Lights out

About 9 o’clock last night the world went dark. Click. Total darkness except for the blue, tubercular glow of my notebook. The house went silent. No furnace, no television, no radio, no refrigerator — all the little motors and fans that fill a house with background noise went dead. A blackout — most likely some unfortunate soul drove into a utility pole — the kind that can last an hour or eight hours.
Outside, complete darkness. Street lights, neighborhood windows — all black.

So I threw some more logs in the woodstove, found my flashlight, lit a few candles and went outside to see how far down Main Street the darkness extended. The center of the village was lit up, so the power was out on the northern half of town.

Back inside, by the light of the candles and wood stove I mused about life in the same house 150 years ago, before electricity, when one room in the house was designated the “warming room” where people would dress and seek refuge from the winter. The rest of the place was basically unheated, so I imagine people slept in frigid rooms under a lot of blankets, used the chamber pots that are still in some of the rooms to spare themselves a trip to outhouse, and had a pretty miserable existence.

In the silence of the living room, huddled around the fire and wondering how long it would be before power was restored, I thought of opening a book and reading by candlelight, but the candles seemed too dim to make a difference.
So we sat, around the fire, in the silence, waiting for the lights to come back on. I began to think about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I finished two weeks ago and which still has a sad affect on me, with its post-apocalypse view of a dead world, a world without lights, a horrible tale of survival, and wondered what if the lights never came back?

Across the street, in the other half of the former Chatfield Compound, Cousin Pete had fired up his Honda Generator and was thumbing his nose at the darkness, filling the silence with internal combustion, and I wondered, what happens when the gas is gone? What do you do when it is 15 degrees and February and the gas runs out? Where will the warm room be?

Then, click, the house lit up again, filled with the sound of boilers and fans, radios and televisions, and we all said “Yay” and that was that.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Lights out”

  1. David,

    Very poetic. You touched on a reality that people briefly wake to, and quickly go back to their technologically induced awareness coma. The truth is there is almost no way back for all of us, some maybe, but not all of us.

    What do I mean? I mean that through technology, we have dramatically increased the ammount of human life that can be sustained per acre of land accross the globe. Take away that technology, and it will get ugly fast.

    Quick, ask anybody where food comes from. The grocery store. Nope. Local restaurants. Nope. Somewhere you have to grow it, raise it, harvest, or kill it, then process and package it before it’s food to be eaten. We have transformed from an agrarian society to a technologically dependant one. Show of hands, how many people live on enough land that they could grow enough food – heck even corn, potatoes, green beans – just staples to feed themselves? For most around here, that $350K house on a 1/4 acre in a subdivision doesn’t leave much of a font lawn and surely no space for a garden.

    If the lights went out, and the gas were gone the groceries would be looted clean within a week. And then?

  2. There was a great bit on the History Channel last week about how to make buckskin the old fashion way – soak the hide, scrape all the fur and fat off, dry it for about 6 months, then boil it in a stew of brains.

    The pay off comes near the end. The host is finishing the grueling process and makes the off hand reference: “at some point in our past, this was a skill all of our ancestors had mastered.”

    Without electrical power we’re all basically hopeless…too many skills forgotten in the passing of a few generations…

  3. Back when I was a kid, in Bariloche there was no supply of natural gas and Electricity was not a choice to heat up a house (we only used Quartz heaters on the bathroom when it was way too cold), thus fireplaces where the only way to heat the house (we had 3 plus the wood heated oven). Every now and then (quite often, actually) electricity would go off, for hours (particularly on winter when snow would kill power lines), and we were gone back to the XIX century.

    Funny enough I long for those days. Maybe it is because I was a kid, and have a romantic view of it all (although I hated getting the logs into the house at the time).

    Now every time I go back to Bariloche I feel some oppression in my heart for seeing the forests around my house turning into houses and roads… I guess ou can’t stop progress.

  4. >Show of hands, how many people live on enough land that they could grow enough food – heck even corn, potatoes, green beans – just staples to feed themselves?
    >

    Raises hand. BTDT

  5. David,
    AS someone who has lived througfh five big quakes and gone through days without power, i’ve take a serious interest in home made wind turbine generators. I live on a mountaingtop that consistently gets 5 knots of wind across the summit, SO my next project is aSiverski Rotor connected to a 90 amp alternator going into a charging circukit eith four deep discharge marine batteries. I can do the whole project for about $350 bucks and get enough juice to run my basic home circuit — including TV and portables and have extra batteries for the boat.

    For a good doomsday read i suggest “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Jerry Pournelle and larry Niven. It’s a great read and suggests that the book “The Way Things Work” is a civilization rebuilding guide.

    Here in Vegas, going fireworks shoppin in the A.M

    Best
    jim

  6. In the backwoods town of Norton VT in the waning hippie movement years of 1970 – 1972, there lived Earth Peoples Park (EPP), a commune like gathering of givers and takers who tried to carve out an existence such as you describe. Eventually the takers wore out the givers who fled leaving the rabble to be evicted by the state police. But for a short brief time, gardens grew, hides were tanned, hunters and gatherers shared bounty in a scattered but communal homestead without electricity or running water. America’s first commune, Plymouth Plantation actually fared better but the experiences of EPP and others show how quickly we would succumb to anarchy without our accustomed comforts and rule of law.

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