Power outage: a big nuisance, but not only

The late October storm wasn’t a hurricane but it will do til one comes along.

Lots of damage to trees and wires. Widespread power outages, a real check for a few days to business as usual, casting most of us into darkness and camping out in our houses.

These days there’s not quite the same of community of shared storm misery as , say, 20 to 30 years ago. A lot of friends and neighbors have backup systems which switch on automatically when power is lost, enabling them to opt out of the inconvenience of the storm. The roar of the wind gets competition from the noise of generators.

.But at Long Pond in Wellfleet on Thursday morning there was a community of those dipping pond water to use in flushing. Most wore high boots. I, having taken an unusually late swim in this same water just a couple of days earlier, waded in barefoot and in shorts with my five-gallon erstwhile sheetrock compound buckets.

It was a busy corner of the pond. Seemed like half the town would show up if you stayed there long enough.

The flushing detail accomplished, it was over to the fire department for drinking water. More friends and neighbors there. To the gas station for ice and exchange of theories about how best to preserve vulnerable food in the frig. An intensely social event, this storm.

Back home, it felt good to have a practical reason to rev up the Vermont Castings, which in recent years has gotten mostly ceremonial, aesthetic use.

Then, the wind still steadily in the 30s in this slow-moving nor’easter, we walked around surveying the ravaged forest, smelling the raw wood from splintered trunks. From the blocked roads and downed wires in our own neck of the woods it was easy to imagine that this might indeed be the “multi-day” affair Eversource voicemails were warning of.

It always takes some getting used to, having one’s best laid plans go awry, changing your day’s gameplan to storm-related chores.

And then, all too soon in these short days, the night descends. It always takes a while to get used to the forced darkness, to submit to it. My first reaction is to resist it, to get annoyed at this ridiculous interruption of civilized life. Why, in this day and age, do we have to put up with this? Seriously, my life is being put out of joint because of trees, those ancient features of nature, falling on wires? So primitive. Why are wires not all buried? Why, in the era of wirelessness, do we even have to have wires?

Isn’t there an app?

We had of course, as part of storm prep, located our candles, kerosene lanterns, and flashlights but they make only a small dent in the dark of night.

Electricity’s utter defeat of the dark—at the flick of a switch we banish the night–came only relatively recently, after hundreds of thousands of years of human life on earth conditioned half the day, more or less, by night. Wellfleet didn’t get electrified until 80-90 years ago.

But we noticed that once we stopped resisting and being annoyed, essentially being in denial (it’ll be back on any minute, I’m sure), and began accepting the power company’s sobering “multi-day” prediction, the dark became something more than an inconvenience to be put up with. It reminded us of a quality of life we lost with the advent of electricity.

There were years ago “take back the night” rallies and vigils against sexual violence.especially against women. In an extended power outage the night takes us back.; we are given a chance to be taken back by the night, that ancient condition of creatures. And after the denial, the resistance and annoyance, there is something comforting about the dark. It’s a time for rest, to relinquish ambitions, the schemes of the day. To sleep in a way that perhaps we don’t when we know we have the power to switch on the light anytime we want.

The outage was indeed Eversources’s multi-day affair for many. And of course we cheered when the lights came on, and very soon we were back to our to-do lists. But we had submitted to the dark long enough that we were aware of something lost in our new electrified ease.

I wonder: if we could flip a switch and banish storms and power outages forever, would we do it?

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