Last Friday, one of the busiest days of the summer tourist season, we set aside the morning for a pancake breakfast with our son, daughter-in-law, and 7-month-old granddaughter. They were visiting from Chicago, and we awaited fresh pancakes my husband flipped in the cast iron skillet.
Until the rumble of the exhaust fan and the hum of the refrigerator stopped.
We knew that this sudden silence signaled a power outage. While the pancakes sizzled in the still-warm skillet (one advantage of an electric stove), our chef went upstairs for a quick check on news from Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO) before the computer and modem back-up battery died.
The report wasn’t good: a car plowed into an electric pole, and we should anticipate a long outage. I downloaded documents to my (fully-charged) laptop.
I found it hard to concentrate that morning, recognizing I wouldn’t be able to finish a blog post, anticipating a disrupted afternoon working at Lopez Bookshop, wondering if we’d have power in time to bake the casserole our daughter had prepared for that night’s dinner, and fretting about the driver’s condition. A good response for me at such times is to take a walk with dog.
Everything seemed quieter that morning, even though ferries were still sailing, and bicyclists cruised by. One neighbor lounging outside had heard that the power disruption caused the cancellation of that day’s scheduled blood drive, and it might take six hours to repair the lines brought down by the car crash.
It’s not unusual to lose electricity on this small, rural island, but it’s not anywhere as common as it was when we lived in Stehekin, WA. My ease with “losing power” has faded some since I wrote of the lessons I learned about control in Stehekin. Reflections on power—both literal and metaphorical—accompanied me as I walked the quiet Lopez road. Here are 7 musings from that day:
- Regaining Power—I trust the electricity will be restored. But having, losing, and regaining personal power is not so certain.
- Electricity and Power—We often refer to the energy source that lights our homes and businesses, runs our devices, and now, fuels cars, as “power.” And it’s true electricity is a force that dominates our lives, at least in many parts of the world. It also contributes to people’s success—and usually diminishes prosperity when it’s absent.
- Backup Systems—Even in my small community, we’ve become so reliant on equipment, communication systems, and electronic transactions that we struggle when they’re out of commission. We want, and in some cases need, alternatives to keep disruptions to a minimum. The thought of taking a day/hour/half-hour off is distressing for many.
- Power for Life-supporting Measures—From thoughts about backup systems, my mind reflected about the terror of an outage for people who rely on electric-powered equipment for life-supporting oxygen, medication, and monitors.
- The Driver—My neighbor also reported he’d seen a medical evacuation helicopter flying toward the village where the clinic is, and then minutes later, heading toward the north, likely to a hospital in Bellingham. What happened to that person? What caused the crash?
- OPALCO Crew—I know a number of the local lineworkers, including a high school classmate of my son and daughter. Over the years, several crewmembers have been seriously injured on the job. I feel deep gratitude for their skill and courage to respond, often in hazardous weather, when lights flicker and machines shut down. I learned later that the broken utility pole had crashed across the road and started a
grass fire at a neighboring farm. Lopez Fire and EMS crews receive my gratitude, too—they kept the fire from burning out of control.
- Privilege and Power—All of these musings ultimately led me to the link between privilege and power. Whether it’s electrical or personal, literal or metaphorical, power is a privilege. Just consider Puerto Rico, when Hurricane Maria knocked out electricity to the entire U.S. territory in September 2017. Nearly a year later, some residents still have no lights. And clearly, they lacked power to receive an effective emergency response from the U.S.
By the end of my walk, I had renewed awareness of how lucky-blessed-privileged-humbled I am to have power.
This morning, as I was just about to push the “liquefy” button on my blender filled with green smoothie ingredients, the kitchen again went quiet. I still don’t know why, but I “lost power” for less than 10 minutes. I guess the number 7 (reflections) wasn’t so lucky, or perhaps I just needed more reflection time.