It’s been four days since an ice storm hit New Hampshire and what a crazy ride it’s been. President Bush even declared a state of emergency here in the Granite State. Trees and power lines are down, roads are blocked and electricity has been cut off. Many people still don’t have power. PSNH, our electric company, says that this storm has created the worst damage they’ve ever had to deal with in the history of the company.
Day One: It’s Thursday. My husband and I left home at 2:00 in the afternoon for his appointment to receive laser eye surgery to control bleeding in his eye (he’s had diabetes since he was 14). We were blissfully unaware (at least I was) that a storm was approaching. On our way home, the roads seemed fine to me, probably because I drive like a turtle…until we reached the last road to our house, that is. It’s pretty much uphill all the way and every time I accelerated, the car slid on the pretty sheet of ice coating the black surface of our road. Even though I’m from Minnesota, I’m not a good winter driver (I never got to use the car much). When I was in graduate school, after an ice storm, I stepped on the brakes for a stop sign and ended up turning the car completely around (hmmm…maybe that’s why I didn’t get to use the car much). Fortunately, my husband knew what to do, calmly telling me shift into a lower gear before we died a horrible death. That helped a lot.
Happily, gratefully, we made it home in one piece. We discovered that school had let out early and that my middle child’s holiday concert had been canceled. No sarcastic comment from me about being glad about the cancellation - I was really looking forward to it. Really! But then, I have no life. Having nowhere to go, we settled in for a warm, safe evening.
It’s now midnight and the sound of my 4-year-old son crashing through the baby gate (lodged firmly in our bedroom doorway to keep our puppy from destroying the rest of our house) wakes us. My husband, dragged from his usual coma-like sleep, leaped out of bed and immediately went into commando mode, fists up, feet a-shifting back and forth, ready to take someone out. Luckily I had figured out what had happened and hissed at him to knock it off before he hurt himself. He eventually settled down and we soon determined, from the lack of a clock light, that the electricity had gone out. The absence of sound had awakened our little one, sending him hurtling down the stairs in the dark. Smart. I calmly explained to him what had happened and told him to go back to bed, so he climbed into ours. That’s not what I had in mind, but I tried to make the best of it (we only have a double bed). After about a half hour of getting squished he decided he’d had enough. I carried him back to his bed and he went right to sleep.
Morning dawned. It was dark and still sleeting out. Everything was coated in a silvery layer of ice. Our deck, the grass, the trees. Branches were drooping as though drained of life. Limbs were breaking. We climbed out of bed to a frigid bedroom. We quickly dressed like nobody’s business and fired up the wood stove. We closed off as much of the house as we could to keep at least one area warm. When that was done, my hubby and I headed outside to start cleaning up the slush/ice. It took a while because the ice is pretty thick and hard, plus it was still sleeting/raining out. We knew it was going to get cold later, however, and we can’t afford to let the driveway freeze. It’s on a hill and my minivan would never make it - not going out, which is downhill, nor coming back in, which is uphill with a drop-off on the other side. If you accelerate and then don’t slow down in time, you’ll shoot off the other side like the Dukes of Hazard. Daisy, I am not.
As we worked, the ominous sounds of snapping limbs and jarring crashes caught at our attention, reminding us of the power of ice and to stay out of the woods. Once in a while, a car drove by, some speeding as though the driver was needed in surgery, others crawled along, knuckles white. Otherwise, it was quiet. Later, when we did a tour of the yard, we found huge broken limbs scattered about, several landing on our woodpile, of course, and one big tree down, ripping out the roots as it toppled. No major damage, though, and we were thankful.
The cold front arrived that afternoon. Temperatures plummeted. We got a phone call - we happen to have a phone that works without electricity (having learned our lesson when I was pregnant and our electricity went out and it was a blizzard and I wasn’t all that far from my due date, and we had no phone). It was the guy who’s fixing our car door (Thursday morning my husband backed out of our garage while the car door was still open - our 6-year-old neglected to close it, after which it would neither open nor close). He had fixed it - lovely man - so that we could now open and close the door, but probably shouldn’t. More importantly, we could now open the front door, too (that’s the door I use - I am not crawling through the window. Remember? Not a Duke?). We decided to leave it as is - a much cheaper way to go, plus it didn’t look too bad. My husband calls the remaining dents his Persian Flaw. We just bought the car in August, of course, brand new and shiny, a rarity for us. So much for having one thing that our children haven’t ruined.
