When the power goes out, as it does fairly often here at The Angle, the darkness, or rather the small light in the darkness brings the family together. Whatever disparate activities we were all up to, they are put on pause, and we find our way to each other and start the familiar hunt for candles, the lantern, flashlights and headlamps.
First, it’s an adventure. And then, when we have our more primitive lights on, for whatever reason, we always ride out the darkness together. We play games, read books, or as was the case this last twelve-hour outage, start the ground venison marinating in the jerky seasoning and work on numbers and shapes together with the five-year old at her request.
Time slows. Senses sharpen. It’s most often during a storm, and as we listen to the steady breath of the lantern indoors, outdoors the thunder booms and the wind howls.
Logically, I understand the flickering power, the full outages and especially the brown-outs are very hard on appliances and electronics, but I can’t bring myself to hate any part of them (though the lack of running-water and flushing-toilet part is an annoyance). For me, they still hold a certain romance, a bone-deep nostalgia for simpler times. Something akin to the memories of camping as a kid or my childish fantasy of being part of Little House on the Prairie.
Power outages also always transport me into a familiar dystopian daydream: I imagine what it will be like when the power goes out and doesn’t come back on. Maybe not for months, years or ever.
Will it happen in my lifetime, this doomsday view? I imagine how the news of what has happened will trickle into our remote part of the world. The community will gather to hear from those who made the expensive trip to town, bringing word from the border agencies and if we can even cross. Tourists and part-timers will scramble to get back to their own families and homes. I picture the frantic canning and putting up of frozen food that is quickly going to waste. The big gas tanks at the resorts slowly running out of fuel and generator, vehicle and boat use becoming a rare luxury or just for emergencies. We go into survival mode, no income coming in from our main industries. There are feuds, but mostly there is cooperation and communion. I imagine it brings us all back together, just as it brings my little family into the same room for the evening.
Part of me longs for it all to end by force: our 24/7 digital connectivity, our wasted energy on divisive politics, our insatiable consumption – spending and getting more and more and more for me and mine.
By lantern light, we have a pre-bedtime tickle war – her favorite. A story, and then I tell her to build a nest of pillows and blankets on the living room floor and curl up there for the night. Though we always sleep in the pitch black, there’s something different about power outage nights. I can’t bear to send her off into a darkened part of the house to be alone.
He reads, I write (by hand for a change), and she curls in and makes random conversation in her fading, sleepy voice. She is noticing, as if for the first time, all the different shapes in the room. They are visible in the soft glow of our meager lighting. The diamond that is also a square. The oval. The octagon with longer vertical sides. A two-sided arched doorway shape we don’t know the name of.
And just like that, she slips into her sweet child slumber. I haven’t watched her go from awake to asleep in a very long time, years maybe, and I am awed, stunned into a parent’s reverie at her innocent perfection.
The darkness brought me that gift. A tree on a power line somewhere miles from here let me watch her eyes slowly close, her breath change from awake and wondering to the steady pace of dream-sleep.
Outside, the lights on the cell phone tower continue their duties, but every other humanmade light is out. It is the blackest night. No stars visible through the storm. No yard lights. The rain arrives and the golden flicker of the candle is soft against the sharp white flashes of the approaching lightening.
No, I can’t hate the power outages, even if they bring a hardship all their own. They change the shape of our lives for a short, magical time. Or, perhaps, we simply notice once more the shape our lives could be if we would slow down and cultivate the peace that lantern light and togetherness can bring.
And if my imaginary doomsday ever does come, at least we’ll have a fair-bit of practice to get us started. Just gotta figure out that plumbing part.
(Column 102 – Published September 18, 2018 in the Warroad Pioneer)