Essay: Power Out

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

Words by Sloane Citron

The winds blow furiously. Looking out onto my backyard, I watch the large pine trees whipping back and forth, their buried roots certainly pulling to and fro, loosening their grip within the earth that holds them. Our large oak, the kind that loses its leaves in the winter, seems to be faring better since there is little surface area for the gusts to push against.

My daughter, Arielle, and her oldest son Teddy (Theodore Solomon) had just gotten into town for a quick overnight visit. As we stand there watching nature’s fury, we wait for the inevitable, and then it happens: the sounds and sights of power vanish, leaving that unique eerie feeling to the house. Sirens in every direction, some far and some near, portending the damage such a storm brings: trees falling across roads, branches cascading into car windshields, power lines draped across lawns and streets.

I was not deterred from playing with three-year-old Teddy since I had not seen him for a while, and when the women drove to find power and internet, we had the afternoon to ourselves. We built castles with the Magna-Tiles and then turned to creating an imaginary world with our large red firetruck and half a dozen Paw Patrol figures. With no interruptions, we played the game over and over and over, lining up the figures and the firetruck, then using the water cannon (with a shooting ball of “water”) to extinguish the fire made up of red Magna-Tiles.

Eventually, we decided to brave the weather—the wind still howling, the sirens still piercing the air—and go outside. We took a scooter for Teddy (making sure he had a helmet, less for a potential scooter accident than a falling limb) and walked around our neighborhood. Normally, there would be others out with their dogs, talking on their phones, jogging, but today it was just the two of us. We like to explore and with fallen branches, downed fences and large puddles about, we had a good adventure.

Later that day, five more grandchildren with corresponding parents piled into our home for playtime and dinner. The kids tried to tell Alexa to play music and got an early taste of things not working. In our powerless state, we ordered dinner and everyone but me (I just can’t do it!) had their evening meal at around 5:30, their normal eating time. While this was going on, I prepared the house for the encroaching darkness. We have several halogen lanterns and I have an inverter device that attaches to a car battery and yields enough power for a few lights, phones and laptop chargers.

The recent shift to daylight savings time worked to our advantage, gaining us an hour more of sunlight, enough to give the kids baths and send them on their way. Then I was able to spend more time with Teddy before doing what I love best: reading several books to him. We have our favorites: Busy Day, Busy People; The Hungry Caterpillar; and Parsley (from my own childhood). Next a short Hebrew song (“Simi Yadeah”) that I sang to my kids, and now my kids sing to their kids, and then the Sh’ma prayer. Finally, two stories, usually The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The dark seized our home like thick wrapping paper, our only light source the lanterns and the single bulb. After my family went to bed, I decided to make the most of it. I built a large fire, pulled up a large easy chair next to it and turned off everything but a single lantern. For the next few hours, I read my current book (a dandy by Buddy Levy) and watched a movie that I had previously saved on my laptop for just such an occasion. (Did you ever notice the brilliant soundtrack of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly?)

What could have been considered a challenging night was, instead, a tranquil one. It was such a gift to be disconnected from the world—no news of the horrors of the day; no emails; no spam calls. There was, if you will, a barrier separating me from the angst of our times. It was a magical, intoxicating feeling to be totally untethered to our planet, its turmoil and troubles unable to reach me. As someone who struggles with our society and world, and who takes it too personally, it was a welcome respite.

There is a lesson here. The calamitous nature of our times breeds depression and pessimism. Getting a break, a time-out if you will, is a welcome respite. Less news and more books. Less technology and more talks with friends, walks in the woods and time with family. And a few days of blackout certainly helps.