Thursday, 5 January 2017

A test of the system - and a lesson in vulnerability


Well it was a heck of a storm. Everything that could have fallen from the sky, did. Snow, in rather large amounts, alternating with freezing rain, rain and ice pellets. So it was not a surprise when from off in the distance, came the BUZZ/flash of transformers blowing. At first, brown-outs, but just after I went to bed down everything went.

It's remarkable how not dark it was. Not a bulb was lit anywhere for miles and miles, but it's as though snow stores light. It glows in the dark.

So next morning, Paul brought out the little camp stove (butane) and we managed to have coffee just fine. Midmorning, the power came back on, so we fixed breakfast and went to do our monthly big shop in Pembroke. It's a longish trip, so we didn't get back until around 2 p.m. Again, no power.

Well, shit.

What I should have done is stayed home and cooked while I had power. As it was, we had a decent enough meal of salad, pita bread, ham & cheese, but it bothered me that I really had nothing precooked in the freezer to speak of. I had lots of soup stock, which could have been added to create a meal, and done on the wood stove. But really, our wood stove is not designed to be a cooking stove; there isn't much room on the surface, and it's too hot to stand next to for any length of time, nor can we regulate the heat to any meaningful level. It's either hot or super hot. That means it's fine for reheating something prepared ahead of time, not so much for actual cooking. The little camp stove is handy, but it's smelly and the fuel goes quickly. For boiling a kettle or reheating something it's fine too, but again, not so great for actual cooking.

Thing is, I know this. I usually have a few days worth of meals ready for just such an occasion. I'm slipping!

Heat - The good news, of course, is that we were plenty warm. Paul keeps that stove rocking as a general rule. He lets it go out at night and we use the electric baseboard heaters to take the chill off in the morning, but we don't need them.

Water - More good news is that we didn't lose our water. This is one of the reasons we chose to be in the village rather than further out into the country proper - the town water system. This village is uniquely blessed with excellent water from an ancient deep aquifer and the system is gravity fed. There are back up generators for the purification system, too, so it was all systems go. I'll have to remember to thank the Mayor for that next time we see him. He took a lot of flak for insisting on this Cadillac system for our one horse town, but I always backed him. Water is the most important thing.

You know, city people and internet chatter tend toward the romantic about having one's own private well, as though water from a well is automatically assumed to be pure. That's just silly-talk. Wells are subject to the whimsy of whoever lives close to you, especially if the soil is at all porous and/or the well is shallow - and most wells are more shallow than is wise. Your neighbours' cattle + heavy rain can = disaster for a well. Your neighbours' soy field sprayed with who-knows-what, or their collection of broken down vehicles leaking fluids .. There are so many ways a well can be irreversibly fouled I can't list them all here. Relevant to our discussion of power failures, though, is that modern wells have electric pumps. No electricity? No water. Talk about vulnerability!

So yes, we did fine for heat and water and our fridges and deep freeze did fine, too - the power was back on by late the second evening, it was just shy of 24 hrs all told. Fridge freezers, if they're kept full and not opened, can last a couple of days, and a deep freeze a couple more days than that. Had it gone on any longer, we would have had to move frozen foods outside to the shed, which would have been fine as after the storm the temperatures have plunged to deep freeze levels. I don't feel great about our vulnerability there, if it's not cold enough outside to preserve our food we'd be in trouble, but I have long since decided it's a risk we have to take. I'm not great at canning. And if more of our frozen food was precooked, we'd be eating it ...

Candles - we didn't have very many and candles just don't last like they used to. Had it gone on any longer lack of light would have been an issue.

Radio - Paul's old-school cell phone is also a radio, so we had that. Hilariously, so as to not drain the battery, we sat close together and shared his earbuds. It was romantic! But it would have been more practical if we had a real radio so we could listen to the news. We inherited one of those portable CD/radios a while back, but it requires 8 batteries. That's ridiculous, we never bothered to get them.

Phone - Paul's cell phone isn't actually a phone any more (cell reception here is 'spotty' at best, so we don't bother having one) but we had the land line. We just have old school phones (2 of them, one of them an old black rotary!), that don't require electricity. We saw one of our neighbours, a newcomer from the city, outside trying to get a cell signal. She never did. In an emergency, that would have been a real problem for her.

Internet - Of course we had no internet but that's the least of our worries in a shit hits the fan scenario.

Transportation - Another of the advantages of the village was the roads were kept beautifully clear and sanded - the highways too. Paul was out there with the shovel over and over (and over!) again to clear the driveway, but at least we weren't trapped.** Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the plows couldn't keep up and it was chaos. Traffic snarled, folks in ditches, water & snow overwhelming the storm sewers.

