When the remnants of Hurricane Nicole swept through the area Friday, winds took out a tree on McKay Road. Those of us south of Newton heard the power go out at 11:47 a.m.
I say “heard,” because electrical power outages have their own sound. It’s not so much the scream of the microwave or the snap of lamps going dark. Rather, it’s the lack of white noise we learn to ignore. . . the whir of the heat pump, the gurgle of the fish aquarium, the hum of the refrigerator and the computer system. When these sounds vanish, it’s as if the house is no longer breathing.
Utility companies refer to these as “always on”—appliances that use energy when you don’t even realize they’re on. They comprise much of the white noise we’ve become accustomed to.
I find white noise comforting—desirable, even. I’ve slept with a fan for years, so the lack of background noise is discombobulating. You’re humming along as usual and-- bam—it’s 1880. I say that because whenever there’s a power failure, my well pump—and water supply—fails too. My house becomes a homestead without electricity and running water.
I checked the Duke Energy website on my cell phone. Sure enough, a shaded part of the county map showed the affected area—my neighborhood. Yes, this would be a waiting game. The estimated time to restore power was 10 p.m.
I pulled water jugs out of storage. I learned long ago that having a gallon of water at the sink in the kitchen and bathroom can come in pretty handy.
I kept the refrigerator and freezer doors closed and managed not to starve. Eating out of a can isn’t haute cuisine, it was better than nothing.
I could use the port in my vehicle to charge my phone if need be. But the automatic garage door wouldn’t work. I had an excuse to test my strength with the “emergency” red rope to open and close the garage door just in case I needed to drive somewhere.
I was thankful I had a cabinet stocked with candles, lanterns, flashlights and matches, but the best thing by far was a headlamp. I’d purchased this gadget after a previous power outage, and I must say it’s a godsend when it comes to handsfree navigation up a darkened stairway or inside a closet.
Using available daylight, I could finish a knitting project. I could pick up that library book that had been lying on the coffee table for a couple of days. Or I could sort the pile of papers and magazines that had rested on that same table for even longer.
Instead, I called a friend I hadn’t talked to in in a while. Turned out she was hunting persimmons near her home on the South Carolina coast where Nicole had already brushed past.
Later, as evening settled in, and my dogs curled up for a nap, I pondered the profound quiet that put me in league with explorers and off-grid homesteaders. Tucked inside my house, I couldn’t hear much of anything—not wildlife, not traffic on the highway, not wind in the trees. Just the slight roar of the pilot light on the gas logs.
And I thought how lucky I was to have the promise of power coming back, which it did at 8:30 p.m. The lights flicked on, the appliances sang their happy dance. It was time to re-set the clocks.
My world hadn’t stopped cold, but it had slowed long enough to inspire this column.
---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book is Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World: Collected Columns, available through Dec. 24 at the Dewey’s Holiday Store at the Corner Table soup kitchen in downtown Newton. Half of book proceeds will benefit The Corner Table. Contact Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org