Camping in the Great Indoors
I didn’t expect to spend my 57th birthday roughing it; the plan was to go to work as usual and finish up a few critical month-end tasks, go out to a nice Italian dinner – free! with proof of your birth-date – and then claim the new camera my wife was getting me for my upcoming Germanic Adventure. Fate had other plans, precipitated by eight inches of heavy, wet snow that resulted in a chain of events including a power outage of 63 hours duration, and a visit to the local Emergency Room so that my wife could obtain three staples in her scalp. Happy Birthday to me!
It was snowing steadily as predicted by NOAA.gov (that socialist meteorological agency) as I prepared for bed at 1 a.m., when a deep “BOOM!” echoed from up the road and the lights flickered and went out. Oh well, life in the country does include some inconveniences, but we have plenty of long-lasting LED lights, and a low fire in the woodstove moderated the house’s temperature. Wife (a teacher) and Child will be off from school today I grumped as I settled under the covers and slid into the Realm of Dreams.
Morning dawned, and indeed, a light wet mist still drifted down to earth, and my family, having woken to hear the snow-closings on the radio, was back at their slumber. The power remained out after seven hours. They had thrown a few logs of our almost completely depleted wood supply on the fire, and I warmed a pan of water for tea on its surface. Just like the morning camp fire! I consumed a banana – mmm, potassium! - and dressed to start the snow blower, clear the (lengthy) driveway, and prepare for a somewhat belated work day. My first indication of trouble was the labour necessary to clear the sidewalk: the snow was heavy, and the strain quickly told on my lumbar. As I stood panting in front of the garage door I surveyed bushes crushed to the ground, branches broken off of trees, sagging utility wires, and in a little bit, my wife would be out to note that part of our magnolia tree had broken off as well. This was a Winter that was going out with a vengeance. Regardless, I was called upon to respond to the challenge.
Dragging the mighty machine on to the driveway, I opened the choke, pushed the primer, and yanked the cord. Again. And again. And again. This is labeled an “Easy-Start” device since it had an electric starter… but of course, we had no electricity. Prime and pull. Pull! Pull! And it caught!! Oh, frabjous day! But I had to pause to catch my breath before proceeding. Pant. Pant. Then, engage the auger! Engage the throttle! And… the wheels spun in place. The composition of the snow was such that the rotating wheels turned the matter to slush of a consistence that filled the tire treads, and all they could do was to spin. If I only had tire-chains -- ! Oh, if. What I wound up doing was physically shoving this weighty appliance up the drive, wiggle-waggling it to fill the scoop with snow, until I broke through the slushy wall that the Town plows erected between the road and the driveway. Then, I could make a return sweep, taking only a half-scoop so that one tire could gain traction on the previously-cleared trail. So I continued for half a dozen passes, until the wife came to relieve me.
Relinquishing my efforts I set about heating a kettle of water on the wood stove’s surface so that I might sponge away the accumulated stink before setting off to my place of employ. Unfortunately, since this was the very last of the fire wood, it was not terribly dry and produced only low heat. But, aha! Our barbeque grill has a side-burner for heating a pot of corn or such, and the propane tank was full, so I fired that sucker up to boil me a comfortably-warm sponge bath. As it heated, the Child awoke, hungry as they are in the morning (and mid-morning, noon, early afternoon, afternoon, evening, and before bed time). Aha! once more! From eBay I had last year purchased a replacement for my old and rusted two-burner Coleman camp stove, and we had the propane tanks to feed it! Child was delighted, and cooked herself toast, toast, egg-in-a-basket, and a side of toast. My water warmed, and I thought that I would work a five-hour day and bring a few projects to completion.
The Child, enjoying the camping gear, had just decided to cook some scrambled eggs (with toast) for her mother, when Wife-Mother staggered through the door, blood streaming out of a scalp wound. While stowing the snow blower in the garage she had fallen, executing something like a triple-axel, and ended her motion with her head up against a sharp edge of metal. Time to travel up the freshly-cleared driveway to the Emergency Room, and hand over the $100.- co-pay for examination and wound-repair. And so it was, with naught more serious than a laceration. But my wife declares, with first-hand knowledge, that having a scalp wound stapled does not “pinch”… it hurts! Or, as she told the doctor through gritted teeth “I don’t much like this!!”
Happily, the procedure was concluded in five hours, with the tedium somewhat relieved through the utilization of MP3 players and iPhones. Facebooking from the E.R.! Oh Brave New World! We ate a very late lunch, then I was presented with the promised Casio Exilim 10.5 megapixel camera, at no cost to mine own accounts! But returning home we discovered that power was yet to be restored. We were down to the final half-dozen logs, and we dare not go into the freezer because it would accelerate the powerless defrosting. Evening was coming, and candles, oil lamps, and eventually, a double-mantled Coleman lantern were lit. Civilization generally provides for food and heat, and we were fast losing those resources. So the Man of the Household, Aged, and with Aching Back, set off on the hunt.
Just a few weeks before I had mocked the small, over-priced, shrink-wrapped bundles of firewood that convenience stores occasionally sold to provide tourists upstate with ambiance, but now I myself was in search of them. I drove through still-falling slush at dusk, wandering from shop to shop, when inspiration struck. Although our digital, wireless landline was useless without power, we had swapped it with an older touch-tone phone earlier in the day, and the telephone lines were yet intact. Interfacing modern technology with those earlier electronics, I pulled my modestly-used cell phone from my pocket and networked with the Wife. ‘Call around!’ I implored. ‘Let me know where I can purchase dead trees!’ And, lo! There were several shops that Had What We Needed, and so I loaded the trunk. Picked up some groceries, too, so we needn’t open the refrigerator or freezer to the “warmer” surroundings.
Finally, I was home, lit by the glow of captive fires. The Child, temporarily enjoying the Frontier theme, brought in the wood for her weary parent, and the house was thus kept warm. The groceries were placed in a cooler packed with snow, and buckets were placed beneath the rainspouts outdoors to collect water to flush the toilet and to heat on the stove to clean my stinking flesh later that night. The Birthday Dinner would be postponed, but exhaustion had banked my appetite, regardless.
I inserted my down sleeping bag beneath the bed’s comforter and cocooned myself, whispering a prayer that when I awoke this cold dream would be ended, the Promise of Spring would be fulfilled, and electrons would once more course merrily through copper filaments in the wall, working devices and illuminating lights. So Mote It Be!
Instead, it snowed another two days, and power was not restored for just short of three days, three days of… adventure. But Civilization did return, and just in time to host my mother when she lost power!
But now, with temperatures soaring into the 40’s and the Internets humming, detritus cleaned and stove ashes emptied, those days so recent have an ethereal quality in memory. Labour-intensive, yes, but not miserable. We rose to the occasion. And anyway, a week later, there are still 20,000 people in the county who remain without modern amenities. I count my blessings.
I hardly notice that I’m fifty-seven years old.
Unless I try to move. Then my body reminds me, in no uncertain terms. But, better than the alternative, eh?
Labels: camping, snow storm, Winter, wood