The lamp in the corner flickered twice before returning to normal, and thirty seconds later the power was out. It was 1:30 in the afternoon on an overcast day, typical of winters in the Pacific Northwest. Preceding this event had been a mighty windstorm, and while I’d been outside wishing a friend a Merry Christmas, the gusts were shaking the row of firs that line the driveway. I’d mentioned to him that the winds up here could be fierce because we’d already lost a geometric spinner a few weeks ago, but we had one still hanging. He turned to admire it, mentioned that it was spinning very fast and just as he said the words, the thing flew off and crashed to the stone path several feet away. I bid our friend a hasty farewell and headed into the house.
I was about to prepare my lunch, but I thought I’d check the firewood just in case. There were enough logs on the porch and kindling, too, for about three evening fires. I pulled some together so I wouldn’t have to go back out in that wind, and then I heard a fierce noise. I looked up and the firs, which line the western border of our property, were standing perfectly still. You always see people on TV being interviewed after tornadoes, and they always agree, “It sounded like a freight train.” I’ve always tried to imagine what that sound must be like in regard to fierce wind, but I heard exactly that sound and I quickly looked to my left to see those mighty evergreens down below bending as if they were made of rubber. And seconds later that mighty wind had reached our firs and they swayed and bent with fury as branches flew from them. If not for the sound of the wind, one might suppose someone was using a weed-eater on the high branches. Four of them flew in my direction, spanning the distance in a second to land at or near my feet. I’d been locked in place up to this point, so I stopped watching and got inside, staying away from the windows.
I was eating lunch when I heard that now familiar sound of a tree falling in the woods. A few minutes later, the lamp flickered and then the power was out. We are served by a wonderful utility company, so I had no worries that they’d take care of everything once the wind stopped. Until then, I did what I could do without electricity. I switched my devices to airplane mode; just as well since there’s no Internet in these woods without the house’s wifi. Fortunately, I have a landline and one telephone that doesn’t require electricity, so I phoned Gary at work to let him know.
I don’t usually run the electric heat during the day because I don’t like a lot of heat to begin with, but I could feel the rooms getting colder. I knew I’d have to stay ahead of the cold or regret it later, but reconsidered starting a fire in such fierce winds. Then I realized the outside noise had subsided. When I looked out, the timberline was as still as a painting. The storm had passed, and the linemen would be able to begin.
There was concern about the water because the well requires electricity to pump. Our neighbor came over since we share the well, and he started the generator. It didn’t seem to make any difference in pressure and simply blocked the sounds of nature like someone were mowing the lawn.
At 3:00, the living room was warm, but with no sign of electricity and the grayish daylight fading, I went to the cabinet and pulled all the candles I could find. By 4:30, the house was bathed in beautiful natural light, and outside was completely dark. The shortest day of the year; the longest night. Solstice. The first day of winter when the ancients lived in fear that the light was gone forever, and so they celebrated its return in similar ceremonies across many cultures and beliefs.
There was a message here. No TV, no social media, no computer or phones. Just me, seated alone, by candlelight, near the fire on the longest night of the year. Not fearing there would never be light again, but thinking of ancient times, ancient peoples and their plaguing worries. Shivering and hungry, they must’ve felt abandoned.
As I had placed the candleholders in every room, I remembered each person who had given me one or a set of each. I wondered what they were doing at that moment, probably seated comfortably without worrying the food in their refrigerators would go bad. Perhaps they’d chosen to disconnect in order to enjoy this magical silence. Then there were those gifts from people who have died. I thought of each person and how much they had meant to me. Thinking of these people far away brought them closer and warmed the room even more.
I wasn’t worried the light wouldn’t return, but I considered it coming back too soon. It’s never soon enough when people want to watch their shows or even wash some clothes, but having been in power outages many times over the years, I’m familiar with that feeling of settling in to candlelight and stories around the fire when the lights come on as if to say the party’s over. Everyone scrambles and hastens back to modern existence and the mood is broken. I didn’t want this beautiful evening to end, and I got my wish.
I awoke before 5:00, and the longest night continued. I relit candles and brought in more firewood. There were enough glowing embers in the woodstove for it to catch quickly, and it was still warm to the touch. I placed a kettle on the surface to heat water for coffee. I had less than three more hours of the longest night, and I was satisfied as I made plans for 2016. Eventually, light came over the eastern ridge and I could see that the magic was ending. I could hear trucks in the distance and I got a call that the power company had sent a convoy of linemen.
Hours passed, but still no sign of electricity. An eerie fog, which hovered in the trees below appeared to be waiting like a banshee before rushing from the bottoms to engulf the house and block that glimmer of sunlight. What a beautiful moment to watch nature roll over me. It was almost 24 hours between hot meals, and though I remained contemplative, I hoped for power to be restored. Solstice night was beautiful, but there was no reason to let my frustration obscure its memory.
© 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.”
3 Replies to “The Longest Night”
Truly a harrowing account and told so vividly, I literally experienced it with you long after the longest night had passed. But, what was most striking to me was your own reactions — which profile a strongly resilient spirit and a richly appreciative soul. Blessed be…and Thank You for sharing.
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I can tell ya, your story was great and all but, I feel the strain of desperate times when I run out of Q-Tips and toilet paper.
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Loved it, very enjoyable and well written.
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