Lessons from an Ice Storm

About 9p, while I was more than halfway to sleep, the power went out.  I didn’t think much of it.  It goes out every now and then, and it always comes back on within reason.  When I woke, I peeked out the window.  The landscape was incredible — locked in a sheath of crystal, paused, and it made you pause and take it in.  

I popped outside to look closer.  The cloak of glass was a few centimeters thick.  Branches were bent and heavy from the load.  I only noticed the beauty and none of the destruction, I went back inside to begin my day.

Can’t make coffee, so I had an energy drink instead.  Service wasn’t great but my instagram posts went through.  There was a thinkmovement group call scheduled in a few hours.  I tried to send many emails to postpone or let It be hosted by another.  Eventually one went through.  A hand popped up.  I was overjoyed.  Final decision by the group was to simply hold it at a later time.  I couldn’t help but be immensely pleased that the leadership role could be switched.

My roommate showed me how to make coffee on the fire.  Hand grinder.  Milk warmed in a tiny Turkish long handled copper pot.  These things we never used but kept around.  The result was pretty decent.  I was pleased the way things had turned.

I got dressed and thought I should probably check the basement. SH*T. There was about an inch of water in about a six foot radius.  The sub pump needed a generator or the entire place was going to flood.  

I called around everywhere in town.  All sold out.  I started texting people I never really text to see if they had one or might know where I could get one.  All dead ends.  Cell service was spotty and I couldn’t get on the internet to search.  

I went back to the basement.  Six feet had become twelve feet.  This was bad and getting worse.  I took a small piece of hose and a bucket and tried to siphon a container full through my mouth.  The liquid hit my tongue more than a few times, but I got the hang of it.  I took the bucket to the street and dumped it.  Didn’t make a dent in the flood path.

I farmed the generator research task out and expanded it to and within an hour radius.  Soon after, I lucked out with an equipment rental place in Eugene (C&E, they were fantastic).  I was out the door in a matter of minutes.  When I got there they threw in an extra full gas can.  Thank goodness.  In another hour I was back home.   In everyone’s haste I didn’t get any instructions on how to operate the generator.  Farmed out that task and got notes, but a combustable engine full of gasoline was too dangerous for trial and error.  The sound from a neighbor I had never met told me they had a generator running.  It was raining and dark by then.  I grabbed my head lamp and knocked on their door.

They answered it immediately and both the father and late-teens son came right over.  Turn to clutch, pull the cord, let it catch, turn to on.  It was going in less than a minute.  He told me to go check the basement to see if it was working.  All I heard were some sounds so I assumed it was on.  I thanked him profusely and as he left, he said, “let us know if you need anything else.”  A guy I had never talked to since they moved in over a year ago.  

I went back down to the basement and water was being sucked down the drain, fast.  I felt such relief.  About fifteen minutes later and the puddle-pool was gone.  The next day, the drying cleaning would be done, and the day after, the broken branches were cut, untangled and dragged to the front of the driveway.  I am writing this on day four, as tree and PGE trucks pace and work on the street.  I am not sure if I will sleep on the couch near the fire another night, but whether or not I do, it seemed I should document some realizations that have come from this experience.  Who knows how long they will stay with me.

1. Heat is life.  

Being able to warm yourself is everything.  As long as I had a fire, everything else seemed manageable.  I will never understand those who choose to engage in Wim Hof practices, but my gut tells me they are swathed in comfort.  When you are cold, and unsure of what is next or what the day might throw at you, a ‘movement practice’ seems like a silly waste of time and energy (as did the tangential acts of posting to IG).

2. Conservation comes with scarcity.

When you recognize something is in short supply, you seek to ration it.  Whether it be hot water or wood, the intent wasn’t to hoard but to preserve.  It was less about hoarding and more about maximizing efficiency.  You set up systems to utilize every last ounce of supply without waste, and streamline your behavior to optimize resources.

3.  Your neighbors are worth knowing.  Treat them as such.

There’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together.  When I noticed the generator family cleaning up their yard, I offered to help.   A lady that walks by my house daily but never stops asked me about a particular tree.  She assumed that I knew her and where she lived.  I stood with neighbors in their yard and talked with them.  I told them what I could offer and asked them what they might need.  Without the internet, I texted friends I hadn’t talked to in years to see if they might have a lead.  They all replied.  Some offered me a hot shower and internet.  We need people.  Somehow I keep trying to minimize this.

4.  The thing you love will make you tolerate the thing you hate.

I love my house and I hate camping.  But, camping in my living room for the sake of keeping the generator fueled and saving my basement was necessary, logical, and pleasing in the just-what-you-have-to-do sort of way.  The notion to protect makes things feel valiant and noble, and this heroic narrative made the experience harmonious.  At times I oddly felt like Kevin McCallister; instead of burglars I was keeping the winter at bay.

5.  Gas cans are tricky.

Good Lord.  If you don’t have instructions for these things (and cannot get) the learning curve runs DEEP.

6. I would rather do anything than read.

I got out the stack.  Feldenkrais, Feldenkrais, Laban, Playful Movement.  Didn’t crack one, though I had plenty of idle time.  I chose to lay and stare at the fire rather than dig into a book.  This cycle of output, restricting input, is something fierce.

7.  ‘Aloof’ pets might just be waiting for you to slow down and sit.

I have a cat named Betsy.  She turned seven this month.  I always thought she was kind of an as$hole, take you or leave you, as long as she gets fed.  I do not allow her in my room, which is where I do most of my laying post productive day.  But since we shared a living room, and situation, this tiny beast was all over me, and I let her, because she was the only other living being I had contact with for four days.  Realizing it wasn’t her, it was you, is such a relationship mind-chagrin.  Time will only tell if this softening sticks, but like my neighbor, I will look at/interact with her differently for at least the near future.

8.  Wanting is situational.

Most of life we are on autopilot.  The habits we make make and crave stem from existing a certain way in a certain place.  Our willingness to adapt works two fold — 1. adjusting to a change in our environment, and 2.  reconsidering the necessity of our habits.  An example of the first is taking four times as long to make coffee, for an objectively lesser cup (I use a prissy milk frother, which was not an option).  The fact that I still could have coffee, though, given the circumstances, made me treasure it.  An example of the second is waking up and moving.  Here, it was waking up and working.  Moving laundry appliances, washing floors, climbing ladders and sawing and hauling and untethering branches — this was what the practice was for — being able to handle the demands and perform the tasks required to bring you and your surroundings into homeostasis.  It is maintenance by way of auto-regulation.

As much as I enjoy my way and existence, it is these wayward experiences that prod me to expand my perspective.  How permanent the change may be is reliant on my willingness to remember and stay shifted.  Though the restoration of modern civility is something longed for, a return to a known normal, living another way expands the continuum of possibility.  Which way is best and correct is indicative of what you are exposed to and whether to endure is a process of progress or suffering.

*I am aware of the privilege this post exposes.  There are people and communities that exist without any of the resources that were temporarily taken away.  Their perspective, if seen as worthwhile, may be the most valuable of all.  They created a system counter to the dominant culture, which is no small feat, and is undoubtedly brimming with insights on coexistence and survival.

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