Thursday, January 9, 2020

Power Failure

            When I was teaching Hamlet  I suggested that in Act IV, when Hamlet jumps into Ophelia’s grave and then jumps (or climbs) out, he is experiencing a symbolic “death and rebirth.” He can then go on to get his revenge on the man who killed his father. You probably find this as fascinating as my students did.

            Nevertheless, we find our “death and rebirth” moments wherever we can. Kim and I experienced one on New Year’s Eve. No, it did not involve midnight or resolutions. Rather, it was a result of the loss of electric power due to a heavy wet snow. Our power was off (or “down” or “out”) for about a day and a half.

            We made do. Our little gas Jotul stove has a back-up battery starter, so that provided heat to our enclosed porch. We had enough dry firewood for the living room, though the heating range there was a six-foot semi-circle. We could light our gas stove with matches, and we have a lot of candles. Kim, who apparently had watched The Little House on the Prairie, had enough foresight to store some gallon jugs of water for drinking and the occasional flush of the toilet. (Our neighbor, Joe, not so well prepared, used water from his toilet tank – we didn’t dare ask for what – until we gave him a jug of ours.) We used an old kerosene lamp for a while, but the wick was too dry to work well. The house is well insulated and we have thick comforters for bedding, so sleep was not a problem. In fact, after sitting on the semi-dark porch for about an hour, not watching television and reluctant to run down our cell phone batteries, we decided to go to bed early: about 8:30.

            We made some adjustments the next day. In the morning I drank a cup of cold leftover coffee (me? addicted?) until Kim showed me that she could heat it on the stove. We had been working on a difficult jigsaw puzzle, and that pretty much stopped, though I found that my progress in the dark was not much different from being stalled fully lit. 

            Once it was light enough to read the manual and the 430-page guide-book, we spent several hours trying to set up Kim’s new Sony camera. We made it through the process, which is not to say that the camera is working the way we want. We will have to wait for electricity to power up Kim’s computer to see if the dark muddy images on the LCD monitor are a problem with the monitor, the camera, or our screwed-up set-up. I’m guessing the latter.

            I shoveled snow a couple of times, partially because it needed shoveling, and partly because I don’t like waiting around.

            Meanwhile, we made a call to the local company that sells generators – a classic horse / barn-door scenario. They came right out and delivered an estimate of $8,000. I said I’d think about it.

            We made several calls to the electric company, first to report our outage – we learned there were 14,000 people without power in six counties. Then I wanted to speak to a human being, not a recording, and I learned that saying I’m calling to report a tree fallen on a live wire would get me someone. They were very sympathetic when I told them that we have a 95-year-old neighbor who is just home from the hospital with pneumonia (true), and I don’t know if he is on life-supporting medical equipment (not true – he’s not, unless you count his television).

            I called again in late afternoon of the 31st, and I decided to mention Kim’s cancer as an additional reason they should restore ours soon. I figured that most people who called had a similar story, and mine was true. I was told, after a minute or so on hold, that we were next, and sure enough, about 4:30 in the afternoon the power came on. (Notice how we say the power went off, and it came on.) Now, with the power on, we decided that the generator was an unnecessary expense.

            We were very happy. I felt reborn, without all the hassle of actually dying. For Kim it was “no big deal,” probably because she was prepared. This was New Year’s Eve, and we celebrated by flushing toilets. Not at midnight, though. No, despite our newly powered television and our exuberant rebirth as empowered people, we were both asleep by 9:30.

            These death and rebirth experiences, as Wallace Stevens noted, “occur as they occur.”

One's grand flights, one's Sunday baths,
One's tootings at the weddings of the soul
Occur as they occur.

Kim and I experience death and rebirth, in a minor way perhaps, when we witness a sunrise, or for me, when I see Kim emerge, sleepy-eyed, from the bedroom in the morning. It’s just a matter of paying attention.


  1. Enjoyed reading about the power failure. Living on a sailboat & traveling in a van, camping most of the time, helps us deal with power failures. Now, we have an induction stove, so we can't cook when the power goes out. We have multiple sources of battery operated lights & of course, candles. We engage in Hygge. No, that's not some deviant sexual behavior! Happy New Year & rebirth.

  2. Great piece. When we reach Australian levels of catastrophe, we'll need writers like you to keep the laughs coming and you're the man!... Keep yr notepad handy, Dave, there will be plenty of light to see by. Come to think of it, mebbe a lot less snow...