Gary experienced his first rural power outage within days of moving in. We’d heard tales of ice storms and wind gusts through the mountain passes, but we were months away from that sort of thing when the electricity cut off one Sunday evening. I was installing new drawer pulls at the time, and my only irritation was impending nightfall, which meant I might not finish before darkness completely set in.
Forest fires were raging in the other part of the state, and our air quality had suffered for a couple of days because the winds were coming from the east to push the smoke into our otherwise beautiful blue skies. We had no fires in our area, and I gave no thought to the outage other than the idea that something had gone wrong between the utility company’s grid and our house.
The previous owners had left some helpful phone numbers in the kitchen, and I remembered there was one for reporting power outages. I phoned it from my cell phone, as the landline had not been installed at that point. The recording asked for the phone number associated with the account, but I couldn’t remember and hung up. I had one of those moments where surely someone else had reported the outage so I wouldn’t bother.
At this point, I heard a siren down below, and then a second one. Our neighbor phoned to say she was going to the store for some fuel because we’d need it for the generator in the well house. We share the well with them, and if there’s no electricity, there’s no water. When she returned, she’d found out at the store that someone had hit a pole, sparks had flown and there was now a fire burning between our houses and the other main road. Her children were packing to leave, Gary was searching for a flashlight and I continued changing those knobs while silently pondering a plan and what I’d need to gather if a south-easterly wind kicked up and sent the fire across the blueberry fields and into our private forest.
To take our minds off it, we got a lesson from her husband on starting the well-house generator. Unfortunately, no one had tested it all summer, so it didn’t work. It wasn’t quite the way we’d expected to spend a Sunday evening, but we bounced back and forth from their house and ours. We shared stories by candlelight and learned more about each other while waiting to find out if we’d have to evacuate.
Our last report indicated that houses next to the fire were not being told to leave, so our minds returned to the power outage. Gary worried that the refrigerated food would spoil, but I assured him that the milk would be fine. I’d read about the local utility company before we moved, and I had every confidence that they’d have us up and running as early as possible. Phone batteries were dying, and we had to get up early the next morning. There were obvious concerns that an alarm would fail to sound, but what can you do?
Our neighbor drove down and found out that the fire had been extinguished, and there was no longer any reason for concern. Since it’s incredibly dark around the properties when the electricity is running, you can imagine the absence of light with nothing but a quarter of moon for illumination.
The following morning, I received a call on my cell phone from the utility company (that was the number registered with the account after all!), stating that we’d been one of 25 houses without power the previous evening after “an incident with a transformer.” They were very polite by not placing blame on what we all thought was the culprit: a drunken joy-rider on his way home from a weekend at the lake.
As temperatures drop and the season of bad weather looms, our thoughts have turned to generators and how to maintain them. This is secondary only to the purchase of a couple of chainsaws. These are completely different discussion topics from a year ago.
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”