Saturday, November 3, 2012


Hurricane Sandy took none of our trees, and for that I'm very grateful.  While our neighbors across the street dealt with flooded basements, all we suffered was a three day power outage.  In the past we've had terrible flooding.  This year was kinder,  except that the house got cold.  Ben was with me on the first night but on Monday he had to return to Richmond - where he's been working round the clock to help get out the vote.

 So I was by myself, making soup on the stove top, and as it happened I went on a little journey of my own.  It was a journey into silence and back in time - to a place without internet access, television, cell phone, electric light or heat. It was a place with very little company,  but it was solitary rather than lonely, and I embraced it.

We had slept downstairs the first night of the storm while the wind howled. With Ben gone I continued to sleep downstairs, in Elliot's old room. We repainted it when he left for college and moved things around. Now it was unfamiliar. The last person to sleep in it was a friend of Alex's visiting from Australia. I covered the greyhound with a blanket, and the dachshund crept under the bedclothes and slept on my feet.

I'd lit some votives.  It was mentally clear in there, peaceful and uncluttered as I snuggled under a heap of duvets taken from other beds in the house.   I also had a flashlight - one Ben had taken to Burning Man last year, and I used it to read.
This is what it looked like, except darker ; )

I became absorbed in a novel by Luigi Pirandello - The Late Mattia Pascal.  It concerns a man with a messy life, who goes on a trip and reads about his death in the hometown newspaper.  His wife and mother-in-law have mistakenly identified the body of a drowned man as him.  So he decides to play along - to embrace a new identity, with mixed and amusing results.

It was such a delightful and engaging book and took me so far out of myself, that I kept on reading deep into the night.  At least it felt like that.  I didn't have a clock in the room so I'm not exactly sure. I only know that time stretched out because it was uninterrupted and the air in the room was cold.

I remembered going to the Argentine pampa years ago - and staying overnight at the freezing cold farmhouse of friends. The lights ran on a generator which was switched off at night, when the maids came around with gas lights.  The mattresses were hard and the bed posts made of iron. That had also been a journey into a different century.

In the morning I dressed quickly in the clothes I'd taken off the night before. Then I heated my coffee on the stove and walked the dogs.  The roads were wet and covered in leaves. There was a downed tree in the newly landscaped garden on the corner of Fisher. It had struck the corner of the roof and brought down a gutter.  The sidewalk in front was a mass of oak branches.  At the other end of the street there were more downed trees - pulled right out of their roots, and lying across the road. This probably accounted for the power outage.

That afternoon, I curled up on the sofa and continued reading.  It was Tuesday, and the college were I teach had cancelled classes.  I read Pirandello into the early evening when my neighbors Sara and Jacky knocked on the door.  They insisted I come out for Chinese food.

It was like being wakened from hibernation and I was reluctant.  I had become agoraphobic.  I said as an excuse that I didn't want to have to blow out all the candles or leave the dogs by themselves.  But Jacky promised he'd help me light them when we returned.

I was glad to get out in the end.  It was comforting to be in the warmth of an enormous family restaurant eating hot and sour soup and peking duck.   But  yet I felt somehow altered by my days without light and electrical contact.  I was a more primitive version of myself, a quieter version. Perhaps I was more self-possessed.  A little bit more centered and less easily distracted.

This alteration continued into Wednesday when I went to work.  I recharged my phone in the car and left the house. We still had no power.  I spoke to my neighbor Forrest who was waiting for someone to come and light his furnace.  Their basement had flooded and he had carried the water logged contents outside to be thrown away.  They lined the curb.  Suddenly I remembered it was Halloween.  Neither Forrest nor I had bothered to get pumpkins.

When I returned at 4 o clock I saw that the lights were back on.  A miracle! And I was glad.  I was glad for my journey into darkness and a different kind of power.  But the idea of a cold and dark Halloween had not been very appealing. 


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