The storm was nothing unusual. We had a strong steady 25 mph East wind, typical of these winter cyclones off shore, with wet snow which alternated to frozen water and sometimes drizzle. The house and my radio antenna were coated with ice, maybe an inch thick, and that usually does not bode well for my electric, but as of 8 pm all had been fine and the temp was a balmy 34. The wind slightly less? I judged from the sound. But the air was prickly with a shower of ice crystals off the ocean, with their smell of algae and fish, their texture of salt.
I woke at 9.30 after maybe an hour asleep, with that 6th sense the electric was down. Opening my eyes, yeh, no electric. My clock was off, and the little red pilot light on the power pole outside my bedroom window was not winking at me. The house was a quantum colder.
I got up, put on a lot of clothes, investigated. Wind, freezing rain, lights visible on the mainland across the pond but not near me. The landline phone was working which is an excellent sign since the phone and electric share the power poles, and when the phone is down, it means a pole is down and that means days without either. I called the power company which only has computers, no humans, and apparently it knew nothing – I might have been the first and only call. Not good. Better if the whole world is calling in distress. Not yet anyway. Nobody is down here on the water to call but me.
With temp a little above freezing, I decided to give it a few hours – not much to do about it – and went back to bed until about 12.30 AM. When either nervousness or cold woke me up. Repeated procedure – put on clothes, this time a winter coat and hat too. Still no electric, still windy with some precipitation, but temp now 27F. With that wind, the water was bound to freeze overnight. I ran a faucet – already ice crystals in the water, a strange feeling I had never experienced before these episodes – like there is sand in your water. Sand which disappears in your hand before you can touch it. I have a little water even with no power because of what is under the diaphragm in the pump – maybe 5 gallons. A couple of toilet flushes.
OK, time to do what must be done. I bought into this lifestyle. Put on shoes. Grabbed flashlight. Went outside. Deck was inch thick solid ice from the oscillations of temp above and below freezing. Gripped the rail with both hands and made it down the ramp sideways, onto the crusty snow. Traction. Up the big step into the utility shed, stopping the wind from ripping the plywood door off. Turned off the valve to the 1200 gallon tank, which otherwise will drain via gravity. Opened all the valves and drained the water out of lines. Turned off the pump since if the power comes on with the valves open – not good. We lost one $750 pump that way. Then a week with no water waiting for a new one. Lesson learned. Sealed the little room against the wind. Hand over hand up the iced ramp.
Now what. Called the power company’s computer again. Now it knew power was down in most of coastal South County – Kingston, North Kingstown, Narragansett, Charlestown. Lines down, the optimistic digitized 20something male voice said. When you are 20something, all is possible. Fixed by Noon he said. Thanks for your patience he said. The perfunctory politeness of some of my students. Then he hung up. Is patience patience when you have no choice, not even an opportunity to whine? Isn’t it my human right to whine? Not a satisfying interaction, unilateral except me entering my account number on the keypad. But such are the limits of his software.
OK, I’ll stay with the ship, maybe try to chip the ice off the Miata, slide on its nylon chains and crawl to the URI pool for a shower and swim while awaiting arrival of electrons in the morning. Recharge the laptop in the guard station? Maybe. Stayed in clothes, minus wool cap and shoes, crawled under all the blankets i have, slept, half my mind wondering what would happen to the toilets and the hot water heater if the cold froze the water still in them. Would I be living in an ice castle by noon Thursday? I wouldn’t call it a nightmare. Nightpuzzle. What’s the worst that can happen. A good excuse to get to know my proto-girlfriend maybe too much better, sleeping with her dogs if a pole does give out – planted precarious in beach sand.
Life is nothing if not an adventure. Hard to remember that in the middle of one of those adventures. Easy to say later when warm and dry. We would see, I inaccurately projected, by light of day.
2.30 AM, 6th sense kicks in again – too many years of conditioning here. Power on. Red light blinking on power pole. Clock radio flashing the wrong time. Bravo! Turned on some heat (some I had left on anyway but not the digital controlled part since the kick in of the power is not good for it) put on all the clothes again. And more. Really cold inside and out! Closed all the sink and shower valves I had opened a couple hours ago when making sure to release pressure. Inched down the ramp again, now temps in lower twenties, air dry but gusting, opened the shed again, reversed what I had done with all the valves, turned on the pump, calculating not enough time had passed to freeze the water left in it. I hope. The reverse spherical turkey. Bingo. Water pressure. Cool!
Waited there in a suspended animation of fatigue and gratefulness for the good fortune of early return to 20th century life (who knows if the 21st will ever get here, and I will gladly settle for the previous). Stood still and silent staring with way too much interest into the eye of my round analog water pressure gauge. Until the pump got to full pressure. Don’t rush, make sure no leaks to the drains, no split pipes spilling my precious water. After a minute or so in total dark excepting my LED flashlight, one of many handy leftovers from a previous life as a cyclist, a life that seemed so distant now 9 months into my past, hard to imagine surrounded by a sea of snow and ice, dressed in multiple layers of flannel and down, operating on my plumbing system, in the shed crowded with expensive, unused road bikes, Trek, Bianchi, Nancy’s Colnago. I looked at them in the narrow blue light. What got them, and me, here?
The gauge hit the set point. The pump rested. Silence except the wind rattling the shed, whistling through the dry reeds, filtering into my wool cap. Outside, the trash cans had been scattered by the wind, but then trapped in the ice. Fugitives stopped in their tracks. Thermodynamics. I wandered the real estate, collected them for no reason. I was dressed for it, I needed to move a little, to prove I was the equal of, the master of, the elements. Outside in the remains of our storm. Impervious for a transient.
Back up the ramp gripping the handrail for the dear life of my femurs, slid back into the kitchen. It was warm. A light was on. My house was no longer becoming an ice castle.
3.23 AM said the clock projecting red on the ceiling. I tried to sleep, but come on, how many times can you go to bed in one night. I knew from the year of sleeping on the floor next to Nancy – about three. I was now on four.
The heck with it.