Around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, our power went out--blew out, more precisely--in the northward-pushing remnants of Hurricane Ike. I sat near my picture windows and read, knowing that sitting beside a window in the midst of winds gusting to 65 mph is never a good idea--and yet also knowing that without window light, I was nowhere. I found that I didn't have the photographic skill to capture for you in still images exactly what was happening outside, but this image comes closest:
What it doesn't quite tell you is what it sounded like to have huge limbs (some more than 10' long) falling from trees on both sides of the apartment building--or what it looked like to see these tall, thin oaks pitching and tossing for hours on end.
The hours since the outage have been a surreal blend of darkness and light, work and stoppage, festivity and futility: trees came down all over town, taking out houses and power lines, and no one I knew came out of this windstorm with all utilities intact. 73% of my county was without electricity this afternoon--that's about 14,500 people; something like 600000 customers of my electric company alone lost power; about 1.6 million people were without in this region. (All of which, I realize, pales in comparison to what this same storm did in Texas.)
I, as was the case in our ice storm four years ago, emerged the least scathed of anyone I know--the only utility to cut out with any duration was the electricity. We camped at each other's houses, following the utilities: where there's a gas stove, we gathered for coffee; where there's a barbecue grill, we gathered for supper.
My power came back on while I was away at the office (where there was also no power), but by the time I came out of a faculty meeting, it had gone out again. A couple of buildings ran on generators. Students could check their e-mail and charge their cell phones in the core of one floor of the campus library--which, by the time I entered it to do an errand for someone else this afternoon, had come to feel and smell like a locker room of sweaty desperation and hot machines.
And now I keep thinking that any second, my power could cut out again, which puts a special urgency on every task I'm undertaking: washing the denim rugs that got soaked and a little stained when the refrigerator and freezer drained, drip by drip, earlier today; charging my mobile phone; putting up a post here so that you'll know where I was yesterday.
Even preparing for class by incandescent light will be a precious novelty tonight.