When the lights went out, it was unexpected. Probably the product of our blistering drought and huge taxing demands placed on the power grid here; one Sunday night recently, the system sputtered and plunged our area into darkness.
At the time, I’d been sitting in a warm tub of water, trying to soothe the effects of a recent brown recluse spider bite. When the windowless bathroom suddenly became still and dark, I opened my eyes and waited for the power to return. But it didn’t. I could hear my daughter fumbling around the house, knocking into a chair, and the sounds of rooting under the sink for the requisite flashlight.
I closed my eyes again and thought to myself, ‘what if the power doesn’t come back on? what then?’ Having seen countless sci-fi movies that start out this way and end with human entrails splashed on walls, ceilings and the camera lens as happy aliens and/or mutant zombies engage in an all-you-can-eat buffet … all the way to ones where Mad Max scenarios take hold and toothless irradiated survivors kill eachother Gary Oldman-style, for books, cups of tea, food or the pure fun of it.
As our world, and on a smaller scale, our country’s stability seems to become as wobbly as teetering on the top of an unstable ladder; thoughts about preparedness have started to crowd my thoughts more frequently. If something were to happen, would I be ready?
I sat up in the tub and instructed my daughter on where to find my box of candles. Years ago I had started buying the 7-day candles at local grocery stores. Only a buck and a half, I used them for everything from art shows, outdoor lighting, emergency backup to ambience for a day of the dead altar. Over time, I’ve accumulated a nice little stash.
Nice to have on hand when the power goes out too. Within minutes, the house aquired a flickering glow from candles set throughout the house. With the power out in our entire area, I noticed the eerie silence. No refrigerator humming, no computer whirring in the background, no air conditioning….
No air conditioning. Or fans. Out of the bath, I began to notice how … warm … the house already was and my mind flashed to our freezer and the fridge I had just stocked that afternoon after shopping for the week. Would I be ready?
The simple answer was no. As I thought about my recent canning sessions I had done that same week, and plans I had made to store a longer supply of staples just in case, those plans weren’t complete. The water jugs I’d meant to buy were still at the store. The canning was half complete, with a pressure cooker for preserving vegetables still on the way in the mail to the bags of flour sitting in the open on my pantry floor, not yet canned.
I suppose you could always be more ready than how you are today, but I felt like I hadn’t even begun to lay the anchor supports. As the minutes stretched out into hours and the power remained off, I thought about how, as a society, we are so dependent on the power/comfort structure of modern life. Take that away and you strip people of the ability to cope with discomfort and absence.
Without power, the food in my standing freezer and refrigerator would spoil within days. With the heat wave as severe as it has been, with days on end in triple-digit heat, it might be less. Without power, the filtered water would cease to flow from the fridge spout, the computer would never come back on (without a generator) and the temperature in the house would continue to rise and rise.
I went outdoors to listen. Silence. Every home within at least a mile if not more, was dark. No cars moved, no transformers or AC units hummed with the white noise we’ve all grown so accustomed to that we barely notice it … until it’s gone. In contrast, the night sky in our rural area was ablaze with stars.
I sat outside under my porch awning checking out the stars and thinking about my own lack of perparedness. That was a minor blackout — only lasting 5 hours before, in the middle of the night, a blast of freon-kissed air shot over the bedroom and ALL the lights came on at once. But with area schools about to switch on their systems in one of the worst droughts and heat waves in our state’s history, blackouts are expected on a regular basis as energy useage is off the charts.
Since that night I have developed a small but steady plan of preparedness that includes buying a new candle with every grocery store trip to upping my usual annual canning sessions to reach beyond ‘fun’ jams and include more practical staples to have on hand. I’ve checked into water catchment systems that are so simple to install that even I could do it. My pantry has undergone an overhaul worthy of a TV show. I’ve learned the shelf life of a bag of flour sitting on the pantry floor vs. canned in an oxygen-deprived can. While my efforts are not even on the scale with some families that have aquaponics units in their pool or others who have 10 years worth of toilet paper stockpiled in the guest room, I’ve made a modest start and perhaps you should too.
Just ask the simple question, am I ready? Maybe ‘ready’ will never mean anything beyond needing an extra candle on the table when company visits or extra walnuts from the pantry when your everyday stash runs out. I’d rather be ready though, than nurse any feelings of fear or being caught unprepared.
-Suchil Coffman, guest writer.