Spring storms and reading by candlelight

IMG_3009April showers may bring May flowers, but currently they’re going about their job a bit too intensely. Yesterday we had a full on thunderstorm, with lightning flashing right overhead. There was a giant crack a little before 4 p.m. and then, with a quick buzz, all the lights went off.

Once the storm calmed down, I went outside to see what the problem was, and sure enough, there was a power line down in the neighbor’s back yard where a number of tree branches had fallen. I called PECO to report the downed line but got stopped up in the frustrating automated system that made me enter an account number before I could proceed, so I had to find my utility bill in the dark.* It really seemed like a situation where you should be able to just tell a person “Hey, there’s a downed power line in my neighbor’s yard and here’s his address.”

In any case, someone else reported it too, and once I got access and got the outage map, I was told we’d have power back around 6 p.m. The good news is that while originally some 200 homes were affected, by 6:30 p.m. this was down to about 6 homes. Unfortunately, my home was one of them, and we weren’t going to get power until 3 a.m. The poor crew was out sawing down tree branches for much of the night.

My husband came home around 6 p.m., and we sent G home (manually opening the garage — it turns out that takes electricity too). We took the kids to Ruby’s Diner for dinner. When we came home, and found we were still in the dark, I put the 2-year-old to bed, and my husband took the other kids out exploring somewhere. Once I had left the 2-year-old in his usual spot (sleeping in front of the door, this time clutching the only flashlight left in the house after the big kids took the others on their expedition) I pulled three candles close together on the kitchen counter and started reading another Wendell Berry book, Andy Catlett, about his early travels.

The young narrator recounts going by bus, in 1943, to his country grandparents’ house. Rural electrification was in process, but hadn’t quite reached them yet. They had a phone, and a radio that they kept the batteries outside of, and just put in when they needed it (so as not to waste anything). He talks about his grandmother bringing in the lamp, and them sitting in the chilling dark room reading at night. I felt I was truly getting the whole experience. It is not that easy to read by candlelight. I had to hold the book just right, with the candles very close. There are many things we take for granted in modern life, and effortless late night reading is just one of them.

Fortunately, the power did come on around 3 a.m. (I think) and there was only one kid wake-up — the 5-year-old, who discovered she was completely in the dark and had lost the flashlight I put in her room. We found it, and I went back to sleep until it was light in the house from the sun as well as some lights that had been on when the power went off. At least I remembered to make sure the lights were all off in the kids’ rooms!

In other news: I wrote a column for USA Today a few years ago about trees and power outages.

In other other news: I will likely not be blogging much (if at all) next week. I’ll be back in mid-April!

Photo: rain drops on spring flowers

* There was an option to enter your phone number too, but it had to be a phone number linked to an account, and oddly enough, my home phone number turned out not to be that one. Or my cell number. Maybe it is my husband’s cell phone number, but by the time I’d gone through the phone tree with two different rejected numbers I decided to go hunt for the bill. 

3 thoughts on “Spring storms and reading by candlelight

  1. We used to get power outages all the time when I was a kid. Practicing piano felt extra-exciting, when it was by candlelight (especially if it was Bach).

  2. I’m impressed you were able to find a paper utility bill. I haven’t had a paper one for years, so I’d have had to somehow look it up on my phone to find the account number!

  3. When I lived in Maine in the days before LED flashlights and lost power for a week due to an ice storm, I found reading by candlelight less hard on my eyes than reading by flashlight, because the light, though dimmer, was more diffuse than the extreme contrast of one small bright circle surrounded by pitch dark. But the key to reading by candlelight is tapers and candlesticks–i.e., candles tall enough to cast light down on what you need to see, not tea lights or votives that only cast light up and shadows down. There’s usually a sound practical reason behind “old-fashioned” ways of doing things, now long-forgotten as people mostly use candles for atmosphere or decoration, not to see by.

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