It was pitch black and cold in the middle of the February night, with no power, no furnace, no lights. Fully dressed, flashlight in hand, I was ready to roll to the floor if the sound of trees crashing to the ground from the ice storm outside became too close to the house. It had been going on for hours on our forested street and the greenway nearby; crack, crash, over and over. With 23 trees in my yard, I was just waiting for the inevitable. Then a slow, deep crack, followed by a thundering crash very close, told me it was my turn. Debris hit the roof, but it held.
Morning light showed that one of the 50-foot cedars had fallen just a few feet past the edge of the house, stretching over the lawn to the street. Broken branches were everywhere, with the tops of two old Magnolias both snapped off. Alders looked like pencils stuck in the ground, with all of their branches snapped off. The ice storm had done its damage, but now it was time to deal with it and move on.
For years I had been teased about my "always overly prepared" habits and was told I was a "Magpie, collector of things for the nest." I was the one with band aids in the purse, a drawer full of all sizes of batteries and too much food in the pantry. Now, bringing out of storage my Power Outage Box used occasionally over the past years during summer storms, I had my revenge. The corded phone was plugged in to replace the cordless one, then batteries put in the portable radio, clock, flashlights and camping lantern, all from the Outage Box. A chafing dish with Sterno from long-ago dinner parties now heated soup, and Little Hotties hand warmers were in each pocket, warming fingers enough to turn pages while reading under five blankets by lantern light, wearing gloves and a hat in the 40-degree house. Baggies packed with ice chipped from the sidewalk kept the refrigerator and freezer so cold that only ice cream and meat had to later be thrown out.
Each night, in the silent, chilly, inky black darkness, Halloween Glo-sticks from the Outage Box brought great comfort with their soft green glow, lasting until light finally edged through the curtains in the morning. It would be eight days without power and three weeks before we again had Internet, but the pile of books and magazines slowly diminished. Neighbors who had gas stoves brought an occasional hot meal, and time passed.
At last, one night there was a click as a forgotten lamp suddenly turned on, bringing wonderful warm brightness to fill the room. Most exciting of all, there was the lovely rumble of the furnace coming on. Power was back. Warmth and light returned. The fallen trees were cut up and removed, branches collected into a massive pile. The pantry shelves were restocked and streaming television plots caught up. Each step was quietly celebrated with gratitude for all that was now again part of normal life.
And then this Magpie restocked the Power Outage Box and stored it away because, after all, one never knows what tomorrow might bring, does one?
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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