Friday, June 23, 2006

Powering Down

A peaceful summer day, free from work and from most chores –- sounds idyllic! But when this "day off" results from a violent storm, fallen trees and limbs, and the ensuing power outage to a large portion of the city, it becomes a disconcerting step out of time.

On the way to work

Gingko near work

We have become so dependent on electricity in our society that such a power outage makes us wonder, "What do we do now?" Some people, desperate to entertain their children or even themselves, may pack up the family and head to a hotel with cable television –- or, in the case of one of my neighbors, find a generator because "we gotta have the Playstation!"

Thanks to the mild weather (60s and 70s today, unlike the 20s and 30s of the last multi-day outage I experienced), I am both astonished and pleased with how easily I have fared. Luckily, my fridge and freezer were not full, so I've been able to clean out what can be eaten without cooking, and I'll have very little to throw into the compost if the power doesn’t return soon. The asparagus from last week's farmers' market won't make it, but I polished off the broccoli today by making pizza wraps with tortillas, pizza sauce, and the last of the goat cheese.

Occasions like this naturally call to mind the fact that our forebears –- sometimes our parents, but mostly our grandparents and beyond –- lived very full lives without electricity, refrigeration as we know it, central air and heat, computers, and so many of the conveniences we take for granted. Their way of life wasn't necessarily a piece of cake: who wants to stoke a wood stove or break the ice on their wash basin on a cold morning, or keep a wood stove going on a hot day in order to cook or even to heat water for washing dishes or clothes? But they held onto a self-sufficiency that kept them independent of remote power resources and "time-saving modern conveniences," and while they worked hard and sometimes suffered, they enjoyed a certain freedom that we rarely even know we’re missing.

I find that even with my efforts over the past two years to live more simply and mindfully, I'm torn now between restlessness and wanting to slow down and savor the experience. Happy not to have to work today (can’t work in a big building with no computers and only emergency lighting), I still worked through the few chores I could do and felt the need to walk out on errands (some stores were open). And after a long nap to catch up on some much-needed sleep, I buzzed around aimlessly, trying to clean up piles and start new projects.

Over 24 hours without power have passed, with no indication as to when it will be restored, and I discover that I'm still slowly unfurling, letting go of those "needs" from my usual life in order to inhabit the moment. The rain from earlier today has cleared, and amidst the vibrant birdsong in the (thankfully!) still-standing trees, I hear the drone of an ultralight craft flying over the city, along with the whine of power saws making small piles of fallen branches and tree limbs. I can enjoy a glass of still-cool wine and a refreshing breeze while I wait for the fireflies to come out. I can have a guilt-free early night to get some more rest before I head to the farmers’ market tomorrow. I can do very well without electricity, at least for a few days.

But if I still don't have it tomorrow, I'll be eating a lot of salad this weekend!


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