Humbled Again, and Stronger For It
Author’s note and invitation: If this is your first time here, and you’re wondering about the blog’s name, let me point you to the inaugural post, November 8, 2017, “Checking In”. It explains the title, at least. I also encourage you to keep reading posts two and three, “What We Were Thinking” parts I & II. They’ll give you a broader and bit deeper context into this writing venture of mine, and hopefully answer some additional questions. No matter where you dive in, though, I’m grateful you’re here. Thanks for reading!
Ok, so maybe it was referring to meteorologists as “weather-guessers”, or expressing a desire to be present at the beginning of a predicted wind storm with estimates of 58mph gusts. Or, if you believe such things, the absence of inconvenience for so long that brought that black walnut down during last weekend’s epic wind storm, missing our bridge by inches, and the upper branches of what we thought was a perfectly healthy tree (always more going on below the surface, or in this case, beneath the bark) bouncing just enough on the power lines above to send a domino wobble to the drop line attached to the house. At 3:30a.m. on February 25, that drop line was ripped away, brackets and all, and the LED emergency lights in the kitchen flashed on and stayed, as they’re designed to do. I was downstairs at the time, so carefully raced upstairs to awaken Patrick, who was already reporting the outage to the electric co-op that minds our power (damn, his paramedic training serves him well, doesn’t it?). He had things well in hand, so I went back downstairs and pulled one of those LED lights from the outlet. I opened the front door, shining a dim light on the power lines that now dipped across the front lawn. Too dark to see the rest of the story, I was hopeful we’d see the bright lights of a power crew truck making its way down the driveway in time for me to call in only a little late to work.
I was all poetic last week, inviting you to go outside and wrap yourselves around a tree to feel the power of that wind, and while I make no apologies for that, I sense that I may have invited the contrast that left us without power or heat for nearly twelve hours, hunching beneath layers of clothing and blankets as we waited patiently for the crews to show up and make it all better. When dawn arrived, the scene near the front porch presented another dramatic twist: the power lines had landed on our trucks. And while we didn’t see or hear any crackling or sparks, neither of us felt like playing the curious “hero” who would later be eulogized as a mostly smart person who moved to the country nearly twenty years ago to live a different kind of life. Me and my big mouth (or hand, in this case, as my words were written for all to see, and refer back to, maybe).
We’ve gone without power here before. In January 2000, we traveled to visit friends in Mexico, entrusting the care of our home to a friend who had modest handyman skills. We arrived home to find water in the basement, as high at the top step, which meant our furnace had now seen better days. He swore he didn’t hear anything, but did confess to wondering where the water pressure went as he tried to do a load of laundry. We stayed with friends nearby for two weeks until both plumbing and furnace could we repaired and replaced, respectively.
Then there was the Great Ice Storm of 2004, which coated everything in a dazzling couple three inches of the stuff, snapping the roof of our old old goat barn as the pregnant does gave birth at both ends of the semi-collapsed structure. We made do in the house with a couple of kerosene heaters, atop which I’d put a pan of water and some oats, to feel like I could still cook. We had a wood burner at the time, and a futon in the living room, so closed off the adjoining downstairs rooms and pretended we were newlyweds on an extended cabin-in-the-woods honeymoon (except I’d just had ear surgery and was deaf on one side for about six weeks, and Patrick was working at the local hospital, bringing home once-warm food from their cafeteria in carryout containers. Not quite the romantic atmosphere of our first legitimate honeymoon, but we look back now with the same stars in our eyes, which is rather sweet). We spent Christmas Eve stoking the fire and trying to toast squares of mochi on the grill of the kerosene heater. I don’t recommend it.
THEN, there was the derecho of June 2012, and I was on my own for that one. Patrick was in South Dakota visiting with family while I stayed in Ohio, working and tending to the animals we had (chickens, or course, rabbits, and possibly some turkeys. I can’t remember). It was the week of our annual Kids’ Grief Camp at work, the last day, and after debriefing at a local restaurant with some beverages, I had stopped at the hardware store to buy a couple of live traps to catch whatever or whoever had taken out the whole of our laying flock the night before. Said traps now safely stowed in the back of my truck, I stopped to chat with our neighbor Sherry, with whom we share a driveway and love of chickens, about the tragic loss, and how hard it is to keep the girls safe sometimes. We noticed the gathering clouds above us, but there was nothing alarming about what we presumed would be a brief summer downpour. Still, we each had things to do, and so we wrapped up our musings and I continued down the gravel driveway. Not twenty minutes later, I was hunkered down in the bathtub with a thick towel over my head, clutching my flip cell phone in one hand as gale-force winds plastered leaves against the west side of the house and sideways rain hit the siding like a barrage of bullets. I got out of the tub to look out the living room windows just in time to see lightning strike the thorny honeylocust on the ridge, splitting it in two. Back to the bathtub I went, phone still clutched in my hand. Four days of 100+-degree temps later, the lights were back on, and our large upright freezer had never been so clean. Or so empty.
So. We’ve done this no-power thing before. Twelve hours without heat wasn’t going to bring us to despair, but…the sight of power lines holding our transportation hostage did elevate the drama, and the wind was still blowing as fiercely as ever, making a sort of jump rope game of things, slapping into the sides of the trucks and then landing just inches away on the ground. After a responsible second call to the power company to ask them what they thought (would it be ok if we tried to move one of the trucks if the line wasn’t actually touching it? Please??), Patrick took advantage of a line-on-the-ground moment and moved his truck all the way to a nearby farm supply store where he bought a new kerosene heater. Once that was up and running, the temperature in the living room climbed from 49 to 53 balmy degrees. I could take off the scarf I was wearing.
It all ended well, of course. The power crew arrived just before sunset, pulled the line back up into place, and set off to relieve the next poor unfortunate soul with perhaps less blankets than we had. I showered while Patrick make huevos rancheros and paprika roasted potatoes. The chef at the Ritz couldn’t have made me happier.
My thinking is not so magical to convince me that a careless moniker written to tease a chuckle from my readers was enough to rip a drop line from the house and put a new heat source in my living room. But the whole adventure, like the ones before it, did adjust my posture to a more humble one, and reminded me that my perspective dangles precariously at times between the hard rock of reality and the tender elastic roots of poetic interpretation. I willingly walk into the balance of those two, and pray I stand a bit straighter because of their lessons.
As I write this, we’re under a winter weather advisory until 1:00a.m. Monday morning. Hazardous road conditions, one to two inches of snow.
I’m not saying a word.