July 12, 2005
Tuesday evening I was reading “The Bookseller of Kabul,” about Afghanistan after Russia, the Taliban and the United States got through with it: huge families crowded in close quarters, usually no water and what there was of it cold, electricity only two or three hours a day, if that … when, with a brilliant surge and a loud POP, the power went out.On a homestead in Alaska, I lived without running water and electricity for a year and missed them both a lot, mainly the water. But we were, as much as you can be, prepared. In the “summer,” we caught rain water in a tarp hung in the trees and dumped it into 55-gallon barrels. In the winter we melted snow and five miles away there was an all-season trickle of a spring.We had a wood-burning furnace, a propane stove and Coleman lanterns, so a power outage in Anchorage didn’t mean squat to us.Now, by the dark amber glow of my one dying flashlight, I search in my “battery and miscellaneous” drawer, finding only a couple of corroded C’s. Didn’t I just buy them last week? Damn! I open the flashlight and confirm that it requires D batteries, of which there are none, and then can’t get the flashlight back together again. I have a few candles, but that’s it. Candles I’m not comfortable lighting in a house full of oxygen.I have a pea panic. WHAT IF the power outage lasts long enough to thaw the contents of my freezer, including the 9 pounds of peas I shelled and froze over the past three weeks!? No. Never going to happen. Get a grip. Be glad you have liquid oxygen and not a concentrator dependent on electricity.I go outside and read until I get a headache, but I can’t really concentrate in the eerie silence with the feeling that my lifelines have been cut.And it is getting dark. My flashlight is in pieces so I go to call the Aspen Times to find out what’s going on and the phone is dead. Don’t these things have batteries? Am I going to have to get a dreaded cell phone? And don’t they, too, have to regularly be recharged? I turn off the TV and the power strip to my computer, get in my car and head to the Aspen Times, seeking light. I note that the traffic signals are working as are the streetlights on one side. Lights at Stage 3. I run into Tim Mutrie in the alley behind the Times, who puts my flashlight back together and says power has just been restored. No need to buy D batteries at Carl’s after all – I can think about that tomorrow.How quickly we cast caution to the winds. When the power goes off again an hour later I have no idea where I put the flashlight. In total darkness I find myself flailing around in the bathroom that I had misidentified as my bedroom – what’s THIS thing, I think, as I grab a towel.I find the flashlight and, reassured, sit outside on the back porch looking at the stars. One thing about the power being off, the stars are really bright. I think of an interview in the paper with David Floria, who is blind and said he really missed the stars, and I feel deeply grateful for the stars and glad I don’t live in Afghanistan or anywhere else. I live in paradise and am brought up short to have been so discombobulated by a few hours without electricity.I mean, really – is this a crisis?So I go to bed and, sure enough, the power comes back on an hour later. I confess to feeling reassured at the hum and whir of the house returning to life.Su Lum is a longtime local who thought she knew better. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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