Saturday, January 12, 2008

Notes from a week without Electricity

Jan 1st, 2008

We spent the holidays up in Oregon, where we had a really nice Christmas with family, but the weather was damp and miserable. However, now we're back in California and the weather is just lovely. I've always loved the golden light here in the winter. Yesterday we went to Bodega Bay to get some crab, and while there watched a spectacular last sunset of the year.




Then we ate our crabs, covered in melted butter, and toasted the new year around a bonfire with some good friends.

Thursday, Jan 3rd: The Storm

I read on the news that a big storm was headed towards California. So I went into town and bought instant coffee (in case a lack of power rendered the coffee grinder useless), an LED flashlight and some candles. It started raining buckets in the afternoon, like a waterfall out of the sky.

We went to bed. In the middle of the night I was woken by a lot of noise. It sounded like blasts of wind hitting the trees and we were being pelted by debris. Massive redwoods and douglas firs tower over us and all I could imagine was that we were about to be crushed by a falling branch. We'd had a tree climber over in the summer to remove the most ominous limbs, but was it enough? I hid under the covers and tried to go back to sleep. Impossible! The noise got louder and louder, each gust more violent than the last. Jeff, who normally sleeps very lightly (whereas I am almost impossible to wake) didn't seem to notice.

This went on for a bit. I kept jumping out of bed everytime something large-sounding hit the roof. The storm was blowing from the south, and as our bedroom is on the south side of the house, it was first in line to be pelted by whatever gets blown at it. I gave up on sleeping, got dressed and went into the living room to look online at the radar map. It was louder in here because the cathedral ceiling acts like a huge drum, amplifying every sound. Just as I was looking at the animation of the storm rotating over us, there was a distant thud that sounded like an explosion, and the power went out.

The wind was now an almost continuous roar. Jeff woke up and came into the living room too and we cowered as the tempest continued around us. There was another violent blast of wind, followed by a thud that shook the house accompanied by the sound of breaking glass. Tentatively, we shone our flashlights in the direction of the sound and saw that the deck next to our bedroom was speared by a tree limb, which then snapped in half and smashed through the paned glass of the french doors. Jeff hastily patched the window with cardboard and duct tape. We noticed that water was running out of the ceiling, from between the wood panels. It being too dark to go out and look, we put a bucket underneath. It seemed too dangerous to be in the bedroom, so we dragged the bedding over to the sitting room in the north side of the house, and camped out there until dawn. Looking up out the windows as I lay there, I could just make out the silhouettes of the trees against the sky. They are over 200 feet high and some of them are a few feet in diameter, and yet they swayed back and forth like they were made of flexible licorice.

Friday, Day 1

After a few hours of fitful sleep, dawn finally arrived. The storm was still going strong with waterfall-like rain and hurricane-force winds, but at least it was light and we could see what was happening. Looking outside, all around us the ground was covered in tree branches and pine cones. Some of the branches were pretty large. Jeff put on his rain gear and climbed onto the roof, luckily it hasn't been pierced, just some damaged tiles that let water in. As for the deck and glass door, we planned on replacing them anyway. Around noon, the wind died down but the rain continued.

Being without electricity doesn't feel so bad at first. We've got a light that runs off a power tool battery. However, we immediately discovered the downside of VoIP phone service...you need juice to run to the cable modem and without juice, no phone. We've got a portable battery though, so we can run the internet and phone for a couple of hours. I went online and read that over 2 million households got their power knocked out. Luckily we have a woodstove for heat and our vintage wedgewood stove runs on propane, so we can boil water and cook. We camped out in the living room next to the woodstove and played scrabble. Being a naive city person, I naturally assumed that the power would be on in the morning.



