Monday, December 15, 2008

So on Wednesday I went to lab, and on Thursday I went to the grocery store, and I made Largely White Stew* and bread and I had somewhat intended to make Holiday Fruitcake, rather than become... . ANYWAY. It was a chilly nasty drizzle evening and the radio warned of doom. I watched three issues of the Daily Show (loving the Internet) and just was considering going to bed when the power went off. It went on and off a couple more times (I know this because the lights connected to remotes (which are part of the ceiling fans) turned on and I got out of bed to turn them off.

But when I awoke Friday morning I had to listen to NPR on the handy bedside transistor radio and there was no tea to be had from the cold, dark, microwave. The radio said hundreds of thousands were without electricity. I was encouraged to learn that the boss of the state emergency management office was from Henniker, but they were saying it might be Tuesday before there was power again. They were having trouble reaching some of the areas because so many trees were down.

Since the lunatic who built my house provided it with an oil furnace, gas log-effect stoves at the rooms in each end (the Loom Room and the kitchenette), a woodstove, and various electric space heaters, I am not cold. During the day it is not dark, either. The woodstove is not made of wood, nor yet of iron, but is a snazzy soapstone which does not get hot enough to cook on.

When contractors have not inexplicably vanished from your life, leaving a gas stove with a working clock but no gas (and a completely paid-for but uninstalled set of half-bathroom fixtures in your guestroom), this is an inconvenience. As it is now, it meant withdrawal, so I stayed in bed as long as I could. The cats helped. Willow still hates Marten, who wishes she would play with him. I called my mom on the cell phone, I called Sarah (who has no power and no heat, either), and I was called by my daughter to whom I had texted poorly "No-power.No-tea.Very-sad]]". She wanted to make sure there was nothing sadder happening than the lack of tea (as if). I called Paul the plower and contractor who has been if erratic at least really faithful up to this kitchen renovation. He did not answer his phone. Then my phone, whose battery is nearing the end of its useful life, went dead, so I put in the car to recharge (the car will only do this is the key is in the ignition and turned one and a half clicks toward ignition). After awhile I drove down my driveway, which had limbs on it thicker than my thigh and a tree gracefully tilted across. I went back up the driveway. I knitted. I sulked. I listened to the radio. Every few minutes you could hear a crashing noise or ice sliding off a tree or the roof, or as I had all night, a sound like a gunshot followed by a crash – another tree learning that being deciduous is not enough. (Actually, a lot of it was white pine boughs. Very pretty with the icing.)

Then I put on serious clothes and went to move tree limbs. It was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit, with occasional sunlight and as beautiful as an ice storm can be, amazingly detailed frosting and lighting effects. I lopped smaller limbs off the larger limbs and parts of the skinnier trees overhanging the road (first having looked hard to make sure none of them were involved with powerlines). Most of the limbs went; the tree is still hanging there; even if you are not doing anything dumb you can still make your back unhappy about the whole logging thing. The surface of the driveway was a couple of inches deep in crushed ice and icicles that had already come off the trees. Covered in sweat and pine tar, I went to the hardware store to look at camping stoves.

The hardware store had a generator. It was full of people (and a Borzoi), all of them quite cheerful and buying out the battery section. Everyone was happy to talk about how dire it was and the roads that were impassable. I heard the words "winter wonderland" more than once. I scored a Sterno stove (cooler than most candles, but less sooty) and the last one-burner camping stove. They were out of small gas bottles, as was the grocery store, and the feed and grain was closed, so I drove to Bradford and observed the telephone poles broken off at the root. The hardware store there had a generator and small bottles of propane, and I bought two and went home. FINALLY, a cup of tea. And some stew.
At some point I washed the dishes in the sink and used up my remaining water pressure. I have buckets along the eavesline, now full of ice, so I brought in some to provide water to flush the toilets. It was very cold that night but my house was fine. The log effect stoves and the oil furnace were keeping me (and my water pipes) perfectly toasty, even though they have electric thermostats, so I was better off than most people.

