Name-Worthy Stature

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 11:45am

Chili always tastes better the second night, but it really tastes better the second night when the power has not just gone off with no hope of restoration until well after morning light, leaving no talk or music, no mechanical rumblings of furnace or creaky heat or refrigerator motor, none of the reassuring sounds that help divert attention from the sounds of an old house being battered by the wind.  

Chili tastes much better after the storm has passed, and all of those “modern conveniences” to which we have become accustomed are humming along.

“It is Sunday morning and slush frozen in sheets over my east-facing windows is falling noisily; I like to think of it as being slain by the morning sun.” I wrote that single sentence before closing my computer, mindful of the battery draining; the power had been off over 12 hours.

On Saturday morning I had wondered if there was really any cause to move my car beyond my own road that tends to drift in any snow. I debated, called The Neighbor who said “yes” (translation: “I do not want to have to get you unstuck!”) and with reluctance, I drove up to another neighbor’s wide-open lot. I had waited five minutes too long and was brushing snow from my coat when I got home. News coverage on Providence radio hit a new low, we became the nameless “extreme reaches of South County” until they realized we alone were in the coveted “blizzard” band, giving Block Island name-worthy stature.

Word came that the power company would be shutting down the Neck for an hour to repair a broken pole out by the beach house. The good news was it would only be an hour, the bad news, a pole had already broken.

We have these storms every now and then, when things go far more wrong then they should, be it from a slight shift in the direction of the wind, a temperature that turns snow to heavy shush that tugs on lines and pulls poles sideways, even a convergence of tide and moon.

Beyond the hype, this was not supposed to be that bad. I started to write by hand:

We’re still on the edge of the storm and power is out. If the wind weren’t blowing... but the wind is slamming... Clouds of wet snow are rolling across my front field from east to west and I am glad I moved my car. 

The power was restored and I put aside my pen to spend the day on-line, conversing with Historical Society folk, using time set for a retreat, scheduled in optimistic folly for the weekend. It had been cancelled and instead we posted a very few photos of the storm on our Facebook page and watched in amazement as the number of viewers climbed.

Horror stories of power outages on other parts of the island began to penetrate my little cocoon, with restoration estimates first light an afternoon and a night later, and an impending sense of doom thickened like the slush on the windows. Still, it just did not seem that bad, there was never a moment I could not make out the outline of the old farm across the lot, lost to me in a real whiteout.

Then, as sunset neared, the lights went out, and came back on and went out, over and again. They settled, finally, I plugged my phone into its charger in anticipation of the inevitable and went about the business of canvassing, should we or should we not call off church, using my landline, a number no longer familiar but which was answered as it has the old island exchange, 466.

There was snow, much snow, impassable-has-to-be-plowed snow on the West Side, I learned, and more power to be restored. Beacon Hill had been out since morning and would be out all night — and well into the next day it later proved. Someone on High Street had been in and out from work and had not encountered difficult driving. When she asked “is it lightning?” I walked to the window in time to see a transformer out on the beach road throw strobe lights into the sky before dying in a great blinding flash.

My world went dark.

Incredibly, in the storm, the lights were restored a bit later. Talking to someone close to the blown transformer, I heard “the pole is sparking, I think the pole is on fire!” and, bam, the power went. (Perhaps I should stay off the phone!) That was the game-changer, even if everyone came back on line as soon as hoped they would be playing catch-up. Amazingly, Harbor Church, our would-be destination, among the places out the longest in winter’s first blast a year ago, never lost power. 

Sleep was impossible, the night was horrid, loud and raging, bright with moonlight and snow, and it was endless.

Late Sunday morning, when the power was to come on anywhere between noon and they-don’t-know-when, I put on boots, my big, awkward Baffins, walked out to my car and met my neighbor going to hers. Our roads were not drifted. There was not that much snow down the Neck, despite the reported 13 inches, I knew to be accurate at a location a scant few miles from us. We talked of how unusual it was for our power to be out this long when the snow was so spare.

I went to town and came home expecting the worst, but opened the door to the familiar rumble of the furnace. By nightfall my house was back to a toasty — to me — 60; it was peaceful and I knew I would sleep.

Still, on-going repair work on the Neck Road prompted a Monday morning query: “Is your power on?” This made me look at the radio, the one to which I was listening, to confirm, yes, the digital display was lighted, it was.