Yes, it’s here. Winter has breathed its chilly breath upon us and we’ve had our first snowfall. Everything is white and wet and … well, pretty awful. You all probably know I’m not a big fan of winter, but this winter I am going to try to make a resolution not to whine about it too much. It’s here; it’s a fact; I’m living with it.
Part of the joy of the season is that we had our first power outage Sunday night. The children were settled all snug in their beds (unfortunately not asleep yet), Jason was working on the computer, and I was downstairs watching House on DVD and signing Christmas cards, when suddenly everything went black. It was icy with high winds and the power had been flickering all afternoon so we weren’t really surprised, but even then there was the usual stumbling around in the dark as we looked for flashlights and candles. Jason and I had to abandon our electronically-based activities, while the kids were simultaneously excited and scared, and took awhile to calm down.
We went to bed early, and as always in a blackout I reflected on how the absence of electricity strips down and simplifies life — kind of like camping, perhaps for the same reasons. So many options are taken away — I never realize how many, how dependent we are on all our gadgets, till they’re gone — and life becomes a much more basic matter: sleep with dark; wake with dawn. Of course our lights were back on long before morning, and unlike the poor people in the Bonavista area, we didn’t have to cope with tedious, cold, dark days without power. I haven’t experienced a serious power outage since the infamous “BLLLLLLLACKOUT 94!!!!” (to quote the annoying VOCM announcer who kept us updated minute-by-minute during the four days in December 1994 when we were without power, cooking hot dogs over Aunt Gertie’s fireplace as I recall).
Still, a couple of electricity-free hours on Sunday night were enough to remind me how essential electricity is to our way of life, and to reflect on how different this makes my life from the lives of most people in the past, and many people around the world today. I wondered, too, if this light-soaked, gadget-riddled era is only going to be a blip in human history. Will the time come again when light after dark, or heat in winter, is a rare luxury? We always assume that technological advancement will be ever onwards and upwards, but with resources being non-renewable and all that, perhaps that’s a flawed assumption. Perhaps we’ll reach a peak of energy use and then be forced to retreat from it — and perhaps this is that peak.
Will our children and grandchildren learn to live as our grandparents did, a simpler and stripped-down life in tune with the rhythms of day and night, devoid of many of the luxuries they now take for granted? Older people today find it amazing to think that they grew up to the dim flicker of oil lamps. Will Emma and Christopher, when they’re old, be amazed at the careless way we took for granted the luxury of having lights, furnace, computer, TV and washing machine all going at once? Will they tell their children tales of these days by the dying firelight, and will they all shake their heads in wonder?
It’s certainly possible.