Life + Outdoors » Short Stories

In the Dark (II)



It will always amuse me that people who live in a temperate rain forest are seemingly never prepared for what pours down from a February sky.

As often happens on the North Coast at this time of year, our power went out on a particularly stormy afternoon last week, and wasn't restored until two days later. In Garberville and Redway, there were mad dashes to the grocery and hardware stores as everyone stocked up on supplies before braving the roads home. The next morning, I would use some precious computer battery power to check out the news online, and be dismayed to see that, in five hours' time, 10 collisions had occurred within an 80-mile radius. Paradoxically, when it rains heavily Garberville residents must often conserve water -- when the power goes out, so does the water pump.

We don't live in town, or even in SoHum. We're actually in northern Mendocino County, about a mile, as the crow flies, from Confusion Hill. Although we're on the grid, we're literally at the end of the line, in a 60-year-old all-electric house. As the sky darkened, I was quickly reminded that I still love outages, for the same reasons I loved them as a child: silence and darkness, both all too rare in the modern world.

No blaring TV, background radio, humming computer, cranky refrigerator, popping toaster, beeping microwave, tinny ringing of cordless phone. My backup is an avocado-green rotary dial office model, circa 1962, that's especially handy for both outages and confusing my teenage daughter's friends. It rang once in two days, and I couldn't use line two - my home-office line. I must confess I didn't miss it.

A streetlight graces our front yard, courtesy of the former owners. I keep forgetting to call PG&E to ask them to please turn the damned thing off, because we didn't move to the country to be deprived of darkness and moonlight. When night fell, I went outside to revel in its gifts - and then felt, just for a moment, a twinge of fear, the fear of that which we cannot see but know is there, outside the scope of human sensory experience. "This is silly," I said to myself, before the somewhat sobering thought of Jim and Nell Hamm, the Fortuna couple who recently fended off a mountain lion, came into my head. I said a prayer for his continued recovery and went back inside.

Come dinnertime, my partner was in a mild panic because he hadn't taken the propane tanks to town to be refilled. We could use the barbecue grill or the backup gas stove, but not both. I opted to toss everything on the grill. My daughter worked on lighting candles; my main concern was that the scented ones (everyone seems to have a collection, gifted by various well-meaning friends) not be lit before dinner. I really didn't want vanilla and blackberry candle-smell permeating my grilled zucchini.

Meanwhile, just up the road, our neighbor - who lives off the grid, in a well-insulated cabin with solar power, a propane stove and wood heat - would never have known the power was out, if not for the fact that he was listening to the news on his battery-powered radio. He never worries about not having a hot shower, not being able to work on his computer, or not knowing how to cook on a woodstove. Calibrating the heat can be a challenge for some of us.

Even in broad daylight, I immediately knew when the juice was turned back on: an '80s video-game noise emitted from the StairMaster, the refrigerator hummed back to life, the microwave beeped, the office line started to ring almost immediately. I realized we wouldn't have a really valid excuse for another night off, complete with candlelit dinner and Scrabble game, and guiltily wished that the outage could have lasted just a little longer.

*- Cristina Bauss
Cristina Bauss reports for KMUD and*The Independent.

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