Lightning, Bottled

alarm clock 0720
This $5 alarm clock is my nemesis: it is the hardest thing in the world to re-set, and I got to do that four times yesterday. Now, finally, it has batteries as back-up.

How many times, do you suppose, have I re-set clocks in this new house? It feels like more times than all my old-house existence combined, although that perhaps might possibly could be an exaggeration. But I am starting to think that battery back-up exists for a reason.

Yes, the power went out. Again. This wasn’t one of our mysterious micro-outages specific to our house, so that part’s good, but it was a series of outages that didn’t resolve itself fully until sometime in the wee hours. And we still have at least one clock on the blink.

Let us appear to shift topics abruptly to the one where I lament that I haven’t seen a comet for the trees. We have all these lovely giant cottonwoods north of our house, but they make stargazing difficult. They have been neatly framing the Big Dipper, but trying to find Comet Neowise somewhere just below that would require a massive deforestation or relocation of my person.

My plan was to do just that (not the deforestation — that seems perhaps excessive) on Wednesday, when the comet was supposed to burn brightest. So of course on Wednesday the long-awaited and much-needed monsoons moved in, and the sky has been overcast ever since.

I get conflicting information about this once-every-6,000-years comet that I have yet to see: some sources say it was leaving visible range this past week, while I think others give me a bit more time. Cloud cover has been constant since I planned my comet viewing, up until this morning, when we have at least a patch of blue sky.

The prediction called for thunderstorms, and I guess I did hear some thunder just before Lynn and Oz set out for their walk in the sprinkle that became an insistent rain while they were gamboling about last evening. (I got in the car to rescue them just as they returned.)

So let’s assume lightning caused the outage that impacted Gunnison County Electric Association customers north of Gunnison. (Based on our very scientific survey of our friends.) The initial outage lasted perhaps half an hour, maybe an hour, but as I was in the midst of resetting clocks, it went back out. And then came on/went out in a series that was funny to watch as the fountain in the pond jetted up then stopped in succession. Eventually the power stabilized until going out again sometime while I was asleep, still to be out when I woke up at whatever time it might have been, midnightish.

There is nothing like a power outage to make you realize how dependent we all have become on technology. For millennia, from the dawn of the human race until about a sesquicentennial ago, we didn’t have much control over electricity. And even then, it wasn’t a given. I interviewed rancher Lois Spann when I worked at the newspaper, and she recalled the change brought about here in Gunnison when GCEA got electricity to the rural parts of the valley for the first time in the 1940s and ’50s.

While the bulk of humankind has thus been able to live full lives without electric houses, most of us here in the modern world find ourselves at a loss when the wonder current stops flowing.

Waking up in a dark house that is truly dark really spells it out clearly. Not only the digital clocks, but the TV and satellite buttons were out. The porch light. The nightlight in the laundry room. My lava lamp. And especially, all the little glowy lights like power strips and smoke detectors, the tiny fireflies of modern existence that add ambient light you never notice. Until it’s gone.

A sustained outage would probably spell doom for me. I was finishing up staining a table in the garage, so I didn’t notice right away when the power went out. I only noticed when I realized the overhead light switch was still on but the lights weren’t. That is not the time to realize your phone has 18 percent of its battery left, and that your computer, with its USB port, only has a battery life of an hour or so, and that it doesn’t matter if your laptop has power if the internet doesn’t, because you’ll never be able to go on-line to see if GCEA has any information about the outage.

And then you — probably not you, but me — wonder how much battery is left in your car, which doesn’t go anywhere without electricity. You consider what will happen to all your food, tucked in electrified boxes to cool or freeze it. (We were without power long enough for the little fridge to defrost all over the tops of cat food cans.) You wonder what you might do all evening without the television for company.

Actually, that last part wasn’t really so hard. I could think of about five million things that could be done without electricity, but 4,999,999 of them required thought and effort, so I defaulted to an evening nap. And then, when the power came back on, we watched TV, which requires no effort and little thought.

Lynn did determine that we could manually light the stove and cook on it, although she managed to avoid that, and of course there was the grill, although it was getting battered by our first authentic downpour of the year. Being new to country life, we weren’t sure what would happen if she started a shower, so she opted to wait on that. (I feel like there must be an electric pump that brings water up out of the well, so my supposition is that we would run out of water if the outage duration superseded the water supply above the well.

We also weren’t sure about hot water, even though the boiler is gas. All the little glowy lights on the boiler were out, along with the lights on the solar box and the car charger. That’s a lot of indicator lights in the garage, too.

Our solar lights on the deck shone brightly throughout, which I suppose is an argument for the continued advancement of technology to the point suggested by some (visionaries or crackpots, take your pick): every house has its own mini power generation, perhaps solar with battery back-up, no more grid to tie to.

In the meantime, however, even with a bank of solar panels on our roof, we remain firmly tied to a grid that only gets noticed when it malfunctions. This morning I have made it to the GCEA Facebook page, where it reports an outage in its north territory, with updates to follow. Plus an update, and here I quote: “Power has been restored.”

I have also installed batteries in one of the four clocks that has been reset four times in the last 14 hours, and am now watching the clouds start to amass, obscuring my blue sky and my hopes for a comet viewing tonight. It could also bring more thunderstorms, and lightning. I may have to learn to live without harvested electricity, at least some of the time. I’m sure it’s the largest hardship there is in the history of humanity.

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