Saturday, March 04, 2006

Pioneer Days

Once again our half of Washington State has been rattled by killer windstorms. You think we'd be used to them by now, right? Right?? Actually my personal belief is that the power company really ought to be used to them by now. We get them every stinking year. Something about the Cascades acting like a barrier that creates a wind tunnel effect or something similarly stupid. Whatever the reason, you can guarantee that October/November and February/March we're going to see mighty winds.

Okay, so here's what I don't understand about the whole power company thing. The whole western side of the state is infested with 60ft+ fir and pine trees. They line 70 percent of the roads here, particularly in the more rural areas. So why does the power company in its infinite wisdom see fit to string power cables alongside these accidents waiting to happen? 'Cause of course, the evil twin of the winds we get here are the rains we get here. 40 days of rain + soil = a muddy, horrible mess which isn't capable of maintaining its hold on something 60ft tall when it's assailed by 70mph winds. Ferchrissakes, draw a diagram, figure it out.

The obvious result is that the trees wind up crashing down on various parts of the power grid, cutting off electricity to large blocks of the population and plunging us into an icy blackness from which the power company promises to rescue us in...oh...three days or so.

The problem is our situation. We live out in the boonies. Not as in solitary cabin on the lake kind of boonies, since new developments are springing up in the area all the time, but still 30 miles away from Tacoma and about 60 miles away from Seattle, and 100 miles away from Bellevue. Why is that important? Because your power is restored relative to how close you live to these urban areas. I know that Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue are all yuppie land where one can't go ten minutes without a caramel latte before suffering a severe anxiety attack, but geez, Louise. We gots needs fer the shiny lights too darnit.

The nutty part of the equation is that if you happen to live closer to one of these aforementioned urban areas, you are also within spitting distance of 100 different hotels and motels where you can, at a pinch, go to get a hot shower or a computer hookup. People who live in the yuppie heaven of Bellevue also make more money than they know what to do with, and so can afford to purchase little extras like portable generators - which they might just have the time to dust off and power up before they get their power restored. Us simple folks don't necessarily have that extra moolah to drop on a generator.

And my family are one of the lucky ones, for we have a woodstove. More on that instrument of torture later, but at least we have one. I know that most of my neighbors here are lucky if they have a fireplace. The vast majority of them live in mobile homes which are entirely powered by electricity, with maybe a back up fireplace. Some have no fireplace at all. And let me tell you when it's freezing and below outside, it gets pretty cold inside pretty fast.

But, as I mentioned, we have a woodstove. It has seen us through many power outtages in the past, bless its little infernal heart. It is also an instrument of the devil. It has two heat settings. Off and blast furnace. Oh, you can let it go out, but then you have to go through all of the rigamarole of relighting it and trying to get it to stay lit for the first hour. It's capable of eating its way through an entire tree in the space of a day. And once it's going...oh bless your hearts...if you don't open doors and windows to allow some free flow of cooling air, you all wind up prostrate on the couch gasping like a fish out of water. And as it's the only source of heat/hot water/cooking in the house, you can't let it go out.

Power outtages turn me into an insomniac. Already half-insane through lack of percolated coffee (no electricity), surviving on only instant made with boiling water that you have to heat on the flat top of the woodstove and which might boil in fifteen minutes/half an hour/next week, depending on where the wood is stacked within the fire and how long you let the fire race before closing it up, I gather the children into the living room with their sleeping bags and quilts and mattresses. I mean please, having two teenagers confined together in one room for an extended period of time without TV, stereos or video games is enough to send you batshit crazy to begin with.

We hunt around for candles in the dying light of early evening. Yes, we have candles. The trouble is that they've usually been grated up for some kind of chemistry experiment (Xander) or burned in some kind of wiccan ceremony in her bedroom (Babybat). We have five dogs and six cats, so these candles have to be placed strategically in petproof areas in case one of the animals decides to have a spaz moment and leap onto a table, setting fire to the place in the process.

We hunt down firewood from the pile over by the fence - strategically placed there in order to keep our dogs from arguing vociferously with the dogs on the other side of the fence, and which we meant to bring back under cover before we had that 40 days of rain. So then we have to make a run to the store which is operating on backup power, through streets without working traffic lights and fight like demons to pay $5 for a bundle of half a dozen pieces of wood which will at least make a hot enough fire to burn the damp wood we're bringing in from outside.

As darkness falls, we light the candles and play cards for a couple of hours, remembering to feed the woodstove every half an hour so it doesn't turn into a heap of smoldering ashes before you open the steel door in front to check on it. We eat salads and drink milk and instant coffee and try to pretend it's a big adventure. We can't play board games as there isn't room to place the board and the candles without one upsetting the other, so we play word games. Sing the first line of a song that has a girl's name/color/city/animal in the title. And thusly we pass Friday evening.

The children drift off to sleep at around 10, soothed by the dimness and the warmth of the room, and I drink instant coffee and doze fitfully, ever conscious of the need to feed the woodstove monster so that the fire doesn't go out and we don't all die of hypothermia before morning comes. I make a call to the power company's automated update line and discover that our power should be restored by Sunday morning at 5am. I also remember that I have a transcription job due on Tuesday morning which runs about 12-15 hours of actual transcription time, and a battery on my computer which is good for less than two. I'd at least make a start on it, but then I remember that I have yet to download the audio files, and since we have cable internet and not good old dial-up, I have no internet access.