Anyway, as I was driving to go pick up the car, I encountered a downed power line and a snapped pole. The tracks of previous cars showed that they just blithely drove under the sagging line, though barely, so I thought I could, too. I made it, just barely, but farther down the road I spotted an orange diamond-shaped sign that said Road Closed. I read it in the rear view mirror as we continued merrily on our way. Hmmm…how interesting, I think. Now how are we going to get back home? The electric company had been starting work on the pole as we were passing it, so it looked like we would have to find an alternative way home. That was quite an adventure in itself, finding a way that wasn’t blocked by wires or trees, and in a new neighborhood. But we found a way, only because the weekend before I took my oldest to a birthday party. Strangely, at the time he wasn’t up to going and I didn’t particularly want to take him, but we had committed to it, so he had no choice. Our family keeps our commitments. He ended up having a really good time, I learned about some new back roads, and our conscientiousness later paid off. Good karma is a lovely thing.
We have a gas range so I made dinner quite easily that night. The ice cream was starting to melt, though, so I put it on the porch, resisting the temptation to eat it all right then (I was going into survival mode). It was 3 degrees outside. My hubby and I later dragged our mattress into the living room to sleep. It was very warm in there and, you’re going to want to kill me here, actually got too warm. Thankfully, we survived the heat and awoke to the dog dragging our quilt off the bed because she was trying to kill it. The fire was out and it was only 60 degrees in the room. Day Two had begun.
The ice on the trees was so beautiful, the smell of wood smoke in the air tantalizing, the lack of power freeing us up to do other things. This was all well and good, but my hair does not handle not being washed on a daily basis. It looked greasy and lank and strange ratty bunches were starting to form at the nape of my neck. My 4-year-old kept insisting that we’d lost our electricity because we’d been wasting it (I told him that was something that might happen in the future, but not today). My back hurt from shoveling ice and hauling wood, I wanted water in a bad way, and I missed my writing. Being a modern woman, I do my work on a computer. Jane Austen, I am not.
Still, we managed to enjoy the morning…until my husband went out for water and returned with the news that the earliest we’d get power was Wednesday (it wasSaturday). I **apped my pants. Okay, I didn’t, but it was disappointing news to hear, to say the least. I was starting to understand Jack Torrance in The Shining. Despite my growing demented state, I settled in for the long haul. I’m nothing, if not a survivor. I also sharpened my ax.
At supper we roasted hotdogs over the fire, followed by marshmallows. Later, while washing the dishes in an inch of water that I’d boiled on the wood stove, I noticed the flashing orange lights of an electric truck on the road. I’d seen a couple trucks stop at that same spot before and nothing had come of it, but this time I kept my eyes on that truck. I sensed electricity in the air. Time passed, nothing happened. I spotted the dark outline of our neighbor going down to talk to them - maybe to threaten them. Then a miracle occurred. The electricity came back on! We had lights, heat, and a return to civilization! We zipped out onto the deck and hooted and hollered and shouted, "thank you!" I hope they didn’t think they’d electrocuted us.
We were very lucky to get our power back so soon and still hope to share our good fortune. I’ve offered friends the use of our shower and hope they don’t have to take us up on the offer because that means they got their power back, too. Though I’ll be glad to help them if they need it. Our freezer is open, too, if anybody has food that requires it. Problem is, it’s hard to call anybody and check on them. We can call out on our phone, but those in need can’t get the call unless their cell phones have service (which doesn’t always happen when you’re at home in this wooded area of NH). Of course, we lost power again today, so that didn’t help matters, but we got it back again a little over an hour later. I think they were fixing other lines. I hope that’s all it was. It’s very windy today and wind does not bode well for power lines.
So, I admit that I didn’t actually lose my mind. Our family survived quite well. I discovered that I can make do without the amenities of hot water, computers, TV, and maybe even flourish. I discovered that I’m addicted to writing, but could make do with taking notes for new book ideas. I discovered that the old kerosene lamp I bought at a yard sale works really well. I discovered that the little stream running near the house provides good water for flushing the toilets. I discovered why people in the old days went to bed so dang early.
Power has been restored to our home and my mind has been restored to its former lucidity. But you know what? I wouldn’t mind losing it again, just not for a while. I have some writing to catch up on, and a hotel to run…