Sunday morning the electricity went out in our house. It seems to happen more and more frequently. The lines in our subdivision are underground, so usually the lights just flicker, or we get our power back after a minute or two.
But Sunday morning it was out for over an hour, from about 7:30am until about 9:00am. I’d already had my breakfast and read the newspaper, but I was just starting the crossword puzzle. The sun was up, but the skies so dark under the storm clouds that the house was dark, except just next to our windows. And even there, I couldn’t see the small font or squares of the puzzle.
What could I do without power?
I found a large flashlight, and took a shower by its light. The master bathroom in our house has no windows. Neither do two other bathrooms in the house.
Home design has changed since electricity became the norm. Houses did not have windowless rooms before the convenience of light at the flick of a switch. We turn on lights as we move from place to place, each new transmission of electricity seems free in terms of time and cost.
We do not have to take time to fill our lamps with fuel, nor strike a flint to light them. We do not have to dip candles made from the tallow of animals we raised and slaughtered. Our only exposure to the cost of light is the utility bill we pay once a month, so we have no concept of the resources and labor required to create the power we use.
After my shower, I pulled up all the blinds in the den, sat in a comfy chair, and in the dim grey light I wrote in my journal. I had to move from one chair to another, needing the window behind my left shoulder to illuminate the page. When the window was behind my right shoulder, my right hand cast a shadow on my journal, and I couldn’t see to write.
Our ancestors would have known where to sit for maximum light unconsciously. They would have learned the lesson in childhood. I had to learn again this cloudy morning, no diffusion available from my many lamps and overhead fluorescent bulbs to block the shadows.
As I watched the minutes pass on my battery-powered clocks, I worried about cooking without power, about the food that would spoil in the refrigerator and freezer if the electricity did not return soon, and about laundry without the convenience of washer and dryer.
Although many of us find it fun to spend a few days in the wilderness camping without electricity, we say we are “roughing it.” We think we are living like our ancestors, but we do not consider how our Goretex boots and nylon tent were fashioned. In fact, even our backwoods adventures are beholden to our high-tech society. They are not what our ancestors experienced.
The electricity returned.
I then typed this post about my hour without power. On a laptop that could have survived only a few hours without its cord. To post through my network router that did not connect at all without electricity.
What lessons have you learned about life in the past from failures of our modern technology?