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  • Katie Calautti

On Persisting Through Power Outages

The day I moved into the cottage, the power went out for two hours. Fast-forward one year, and what I thought was an anomaly was actually an initiation.

Look, the universe plays fair. I may live in Actual Fairyland, but for a few days every month or so I don't have water or cell phone service or electricity. A wind storm or heavy rain will send trees crashing onto lines, and because we're so rural, we're all the way at the bottom of the power company's priority list.

In the Before Times, the ordeal of lost power was annoying but not terribly life-altering. I'd drive to a local coffee shop so I could work and gorge myself on carbs and caffeine for the duration. Rinse, repeat for a couple of days. But when Hurricane Isaias rolled through town on August 4, it made landfall in a post-COVID world, which completely upended mine.

On this particular day, the lights flickered all morning, and by noon the electricity was officially out. Once the storm passed, I drove around and surveyed the damage. On our street, a massive tree had pulled down multiple power lines.

Around the corner, five large trees and live lines were down along a two-mile stretch of road—one house just barely missed being hit.

The destruction was widespread, and I knew it was very, very bad. One day stretched into two, and when I still didn't see our street on the JCPL to-be-serviced map, I began to worry. I had deadlines and day job work that required internet service, I couldn't use any of my sinks, my shower, or my toilet, I lived by candlelight, charged devices in my car, and drove to the top of a hill to get phone service whenever I needed to check messages. All of this would've been much, much easier to bear if we had even a roughly-estimated end date. It was, in a hybrid word, crazy-making.

I scrambled to find a solution on day two. The coffee shops that'd once been my safe, artificially-lit harbors were all outdoor-only by state regulation, with WiFi that barely stretched beyond their front doors. I started day two by sitting on the sidewalk outside one spot for a few hours until it started to rain.

I drove past the library and kept right on going—it was at capacity with a waiting list for entrants thanks to area-wide blackouts. And then, a brilliant thought came to me: my local winery has a spacious covered outdoor area. Perhaps they had WiFi?

Behold: my office for days two and three! I had to buy a bottle of wine and raid their cheese fridge while I was there, of course. *wink*

Back at home, I rotated fresh bags of ice into the fridge and freezer so my perishables didn't spoil. Because my stove is electric, I couldn't cook, so my landlord (who has a gas range) left hot water by my kitchen door each morning before eventually hooking me up with a portable camping stove. Honestly, that part was pretty fun.

I learned my threshold for roughing it is four days. By then, I felt like I had really bad jet lag: fuzzy-brained, disoriented, overwhelmingly emotional. I'd been hitting up the local 24-hour gas station each night to buy jugs of water, one of which I dumped over myself in the shower to clean off before bed. I'd made a semi-successful attempt at washing dishes using two large bowls. I'd even filled empty water jugs in the creek so I could flush my toilet. I was...surprisingly resourceful but also so totally over it.

Suffice it to say, I had ample time to do a lot of long, hard thinking about the systems and priorities that govern my life. I thought of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who, three years after Hurricane Maria, are still sleeping under tarps and awaiting aid that may never arrive. (Donate to the Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS disaster relief and recovery program if you're able!) There's so much we take for granted!

Blessedly, late on day five, our power returned. I switched on all my lights and water taps while blasting a Spotify playlist and flushing my toilet, then I took a hot shower. But the lessons learned—and the PTSD every time a thunderstorm rolls through—remain. I'd like to think this latest ordeal made me a hardier person, but it's easy to contemplate such things while flush in warm lamplight and working WiFi.


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