Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eight Footcandles and a Cup of Cheer

After a brief trip to Chicago last week, during which our plane lost an engine (possibly confirming that I am cursed, but that's another story) on Thursday night, we were at the receiving end of one of the worst storms ever to strike the Pacific Northwest. The bridge to the mainland was closed; the ferries weren't running, so we were here -- for the duration. It wasn't a hurricane, but funnily enough, after so many years of living in a hurricane prone region, it was here that I finally experienced winds over 90 miles per hour. Wow -- that is some wind!

Fortunately, another recent storm, combined with years of warnings to be "hurricane ready", had already convinced me of the value of preparation. So we started the storm with plenty of food, fuel, candles, and batteries, plus a car charger for my cellphone (and internet), and a piano for entertainment. DH was late getting home, but he made it over Deception Pass before they closed it (thank heavens!), to eat the horribly burnt hamburgers I attempted to cook (to save the meat since it wasn't frozen and the electricity was becoming unstable) -- and yes; I confirmed (repeatedly) that the smoke alarms work fine.

We didn't lose power until well into the night, after which, we just listened to the wind -- and appreciated our house. Our house has been here on this hill for more than a hundred years. That isn't so old by many standards (including mine; I love things-medieval), and it's been renovated to seem quite modern. Yet, our house has 19th century bones and they really proved their worth. Our house is a fortress; when the wind passed 90 mph, it made nary a creak.

The storm was at its height right at dawn; we stood at the windows (like idiots, but in our defense, the wind was from the other direction) and watched the waves crashing into each other in the cove at the bottom of the hill. By then, it was getting pretty darn cold -- outside, it was just above freezing; inside seemed to be catching up fast. We decided it was time to flip the magic switch and turn on the fireplace. The switch is magic because it looks like an ordinary electrical switch, but it isn't. It's a kind of valve that allows propane (stored in a tank outside) to flow. So it works with no electricity (which we only realised a few days ago), and it means we don't need power to heat our main living room. The same mechanism works on our stove and hot water tank, so it's easy to survive in cold weather here without power. It was cold enough outside that we could put the stuff from our refrigerator on the back steps and save it too. All of that was good because a quick internet check (via cellphone) gave us the news that it might be days before the power would be back.

On Friday night, we ate in front of the fire, feeling grateful for our sturdy house and the fireplace with the magic switch. I lit some candles, got a glass of Bailey's Irish cream, and listened to DH play the piano -- until he stopped suddenly and looked around. "What?" I asked.

"It's beautiful," he said. "Look."

I looked around -- and I saw it immediately. It was a vision of light. It was as if the candles had called forth the essence of the old things in the room and restored them to the central place they once held. Once again, the old piano glowed, while the television sulked, useless, in its cabinet. The chandelier I brought from Louisiana seemed to glitter in remembrance of former candles. My great grandfather's desk, bought second-hand in the nineteenth century, seemed burnished with memories of long-ago glory. The striped silk curtains, which I'd pulled together to conserve heat, shimmered softly against the mellow gleam of the pine floorboards. Even the Viva Las Vegas Christmas tree was transformed -- without its brightly colored lights -- into a sparkling collage of green and glass. And everything modern had gone, as if the candles were unwilling to extend their light to the unfamiliar.

It was amazing.

Even more amazing, after being warned that it might be days before our power returned, we appear to have been among the first on the island to have it back.

The TV has returned to prominence and our tired old furniture has faded into the background. But now we know it's only biding time -- until the friendly candles wash it with light again.

1 comment:

Gillian said...

I am really, really relieved to see this post :). I partied all yesterday and am going to sleep most of today now I can stop worrying about you. (I'll keep chat-thing on when I go online this week, just in case you're round.)