Sunday, December 14, 2008

Living like a pioneer in the wake of Northeast ice storm

Posted by John Keller

I've got an overwhelming desire to wear solid colors, suspenders, and a tall, wide-brim hat after spending the last few days without electricity after last Thursday's ice storm that has paralyzed large chunks of the Northeast.

That was Thursday. Today is Sunday, and the local power utility says we'll be lucky to get our electricity back by next Wednesday. Lucky. I gotta tell you I'm not feeling all that lucky.

I'm writing this from the office in Nashua that, thankfully, has power. A colleague just sauntered in -- toddler in tow -- who said, "I'm just here to get contact with the outside world."

The power went out Thursday night as my wife and I sat up most of the night listening to trees snapping and limbs breaking that sounded like gunshots, and electric utility circuit breakers giving way that sounded like grenades. Flashes of lightning in the distance lent to the feeling of being in a war zone.

The sight outside on Friday morning was more of the same. Trees were across the road outside, which had taken down the electric, telephone, and cable TV wires of several neighbors. Near-panicked motorists were just trying to find a clear route out of the neighborhood.

I'm glad I have a chain saw, because I put it to good use Friday and Saturday -- first helping to clear my street, then to get downed trees out of the yards of two neighbors, and finally to start cutting up the limbs and trees littering my yard and threatening my ugly brown shed.

At least the electric wires are still connected between my house and the physically intact (I think) power line that runs down the street. Neighbors were not so lucky. One big tree sheared off the wires to a neighbor's house but left the connections into the house. A friend a couple of streets over had falling trees snap a power pole in two, ripping off all the wires to her house and taking the electric meter with it.

We're going to be hunkered down for a long while. We have heat from the wood stove, thankfully. The big problem is water. We have well and septic, and no power means no water. We're hauling buckets for flushing and buying water by the gallon when and where we can find it.

I got a refresher course last night in the joys of taking a sponge bath from a pan of water heated up on the stove (at least the gas stove works). I suppose it could be worse.

I'm not missing television. I do miss the Internet, I have to admit. But when we're warm, it's not so bad to enjoy the calm, golden glow of candlelight. We have a hand-crank radio we used last night to listen to A Prairie Home Companion. My wife said, "I feel like we're back in the '30s."

It was kind of a peaceful feeling. Lose power and water, and it brings your priorities into focus very quickly. Keeping wood for the fire close by is one. Finding water is another (our neighbors own a shop in town that still has water).

At least I don't have to worry -- for the time being -- of missing that e-mail or paying bills.

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