Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who Turned the Lights Out?

by Zinta Aistars

We did. I'm convinced it was us. While the debate still (amazingly) rages on whether human beings have contributed to climate change, extreme weather is on the increase. The fury of storms is in the news on a daily basis now. Tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, earthquakes, blizzards, thunderstorms.

Mother Earth is having more than a hot flash. She's mad.

I don't recall summers being this hot for such extended times when I was a child. I hear others in my age group saying the same whenever the temperatures soar to the mid to high 90s (Fahrenheit) or even well into the 100s. Most of us didn't have air conditioning in our homes or in our cars when we were young. We didn't need it.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I actually rather enjoyed summer. No more. The blistering heat gives me headaches, even if I do now have central air at home and the air conditioner in my car blasting chilled air on my daily commute to and from work. The heat makes me lethargic; my energy drips and drains away until all I want to do is collapse into a chair and let the sweat cool on my skin.

And then the storms come. Again. In February, the ice and snow came, and the horizon was lost in a white blizzard. I lost power at home for three days. I deal with cold pretty well, so I was kewl with that. But yesterday, a thunderstorm crashed through the skies, whipped up winds as much as 80 miles per hours in nearby areas. Trees snapped like toothpicks and limbs flew loose in every direction. I drove home from work to find the power out, again.

The house was still cool from the air conditioner running before, and since it is well insulated, it remained reasonably cool throughout the evening and night. I bought large bags of ice at the nearby gas station and stuffed them into my refrigerator.

Thankfully, I hadn't stocked up on groceries for more than a week, so the loss of food wouldn't be too great, but I fired up the grill and took the steak in the freezer out and set it to sizzle rather than risk its thaw and eventual spoil. Toss in a large potato, tear up some butter crisp lettuce and garden-grown blushing red tomato, and dinner was gourmet. By candlelight.

I don't watch much television, so reading by the window was a pleasant relaxation. After it grew dark, I moved upstairs to my bedroom and lit candles, propped my large camping lantern above my plumped up pillows, and continued to read until sleep came.

So who's complaining? Not this evening, I'm not. The neighborhood is still and quiet, even as the leafy giants fallen in the storm lie across the street, electric lines tangled in their branches. The storm has cooled the air just enough. I watch the dance of candelight on my walls and the ghostly circle of white light on my ceiling from the lantern. Almost like camping out in luxury. I am cozy in my bed and I read until my eyes grow heavy.

Yet by morning this is a tad tiresome. My electric stove or coffee maker don't work. There's just enough hot water left in the water heater to take the quickest of showers. As soon as I climb out to get dressed, my clothes paste themselves to my already damp skin .... the day is waking up hot again. Very hot.

When I head out for my morning walk with my dog, going this time by that nearest gas station to pick up a large cup of coffee, I hear the buzz of generators. Apparently, they don't make those things with mufflers. I can hear them a block away, and there are two, three, four rumbling away on my block alone.

I have generator envy. I'm going shopping tonight for one of my own, because the update from Consumers Energy is that it will take another three days to restore power.

So is this me talking? The same me that longs for a simple life in the woods? Yes, it's me. And I still keep dear that goal of moving north some day to the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, to set up a retirement household that is secluded and quiet, view of Lake Superior perhaps, or at least some bubbling stream, with wildlife bountiful and television antennaes few and far between.

One arranges a lifestyle around certain needs, and how and where I live now requires more technological advancements. It is one reason why I keep my eyes trained north, to escape all this, but while I am still here, I appreciate the electric current that percolates my coffee and heats my water and cools my rooms. When I camp, I live otherwise, and I camp rustic, in tent and by fire. When I retire north, I will live differently, and my commute to work will have ended with all its assorted obligations.

I wonder sometimes ... someday, will we have a choice of lifestyles? One wired and juiced, the other off the grid? There must be some happy medium. For now, I unplug what I do not use. I keep my thermostat low in winter, no problem. I mow my lawn with an eco-mower. I do that awful commute to work in a fuel-efficient car. I buy LED light bulbs, and I shop locally whenever possible. I stock my pantry from a CSA share, community supported agriculture, all organic.

Watching the ghostly circle of light on my bedroom ceiling, I consider what more I can do. There must be more, because our choices are becoming limited, and these ever more frequent power outages are sending a message as our houses grow still and quiet.

Mother Earth is angry, and she is demanding our attention. We have abused her long enough, taken her for granted. Comes a time when the abused stand up and roar, and I hear her roar now. In the dark and in the stillness, I am trying to listen.


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