The lights blip and the radio cuts out. This already happened once this morning right and everything went back on. I glance up and go back to focusing on an email. I’ve got no time to be curious; I’m working from home with an infant on my lap, and my toddler outside in the snow collecting sap with my husband. Any second now my attention will be assaulted.
I try to download an attachment and it fails. I try to send my email and that fails. That’s when I realize that my modem must be dead, because the radio and lights are still off, because the power is still out.
A power outage in inclement weather with an infant can be a bit of an ordeal. I realize it’s how most of the world lives, but when you’ve gotten all soft and civilized, it’s rough. My three-year-old was born a month before Hurricane Sandy. We lost heat and water for 14 days, not to mention the roof of our barn. We bundled the baby up in a woolen cocoon, drank from a water cooler we’d filled elsewhere, used a bucket as our toilet, and eventually took to sleeping at the house of a friend with a generator. We finally fled, spending that final powerless weekend with a friend in Rockland whose electricity had come back on. It was definitely an adventure, but one that left us sick – since another guy who also camped out at our friend’s house that weekend had a bad cough that we all got.
Sandy’s aftermath left an impression that sank deep. It was no small part of the reason we shelled out $7,000 this winter for a wood burning stove. The stove has already become a member of the family, and one that earns its keep. The oil heat – set to kick on if the temperature in the house drops below 50 -- has only roared into action once since we had the stove installed in December, during that cold spell with single digit temperatures.
The stove is singing right now. I just tossed in another log and put a kettle on for tea and then had to strip off my sweater.
If we should run out of water before the power comes back on, we’ve got a reserve of 20 gallons of maple sap in the garage – a slightly sweet, sparklingly pure version of water – and more dripping from the trees into buckets all the time.
If I’m beginning to sound obnoxious, indulge me. Sometimes I envy you, see, and everyone else in the overdeveloped world, who can fiddle with your phone on your way home from the airport and tell your Nest thingy to have the house heated to 68 by the time you walk in the door. Meanwhile we’re hauling logs and 50 pound bags of chicken feed, and planning months in advance to get away for a day.
We’ve chosen this life and we wouldn’t trade it – most days, at least. But there are times Joe and I get into a funk and find ourselves asking each other: what the hell did you get me into? Whose idea was this?
So it’s gratifying to look around, two hours now without power, and see that all the lugging has amounted to something quite substantial: a sort of peasant stronghold. All systems are go. Without any outside help, the house is warm, tea is steaming, eggs are being laid in the coop, sap is dripping. When we have to go, the composting toilet that Joe built is on the porch. (It’s my favorite place to do my business, even when the water’s working).
Our next-door neighbor calls. Is our power out too? Do we need anything? Nope, we’re good. Does she need anything? Eggs? Maple syrup? Sure, she says. She’ll stop over later. Self-reliance, baby.
With that, the power clicks back on. The fridge resumes its humming, the kitchen lights up, my internet connection comes to life. They fixed whatever was wrong. They always do. And I’m always just a little disappointed.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who now lives upstate and writes about the rural life.