Life without Electricity - and Flush Toilets

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

It’s 8:30 at night and everything is dark and quiet.  The oil lamp gives off barely enough light to read, the fire is glowing dimly in the woodstove, the candle in the next room is flickering rapidly as it prepares to extinguish itself.  In the household of six , only three are awake – myself and two children. One child is cured by the fire, reading. The other is drawing in the dim light – creating his own worlds with paper and colored pencils. 

It’s our second night without power. The entire neighborhood is affected – a felled tree took out a power line, and the snow is too deep to allow a repair truck access.  Larger and larger equipment has been called into service – needed to dig out the smaller trucks that became wedged in the drifting snow. Hopefully sometime tomorrow we will rejoin the modern world and again have lights, refrigeration, electric stove and water.  And working toilets – let’s not forget the working toilets! (especially since two out of three children have experienced “intestinal issues” during out black-out period.

It’s so quiet. No television, no computer, no radio, no video games. Just the fire crackling, the dog snoring and the clock ticking. I like it. It’s so peaceful. There’s also a distinct change in the priorities of the “to-do” list.  Can’t work on the website, can’t contact businesses about advertising, can’t do laundry or vacuum.  Cooking is simplified – since it has to be done on the woodstove. (the scrambled eggs with sausage were delicious – but took over an hour to cook) It takes almost an hour to make coffee, then another hour to melt the snow & heat it to wash dishes.

I sorted through quite a few of our bookshelves today, arranging things in categories for easier retrieval. Found some great books in the process, and settled down to read.  In deference to the blizzard (and lack of electricity) I re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter”. Reading about seven months of blizzards with temperatures 40 degrees below zero and dwindling food supplies made me feel downright giddy with opulence. I also discovered a new book – “A Time Apart” by Diane Stanley.  A tween/teen coming of age novel – a young girl discovers her strengths when she is forced – by her mother’s illness – to join her father as he spends a year living in an Iron Age project.  The group is experiencing life long ago, and the unwilling girl discovers her strengths as she learns new skills. The research was impressive – and the details will capture your attention (especially if you read the book during a power failure!).

It’s almost 9pm – and I’m the last one awake. Soon I will bank the fire, extinguish the oil lamps and candles, and seek slumber.  The rhythms are different without television, email and Facebook.  And yet, while I did not interact with my online neighbors today – I did see my physical neighbors. We exchanged news, shared supplies and helped each other. Several people called asking if they could deliver us supplies (not sure how they planned on getting through the snow drifts – but it was a nice gesture!).

Tomorrow life should be getting back to normal. And while I’ll be very grateful for lights and flush toilets I must admit……I’ll miss this.  We don’t take enough quiet time – nor do we give our children enough time to breathe in silence – to create. Our kids have learned and performed two plays in the last 30 hours – complete with costumes and make-up.  Without the distraction of television, computers and video games our kids have found themselves – and each other.  I like it.

Eventually the enforced quiet will be lifted – but we’ve decided to enforce new rules  that limit electronics  drastically so that we may all re-connect with this peaceful community we’ve discovered in the snow – the community that doesn’t need constant stimulation or loud distractions.

But flush toilets would be nice.

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