day” storm, after the holiday it occurred on and man oh man, was it a good one. This was our first instance of island living during hurricane-type weather. Our son was only about eight months old at the time and since my wife was out on the angry, frothy sea trying to get people back to their various costal homes, it fell to me to take care of things here.

The first thing to know is that we had just done some major construction on our house. What we bought when we moved here was a hundred year old structure that was built as a summer camp. So far as we know, we are the first people to ever spend a winter within its walls and I had been doing a lot of insulating. Because it was just a cottage, it also had no basement. The house sat on posts and the posts sat on flagstones. When the ground heaved in the spring, the whole structure would groan and twist. The kitchen was a downhill walk form the living room.

After a couple of years with our undulating floors and nowhere to store the Christmas decorations, we decided that it was time to fix this permanently. With only a truckload of money and several months of crazy work, the house was raised, the ground under it, excavated and a basement poured. Our house wasn’t going anywhere again and a marble, dropped by the front door, no longer makes a beeline for the back.

houselifting

Then, the storm came and our beautiful, new basement transformed its self in to an indoor pool. No power also means no sump pump. As I stood in my cellar watching the water rise, I was keenly aware of my son asleep up stairs, the foolish amount of stuff about to be ruined before my eyes and that the house was getting colder. When the house was lifted, we had to take down the chimney and thus, had no wood stove. Things looked pretty bad. As luck would have it, the self inflicted isolation of island living comes with some really fantastic community support. A neighbor, spotting a despondent looking, young father standing on a front porch asked if he needed any help. Within about ten minutes I had a small army emptying my basement ahead of the floodwaters and a couple of nice ladies caring for my infant son.

It all worked out fine in the end. We stayed for several days at a good friend’s house who had a guest room, a wood stove and tolerance for a baby waking up twice a night. The storm passed and the waters slowly receded and I waded back to deal with the mess at our place. With my Father’s help, I also got a generator. He had to look like hell to find any, but he came through.

As last night’s storm pelted the already heavy power lines and trees with yet more ice, I thought about the generator, topped up and ready to go in the shed out back. It made me smile. At three-thirty in the morning a huge crash from a tree giving up the ghost and a “Kra-KOW” and accompanying blue flash of a transformer going with it, got my attention. The power flickered, went out, and then back on. It did this a few more times, but always came back again after a second or three.

This morning we walked around the house resetting digital clocks and emptying emergency pots of water, no longer needed. Every surface out side was covered in ice and it looked like a world made of blown glass. Tree branches bent low or lay snapped, on the ground, encased in an heavy, clear skin. On the lawn, ever blade of grass was entombed in it’s own icy sheath.

frozen-grass

As it turned out, I didn’t need the generator this time, but I’m really happy to have it. I have children I can use as an excuse for owning it, but to be honest; I’ll never be without one again. Living the simple life is great when it’s your own choice, but me, I like to plan for it.

As things sit now, my plan runs on unleaded and produces about six thousand watts.

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5 Responses

  1. Be prepared! Know your environment! As the Who said, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
    I have candles, but nothing seriously bad has happened here since … a few weak typhoons, a good earthquake 5 years ago, and imported Sumo wrestlers.

    How does one prepare for incoming sumo wrestlers? I can’t see the candles helping with the earthquake unless they are big enough to shore up a ceiling. 😉
    -TP

  2. Better to be prepared than be caught out! and if you have it, you’ll never need it! and when the pack rat pile on top of it and around it gets really big, then you’ll need it! 😉 You see, I live that life, too.

    We’re on municipal water so we don’t have to worry about flushing, but our oil burner has an electric starter and the thermostats run on electricity and when the pellet stove comes (if it ever comes) that will need electricity to turn the auger so we have many blankets. and candles. The last time we lost power I was on maternity leave. I bailed and went to the mall.

    This storm didn’t hit us so bad. A half hour north of us they weren’t so lucky. A coworker lived with the sounds of trees breaking, chain saws screaming, and generators humming.

    New Hampshire really got pasted with this one. My folks live there and though they didn’t loose power, a lot of others did. They’ve been lending out their shower and clothes washer to friends so they can feel human again. Power outages can be fun if they only last an hour or so. It’s looking like this will take more tan a week to fix.
    -TP

  3. As a kid growing up in Australia, I used to envy people who lived in countries were snow was a common seasonal thing.

    7 years of living in Canada and 2 in the US cured me of that. I’m so happy to be living in a place now that I have to drive 5 hours to go skiing in the winter.

    Every once in a while, Action Girl and I bandy around the idea of moving somewhere warm. Hawaii comes up as option quite often. Honestly though, I’d miss the winter. I just wish it didn’t last so long.
    -TP

  4. You have the power! (generator) Good thing to have. Glad you didn’t need it. The ride across the water in the Winter must be a chilling experience, yeah?

    The boat ride can be… brisk in the winter. The bugger is that the cabins on the ferry are almost always a zillion degrees so your options are to freeze on deck or sit in the sauna inside. I usually opt to freeze. Once the snow and slush gets tracked in to the cabins and hits the heat, it gets mighty moist and cloying. We refer to the lower, less ventilated deck as the “petrie dish”
    -TP

  5. I know there are a lot of ‘annoyances’ (to call them mildly) connected with the winter time – especially if you live on an island like you. Here in Slovenia we can get more than half a meter of snow in a couple of hours and driving in the roads can be very dangerous to virtually impossible sometimes. But I wouldn’t want to change this, I know that after a while I’d miss winter and a feeling of ‘rest’ that it provides me with.
    However – after three weeks of non-stop rain (which is just happening as I write this) makes me want to move to some place with more ‘straigthforward’ weather. Give me snow or give me sun, just don’t give me this dreadfull grey dulness.

    I am glad you didn’t have to use the generator, though and after reading your post I totally understand it’s a good thing to have in the house.

    Oddly enough, I’m used to far heavier winter weather. I grew up in a valley in New Hampshire and when it snowed, it SNOWED! It was like the storm would get stuck there and just bury us. Now that I’m on the coast, we get a moderating “ocean effect” and most of the time the snow is on the edge of rain. Honestly, I prefer the snow too. As I get older though, palm trees sound better and better.

    -TP

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