By Bob Spiwak
There were two power outages a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, they were planned, and we were alerted well ahead of time as to their time and duration by the electric utilities (Okanogan County Public Utility District and Okanogan County Electric Cooperative). This was helpful and considerate, for when outages occur suddenly, usually during a storm in midwinter, the locals refer to it as a power “outrage.” These can occur not only in winter but all year round. They are infrequent, but do happen.
We are well-prepared for the worst-case scenario, which usually has been on winter nights, with calendar-like clear skies, gentle breezes and stars brilliant in their firmaments. Oh yes, it’s also 20 below zero out in that wonderland.
Our primary preparation is having a wood-burning stove for our basic heating. At 10 below or more, it is requisite to turn on the baseboard electric units to obtain even a modicum of comfort. In that instance our down jackets, down comforters and the dog can keep us warm. (The current dog is not big enough for both of us, as was the 100-pound malamute we had long ago, so we share).
We have many flashlights at hand up and downstairs. So, the problem here is that even though the electric baseboard is a victim of the outage, the next challenge is obtaining light — ideally to read by, but also to navigate the stairs, the hot stove, dog toys, carpet edges and other mundane objects.
For this we have several headlamps. Have you ever tried reading a novel in a tent while camping? They work well for steering around obstacles. But wait, it is only 5 p.m., and we want to eat and read. That can be done with a pair of lanterns, but those are cumbersome to read by. Meals can be absorbed by Braille, although the ribs cooked earlier tend to be greasy enough to slide off the plate or worse, squirt out from the fingers.
Then there is the matter of personal hygiene. Extra drinking water is always here in bottles for drinking and hand-washing. We have jugs of water for flushing, but during a long absence of electricity the “no flush” doctrine may apply. We also have a sani-can on the property, but it is 100 yards away, and anyhow not the sort of object one wants to sit upon when it is below zero.
One year, when it was about 20 below, I used a neighbor’s outhouse that had a wooden seat. That was bad enough, and the thought of a plastic seat of necessity would chill the blood. And it did.
Still, we were prepared. Or we were until the evacuation alert came through during the fires earlier in the year. It was time to get our stuff together — clothing, blankets and comforters, camping stoves, gas, food, water, dog food and the myriad other disaster-oriented things one has to consider were hastily thrown inside the pickup truck canopy. And now, almost half-a-year since the un-needed evacuation, the stuff is still stuffed in the truck.
We could not find any lanterns, and the headlamps were balky and not pleasant to use for reading Ted Kopple’s book about cyber attacks. (It is a heavy book.) We were however, still in flashlight heaven and able to manage quite nicely.
I hope to get the necessities out of the truck before Christmas and redistribute them where they might belong. Meanwhile, if we have another outage we’ll have to resort to conversation– frequently non-versation — by candlelight as we munch on gravel dry trail- food bars. We are hesitant to open the refrigerator, not knowing when the crisis will be over.