Saturday, Day 2

No power. The kitchen was 50 degrees but instant coffee felt festive and making toast under the broiler heated the kitchen up. We wanted to know what is going on out there though and the portable battery needed juice. So we decided to drive around to charge it up, and meanwhile see if we could find an internet cafe. The town was in the dark but the health food store had a generator going, so we stopped by, had a chat and bought some milk. We continued on to Sebastopol. The entire downtown was in the dark, but on the far side of town they seemed to have electricity. We found a cafe with power and wifi, so we could download our email. It's an outdoor cafe, so we only lasted 15 minutes under the awnings before giving up. I called PG&E to see how long the power would be out. When I finally reached a human, she couldn't pronounce the name of our county, read us a statement I previously read on their website about the severity of the storm and couldn't tell us when power would be restored. Maybe Monday? I guess they must be getting a lot of calls. Oh well, back at home in the dark, we lit the candles and started eating through the 3 pounds of wild alaskan salmon defrosting in the freezer.



Sunday, Day 3

Ok. The charm started wear off today. It is really cold inside. We stayed in bed as long as possible to stay warm. The rain gave us a little break in the afternoon, so we went for a walk to see how our neighbours were coping. Down the hill from us, some people didn't fare so well. A rotted douglas fir fell across three houses at the height of the storm:



Luckily no one was hurt, but there was a dramatic rescue of a woman and her daughter who were trapped in one of the houses and all the residents are being put up by the Red Cross. I am glad we did all that tree work over the summer. We found that most people still in town have generators and the rest have fled to stay with family and friends. One neighbour recounted how the last power outage lasted 12 days. That sounded ridiculous given that we're 60 miles from San Francisco, which means something to me for some reason. It's not like we're in Alaska, or somewhere remote. I spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning up storm debris. Then we had more salmon for dinner and polished off an entire bottle of wine.

Monday, Day 4

I'd really like a shower, but instead...boiled water and a quick sponge bath in front of the oven to stay warm. It got colder overnight and the thermometer in the kitchen said 45 degrees this morning. The portable battery was out of juice again, so we drove to Santa Rosa and spent the day bouncing from one warm internet cafe to another. I did some business on the phone while sitting in a parking lot. Then I called PG&E again and they told us the power would be restored by 9pm! I am full of optimism. Both Jeff and I are feeling anxious about the amount of work we have and we need power, heat and privacy to do it. Back at home, our wood seemed to have gotten wet and it took a long time to get the fire going. I don't bother taking my hat and coat off anymore. More salmon for dinner.

Tuesday, Day 5

I'm feeling a bit numb, both from cold and from disbelief. Today's call to PG&E told us they don't know when the power will be restored and they couldn't give us any specific information. At the post office, where the clerk was in a parka and working by flashlight, people swapped stories about the countless blackouts they've been through. They talk about this as though it's just a normal thing that happens every year, as inevitable as winter itself. All kinds of apocalyptic scenarios start to go through my mind. If the power goes out every year, I dread to think what would happen in a major disaster..like an earthquake. We're starting to understand that we now live in an every-man-for-himself world. Maybe we always did, even in the city, but we just never had to find out. Jeff uses his hour of internet to research generators. You can bet we'll be prepared to ride out the next storm!

More delicious salmon for dinner. At least we're eating well!


Wednesday, Day 6

We tried to work at the Sebastopol public library, but in addition to being built in the 70's and seriously lacking in power outlets, it was far more crowded, chaotic and loud than any cafe, although I admit that I might just have been in a foul mood. We go home. At sunset, incredibly, the lights flickered on! They were strangely dim and pulsing and no appliances would work. Jeff's voltage meter showed that we were getting 88volts, so to be safe we didn't plug in any computers. We did however, turn on the stereo and crank up Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi's four seasons. Rawk! An hour later, the power went out again, but our hearts were warmed and we feel optimistic again.

Thursday, Day 7

At 8:00am, I heard the phone beep on!! OMG! Electricity!! I leapt out of bed, turned on every available heater, made toast in the toaster and promptly blew a fuse. Then, I got fully undressed for the first time in many days, and took the best shower of my life...and an hour later, had another one. I heated up the studio, and the poor cello, and got back to work this afternoon!

Happy New Year everyone. May you have heat, light and ample electricity.

illuminatedly, Zoe

2 Comments:

Blogger PLoan said...

What an amazing story. You are really good at putting a visual down to text. Great to hear that you survived! Love your music too BTW!

Blogger JaliceJally said...

That sounds publishable.
Not to mention annoying to live through (to say the least).

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