The Calm Between Storms

I awake at six in the morning, and look out the window to see bright stars. Untainted by any streetlights, their glory shines. The lack of streetlights tells me that the power is still off. It cut out at three o’clock yesterday afternoon, no doubt by a tree down across the line somewhere. Until the weather calms enough for the electric company to send helicopters with linemen to find and fix the problem during daylight hours, we are effectively off the grid.

The Shack was shaking night before last, but it wasn’t too bad this time. Winds were out of the north, and from that direction my little corner of the world is fairly sheltered. When it’s a southeasterly, or a southwesterly, rain blasts sideways under the doors and windows and I sleep with the covers over my head, if I sleep at all.

My life doesn’t change too dramatically when the electricity goes off. I heat my house with wood, and have a winter’s supply stacked just outside. Cooking is no problem, since I have a propane stove and can even use the oven, neither of which have electric ignition or thermostat. My water supply and toilet still function, because Seldovia’s system works on gravity feed. I’m slightly concerned about my freezer, but with temps around 30 degrees outside, it should be alright for now. And I’m super grateful I defrosted my fridge last week, so I don’t have to worry about the ice from its little freezer melting all over the place and causing a big mess.

The only things I can’t do: use the internet or the computer, file eBird lists, take photos with my phone, or edit photos from my Canon camera.

For a few hours I’m disturbed by how much I want to do these impossible things, how often I want to check my phone. Facebook, Instagram, texting… it’s a compulsive habit, but also a lifeline. My creative outlet for a few years has been wildlife and nature photography. Sharing those photos and getting feedback is a way for me to overcome a sense of isolation, especially in these pandemic times. It makes me feel like I’m building a connection from my surroundings (blessed with nature and wild animals) to others who may not have those opportunities. In spite of the fact that I end up scrolling social media as a result sometimes, the way I interact with others through this format generally feels meaningful and good.

I also have several friends who are going through hard times right now. It’s frustrating to have offered  them my support, to tell them I’m free for them to call or chat “anytime,” but then to be incommunicado for technical reasons.

So, the power goes off at three on Saturday afternoon. I’m a bit twitchy for a couple of hours, detoxing, getting off the fidgety digital bandwidth. What can I still do without electricity? Chop kindling. Write letters. Go birding. Sweep the house. Play ukulele. Go for a hike. Sort through papers. Do the dishes. It’s all my normal stuff. By dark, six PM, I am starting to relax and accept that I cannot communicate with anyone, and settle in with a good book, a glowing fire in the woodstove, endless cups of tea, and a headlamp. I light a brand-new taper candle, handmade by my neighbors and given to me as a birthday present. I read for hours and hours and finally climb up the ladder to the loft, and go to sleep in my bed, undisturbed for once by the orange streetlight that’s usually right outside my window.

At six AM, it’s quiet, and still, and starry-bright. Changing the usual routine, I skip making coffee and building a fire, and instead get dressed and head out the door first thing. The Slough is glassy calm. Stars are reflected in the surface of the water. My eyes and ears attune to the natural light, and the natural quiet. No hum of electrical current through the lines, no pumps or transformers buzzing. I tread lightly along the boardwalk, noting a faint glow in a few of my neighbors’ houses: candles, oil lamps, firelight. I’m glad that they’re home, safe and warm in their houses. It’s comforting to know they’re there, and that we can depend on each other.

At the top of the hill, where Fred and Gerry used to live, a meteor shoots across the sky, a flaming fireball that makes me gasp in surprise. It’s magic, but eerie in its otherworldliness. Beautiful and strange, it illuminates a path over the empty houses which stand there in the darkness. A connection to those who have passed, and how although they are now untouchable, they are still with us. Always.

Heading home again, I stand on the Slough bridge for a long time, simply enjoying the quiet and the darkness. High tide is not too far off, but it’s a mild one and not a ripple of current disturbs the water’s surface. I hope for another meteor, to see it reflected in the sea’s face. The waxing crescent moon set around midnight, and won’t rise again until this afternoon. There’s not even a glimmer of sunrise in the sky yet, but I can see the snowy mountains looming in the distance. Not often do we get the chance to travel by starlight.

A Great Blue Heron squawks abruptly out of the darkness. I would have been alarmed if I wasn’t used to them, if I didn’t hear them almost every single night. It sounds like the dinosaur that it is, and flies by silently, its silhouette blotting out the stars. A heron-shaped negative space in motion.

Back at the Shack, I kindle a fire and light the candle. Grind coffee beans by hand. Write a note to my aunt, and put a stamp on the envelope. Every action, every little thing, is deliberate and calm, but also full of portent. The power comes back on at 10:45, and I make sure to plug in all the devices so they have a full charge next time the power goes off. But I’m not sure I care as much anymore. Another storm is headed our way tomorrow: more wind, ice, rain. I guess it will probably bring difficulties. I imagine it will bring gifts, too.

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