Azzy returns home from work at around 6:30 am, bringing with him a couple more bundles of wood which he managed to find at a convenience store closer to where he works. I send the kids out for more wood from the back fence. We find the big carving fork, and attack a loaf of unsliced bread with a carving knife, cutting it into big hunks that can be stuck onto the carving knife and toasted over the fire. This procedure involves opening the steel door in front which allows the air into the fire and causes it to roar wildly as I sit on the floor in front of the stove hoping that the bread cooks before my face and hands do. We have butter and lemon curd - and five dogs who suddenly think I'm the greatest thing since the invention of the automatic watering bowl.

At least it's daylight now, so we can blow out the candles and open the curtains as wide as they'll go to try and encourage what tiny bit of winter light there is outside to penetrate into the dim and smoky interior. The kids are simultaneously thrilled because they don't have to do dishes - no hot water, and bummed out because they can't shower (Babybat) or take a 2 hour bath (Xander) - no hot water. We at least manage to find more candles in preparation for the evening to come. I dig a pork loin out of the freezer - which the kids have been helpfully opening and closing all day to see whether it's still cold in there - and stick it in a covered roasting pan on top of the woodstove at 7:30 am. The hope is that it'll be cooked at some point today. Frozen vegetables in a saucepan, same thing. I give a sympathetic thought to all of the people in the vicinity who don't even have the option of cooking since they don't have a woodstove. That makes me call the power company again. Oh deep joy. Apparently there have been more windstorms overnight, which has cut off the power to people in important places, so now they don't even have an estimate for how long we'll be in the dark. In my mind I'm X'ing out Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue with a big black marker, feeling deep and powerful hatred for people I've never met.

Azzy's sleeping in the bedroom, despite it being cold in there, since Xander and Babybat are in the living room where it's warm and they've already spent waaaaaay too long in each other's company. The first night of a power outtage is always fine. People are nice to each other, and respectful of one another. That's usually starting to erode by mid-morning of day two. I put Xander in charge of cooking dinner, since it's his favorite thing in the whole world, and Babybat settles in to read "Crime and Punishment" for English class. I try to sleep. On the couch. With five dogs. And the CLUNK sound that the fire damper makes every half an hour when Xander opens up the fire to check on it. In other words, I sleep not a lot.

There's a little excitement when Xander announces that food is ready at around 3pm. We wake Azzy, who has to be back at work at 6pm in a place that has power and internet access cause it's homeland security and vital to the nation and all that. I hate him for his electric lights and his internet access and video game console and coffee pot.

We settle in for another evening of darkness. The kids sack out earlier tonight, since they're bored and stupified with the heat. There is a moment of anxiety when Ashes (our pyromaniac cat, so named because he had a tendency to set his tail alight as a kitten, and a deep desire to become one with the inside of the lighted woodstove) spazzed out and jumped up onto what we thought was a safe area housing a candle. He jumped right down again and took off outside. Xander and I both sat there sniffing the delightful aroma of singed cat fur and hoping he wasn't darting around the underbrush out back like a little roman candle setting fire to everything, but too stupid from the heat to raise the enthusiasm to go check. (Don't worry - he was fine)

And then - oh miracles - the lights came back on. The TV flicked on and off, the fridge whirred into action and we were transported back to the 21st century again. For all of about five minutes. Then it went out again for another forty five minutes. Then it came on again - oh joy, oh joy, oh...I hate the power company. Then off it went. Xander got on the automated line and actually got to speak to an operator.

Xander: Why do you taunt us?

Operator: Excuse me?

Xander: Why do you taunt us with the power? You tease and torment us by turning it on for five minutes and then off again. Why are you so cruel?

Operator: Maybe you should turn off the breaker switches in your house and that way you can turn them on again at 5:30 when the power's supposed to be restored?

Xander: Are you making fun of me?

No, they were perfectly serious. And to be honest, I wouldn't have wanted to be a power company operator that weekend. But she just didn't understand how crucial that first blooming of electricity is when you've been without it for a couple of days. You could turn off the breakers, yes you could. But....but what if the power was restored at 4 am and you missed it? Or, even worse, if you turned on the breakers at 5:30 only to find the power still not there? Yes, living without power really does turn you into a mental case.

Power was finally restored in the early hours of Sunday morning. The kids slept right through it and I blew out candles and continued with my firewatching, since our heating system has a lockout which doesn't allow it to work for the first hour or so after power is restored. And I used my insomnia time to work on some transcription.

Then I came down with the flu. But that's another story, gentle reader.

All I can say is that I SO do not do pioneer woman well. Oh, and I was sneezing black gunk out of my nose for days. TMI?


Blogger Jensgalore said...

When we lived in hurricane country, I used to put our candles in old jars. Drip some wax into the bottom, set the candle in the wax, leave the lid off and you have a (reasonably) safe way to light the house. It even made the husband happy and he's a complete paranoiac about candles and fire.

Yeah, no power = bad, bad, VERY BAD! We don't have a fireplace up here, and it makes me nervous. I want to get some kind of portable fireplace for the new house.

9:01 AM  
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8:42 PM  
Anonymous Coach Outlet said...

It looks like going to be a cold day.Hope everyone keep good mood.
I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in this topic. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.

7:47 PM  

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