** Famous last words. This morning, thanks to the drop in temperature after the storm we were trapped, the snowplow left a foot or so of slush at the end of the driveway that froze solid overnight. Teeth were gnashed, blood pressure rose and a polite but tense phone call made to town hall. "Sarah" on the front desk sent the plow back, the ice was (mostly) removed, all is (mostly) well. Advantage, once again, of living in a village.

It's evening now, and I'm cooking an extra large supper so leftovers will be frozen. I guess I just got into the habit of using my extra meals when I didn't feel like cooking, and I guess that's been more often than it should be. Tsk. Next shopping trip we'll stock up on candles, and I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for a battery operated radio that doesn't require 8 batteries. We did okay, but not great.

Just in case you were wondering just how much snow we have here (and you actually read this far, thankyou!):

One of our 'sitting spots', taken
late October

The same spot, taken a couple of days ago.
The chair is still there, can you spot it? 


  1. Intermittent fasting came to mind 😉. But I know you are no fan of that! We are bracing for the winter storm coming our way. You would laugh at the amount, 8-10 inches. They plow main streets but the neighborhood streets depend on the warmth of the sun (and the hope of no freezing temperatures).

    1. 8-10 inches is considerable, and when it lands in a place not used to it, it's not a laughing matter at all! Good luck!

      You're right, I'm not a big fan of fasting ..well under certain circumstances, sure, but not when I'm already a bit miserable. I'm a big believer in comfort food ;-)

  2. Look for a radio that is only a radio. Players (disc, tape, etc.) are what requires the extra batteries, but plain old radios take far less power.

    We've taken our own precautions, but around here the power is seldom an issue until we get freezing rain. Everything else is easy to handle because where we live really isn't an urban area, but more like a patchwork of little suburbs. Midwest City municipal government is tolerable by most standards. But what matters most you only hinted at: we are where God wants us to reside, so He's got us covered.

    1. Yes, we'll be scouring the thrift shops for 'just' a radio. We're lucky we still have radio stations (and several regional, small town stations at that). I see Norway is taking FM off the air entirely and going strictly digital.

      I agree, we are where God wants us to be.

  3. I had leftovers at work today, and thought about your post. As I was having small bites and every bite felt bigger and bigger in my mouth, I had to remind myself to be grateful, not waste left overs. Once food is frozen and reheated, taste and quality change. I dont care for the taste much after.
    Glad you made it through the storm. Isn't it beautiful to feel really isolated for a little while? All snow melted in the city. We have crispy crunchy cold air with clear sky every night.

    1. "Isn't it beautiful to feel really isolated for a little while?"

      Ha - you'd be surprised how difficult it is to answer that. We didn't feel isolated during the storm. There were so many of us in the same boat it made us feel part of something larger. In a village, you know your neighbour has your back, and we're there for them too if needed.

      But in a larger sense, we - meaning those of us who choose to live up here - feel just isolated enough all the time, and yes, it is beautiful. It's why we're here.

  4. We've gotten hammered this winter, too. More snow this year than in a long time. Had a good wind the other day, lots of people lost power, but not us, luckily. What always amazes me when the power is out is how quiet it is. We always have a fan going, a pump kicking on, TV, computers, whatever buzzing. So dead quiet with no power. Kind of cool, it's pretty rare to be in total silence anymore. Even out in the woods, you have water and wind, birds and cars in the distance.

  5. We had a camp for 6 years that had no power, we had a battery pack for boosting the car if we needed, small 12 volt tv,(one station if lucky) kerosene lamps and a wood stove. We were totally isolated most of the time we were there. It was so peaceful, we loved it; but we sure did like our hot showers and central heat and lights when we got back home. 24 hours is ok without power, still we were glad when it came back on. And we did see people that don't have wood stoves fleeing out of town to their relatives. We are where we need to be.

    1. Remember when we used to pack up the dirty dishes and bring them home to put in the dishwasher? Hahaha - at least we only did that when the weather was chilly. The kitchen at the camp was drafty!!

  6. All the time I wonder how the Native Americans lived on this vast plain in routinely below freezing weather and winds of 40 mph. Intrigues me.

    I'm glad you're back to cooking again. I'm glad mostly you had everything you needed. Well, I guess you did have everything you "needed" if I think about it right. But you know what I mean.

    1. Apparently those teepees and tents and pine lodges were toasty warm. Crowded and smoky compared to what we're used to, but with pine boughs and furs on the ground, snow up all around the teepee as insulation and a fire going at all times, much warmer than our houses are.

      Yes, I know what you mean. I'll be cooking up a storm for the next while. Learned my lesson.

    2. Never thought about using the snow for insulation. :-) But where would they get pine boughs where I live? They'd have to have used grass. One day, I will make it a point to research it.

    3. Don't forget, the First Nations peoples were migratory, following the herds. They might not even have been in your area at all in winter before they were rounded up onto the reservations. It sure would be a good homeschooling project to find out.