We lost power at 2:59am last Sunday morning, a fact announced quite loudly by my six year old who seemed kinesthetically in tune with the weekend’s storm, and marked by a stove clock that stopped ticking when the power failed.
August had come in like a lion and out like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Thunderstorms, an earthquake, and finally a hurricane. The last, of course, being less of a surprise thanks to meteorologists who were following its path.
But waiting for Irene to arrive felt a bit like closing your eyes and asking for a punch. Who knew when or where or how intense it would be when it finally came?
I prepared by going to the store three times, each time somehow forgetting the essential characteristic of nonperishable food, particularly what the prefix “non” suggests. I am accustomed to snow storms when having a gallon of milk on hand is a boon, not one more thing that inevitably gets poured down the drain.
I shouldn’t cry over spilled milk.
We were somehow spared what others were not. Perhaps having our roof leak and then our basement doused with water from a sewer line failure three weeks ago fulfilled part of our quotient of August angst.
We know some who still don’t have power; we’ve read about a local man who died by being swept into a sewer from rushing water and a rescue worker killed after an attempted recovery of a stranded vehicle. We see others, perhaps half of our neighbors, who after getting a foot or two of water in their basements are throwing out water-logged memories. Daily commutes have been detoured; trains to New York suspended. And, then there was the tree we saw stretching its way across Main Street, holding on by its deep roots lest it finish its fall into the house it had looked out on for probably the last hundred years.
We spent our 36 hours without power listening to a battery operated radio, reading books by windows, paying bills by candle light, and trying, in vain, to explain why the nightlight in my three year old’s bedroom would not be working. I fell asleep wishing I’d had a shower, but happy to hear the sound of voices outside the window, neighbors chatting on porches instead of isolated in front of their TV’s.
When the power came back, I retrieved a voice message from our water company warning that power to the treatment plant was still down so we were to limit our use to only essential needs. Seeing someone’s sprinkler system shooting water onto an already drenched lawn a few hours later, I had to think our pre-programmed gadgets had not gotten the message.
But we humans had. By natural disaster standards, we had gotten off easy. But experiencing the fringe effects of an earthquake and hurricane within the same week has been a reminder that we live on a planet not only a street.
There is sedimentary evidence of hurricane action in New Jersey from the year 1278, and, it turns out my region has not only had small earthquakes before, we had one earlier this summer, according to a story in my local paper.
No one seemed to notice.
I think the past few weeks have stirred us to a new understanding.