On Saturday the power failures in New England led the NPR news. Out of 700,000 plus customers, more than 400,000 were out of juice, including a big piece of Manchester. I found I had left the cell phone in the car and my parents had called several times and assumed, since I wasn't answering, that I had fallen in the driveway and broken my hip. I reassured them and called a couple of other people and plugged the phone back in to the car charger. Around two I decided It would be a good idea to go into Concord and find a cybercafe. The car would not start. I assumed I had somehow drained the battery and I was not very happy.

While checking on the car to see if it might have changed its mind I saw the flock of turkeys wandering around the icy wastes. They made an almighty racket just as I was going inside, so I looked again and saw a bunch of them flying into the top of a tree. The fox was looking at them, but after a moment it gave up. It's still beautiful. My cats said no one but a fool would go outside anyway.

I called some people and Doug said he would come by the next day, which was fine, and I left an unkind remark on my still-vanished contractor's answering machine. He showed up just before dark and said his power had been out and he had not been able to charge his cell phone or receive calls. We examined my driveway I coasted the car down beyond the tree – Paul's truck couldn't get under it -- and we tried to jump the battery. The car went from having dashboard lights and making a clicking noise to a nasty crunching noise and complete darkness.

I retreated to my kitchenette. The Prairie Home Companion was broadcasting from New York. Bright lights, decadence. I finished a Noro scarf and worked on my father's socks and another scarf (Rowan Tapestry). I read Patrick O'Brien. I usually try to wait a year or two between rereading Aubrey and Maturin, but Majorca and tropical seas. Pretty nice.

It was still cold on Sunday. Doug appeared with a new battery and an interest in dancing with chainsaws, so I met him in the driveway (Marten walked me down but he said his feet were cold and he was NOT liking the chainsaw) and we switched out the old battery. It did no good. We did have fun taking the overhanging tree the rest of the way down, without breaking any bones or amputating anything or even getting frostbite. I called Triple A and asked for a tow to the Subaru dealer and Doug took me to Concord. All the ice has melted in Concord and except for a high river and a few big branches still waiting it looks like nothing has happened. Doug and Sarah C had lost power for a few hours Thursday night, but they had amazing facilities like hot water and microwaves and even television. It was very strange.

This morning, the Subaru people found that my car had blown a main fuse, way back in the wiring (we had looked at the easily accessible fuses) and although it was $90 on top of the $60+ extra towing fees it was much cheaper than a new starter motor or a new alternator, so I am back with wheels and sitting in a Panera drinking tea and electric current and wireless internet service. Although I feel like I am failing my Grownup class and I probably need to live somewhere that doesn't involve chainsaws, it's a lot better than yesterday. And it's 47 Fahrenheit, so there will be melting.

*Sauté an onion and oregano, possible thyme, possibly mint if you like mint, and some sliced potatoes until the onion is translucent or browner. Add one can rinsed white beans, one can hominy, and one can artichoke hearts. Add the juice from the artichokes and enough water to cover. Cook until the potatoes are done. If you like and have bacon, I imagine you might add bacon. Serve with or without cheese.


Norma said...

Oh, Laura. We escaped the worst of it, by a long shot. You got it right up the arse, it sounds like. I love that your spirit is still intact, as comes through in your writing.

We've got another storm predicted for tomorrow. Supposed to be a rather anemic storm, but as they DO, it's set to hit right during the commuting hour. Thankfully I'm off tomorrow. My most excellent fortune.

Love the Mostly White thing. Sounds delicious and comforting.

Laurie said...

Not so much fun despite the wonderland aspect. I lost one tree, kept the electric juice, and consider myself fortunate.

I might add that I loved reading your post. You should write a book...a series of these around New England weather or NE experiences, or something.

Alice said...

Glad to hear you're alive! I'll email you sometime soon about trying to track you down whilst I'm in New England.