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The Night the Lights Went Out



I grew up in a home off the grid. We moved there when I was a kid, starting with no electricity at all and using kerosene lamps for light. We built on that continually, and, long before I went off to college, we had set up solar power and hydro power. And if needed, we had a generator. It wasn't smooth sailing all the time but it was all under our control. With the three sources of power, we almost always had some and at no time did it feel cozier than when heavy storms would knock out the power in town while we sat around in warmth and light watching movies on our big color TV, which was small and heavy for these days and even had a tube.

When I grew up, I moved to the big city to attend Humboldt State University. Ever since then I've been a slave to the power grid. Now when the power goes out, I huddle in the darkness with everyone else. And I think of my folks and friends out there off the grid watching movies, using the microwave, editing photos ... while I sit in the dark of a blackout and remember when we held the power in our own hands.

Those were the days.

And these are the new days, when power outages might be planned events, although the few hours' notice I received didn't allow for much planning. Nevertheless, the scheduled outage created a buzz of anticipation and even excitement for many. The power went out too late the first night of the outage and I slept through it, but on the second night my son and I did venture into the darkened cityscape of Arcata to find not a sleeping city, but a world alive.

It felt like a festival in Arcata. People seemed animated. Where there might have been roving miscreants taking advantage of the outage to break things, there were instead people socializing and enjoying a strange evening where the city was dark and the waxing moon held the night at bay as the dominant light source in the sky.

We walked for about an hour taking photographs. Not often does one have a chance to enjoy a city in the moonlight beneath the stars. City lights ordinarily turn the night sky black, eliminating all but the brightest stars and reducing the moon to an ornament. But that night the moon cast its magic upon both nature's landscape and the concrete jungles of humanity alike. It gave the city an unusual look. I will let the photographs tell the rest of the visual story.

Meanwhile, folks off the grid went about their lives as normal, some missing the event entirely. My dad didn't realize the power was out until he stopped in Garberville to get coffee at Flavors and it was closed. For him it boiled down to having no coffee to go. Oh, the humanity.

Read more North Coast Night Lights weekly at keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx. He prefers he/him pronouns.

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