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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Loading the transformer

A photo on Flickr[posted by risa]

Another storm front moved through. I had been home alone sick all day, trying to fight off an ear infection (these have a habit of being life threatening as I'm apparently the abode of a resistant form of strep). About four in the afternoon, the transformer out at the street went "bang," frightening the geese and plunging the house into interior darkness, just as the rains were at their wildest.

I was right in the middle of uploading A Journal of the Plague Year, so survival modes were very much on my mind. And with only about 5K to go, too (slow modem). Oh, well.

Beloved hasn't been feeling well, either, so, since I could not heat the bedroom for her return home, I thought I had better build a fire and put the kettle on, the old-fashioned way.

When these things happen, one's life is both simplified and made more complicated. Simplified because there isn't much to do: split wood, carry water, chop vegetables, trim the lamp, practice dulcimer, sleep. You can only read by lantern light for so long, and it's not enough to really see by for some chores, like mending. Splitting wood and carrying water, also, are predicated upon an economy that currently doesn't exist around here: nostalgia for the nineteenth-century ways of doing things can be a misleading exercise because, in fact, hardly anyone can afford to work for, say, five cents an hour anymore. Though we are in danger of getting back to that -- through a process of horrific attrition, thanks to a couple of hundred years of good sanitation and poor family planning policy.

Complicated because the world still thinks growth equals progress and while I'm sitting here in the dark, the cost of everything is rising fast and there's not much more my world expects from me in the way of productivity. I'm beginning to panic as I measure my remaining strength against how fast I'm supposed to run to keep up, in a direction I don't want to go. Out there somewhere are committees and a grand jury (I've been picked for duty next week) and a job that are becoming irrelevant fast, if we're not very very careful. And so far, we're not.

Most of you are maybe too young to have seen Soylent Green, yes?

I then put soup on, but Beloved would have eaten. It's symbolic more than anything. We do try to put something we have grown in every meal, and we do try to have at least one meal a day at home. OK, so I will just have a little bit....

When she came in, I was sitting in the dark with a candle and two lamps going. I had tired of practicing dulcimer, then eating, then practicing dulcimer, then eating. She put down her stuff on the counter.

"How long have we been out?"

"About an hour. They came and fixed it, and then it went bang again."

"Right, they're back, shining lights on it and scratching their heads."

"They have to be careful. A lot of wet volts can happen up there if they forget any steps."

"They won't. They're really good, getting here that fast. Our heroes."

"We seem to have them here more than anywhere. People are loading that transformer a lot."

"Well, the price of wood went up before the price of electricity. So people switched over."

"Switched, I love it." I hefted my bowl and spoon. "Soup?"

"No, I ate with the kid."

"How's he doing?"

"Really, not that bad. He wanted to go for a walk but then the rain hit and I told him I wasn't up for it with my throat, so we stayed in and watched some of his anime. He's not going to go to work in the Gardens tomorrow; too wet."

The lights came on, momentarily blinding us. The refrigerator clattered, and settled down to a hum. Civilization!

"I'll go get the mail, I still have on my coat," she said. "Are the birds in?"

"I had to chase them around in circles 'cuz it was still light out, but I think they're all Behind Closed Doors."

''Kay, thanks." She went down through the mudroom with that long farmer's gait she has.

I blew out the lamps and the candle.

Bang! went the transformer. The windows rattled.

I sighed, and lit the lamps again.

Beloved came in, dripping, with a handful of unsolicited catalogs. Her eyes were wide.

"I thought I was being shot."

"You were practically right under that thing, I shouldn't wonder."

"Tell you what, let's just go to bed."


I took the soup off, and the hot water, closed the damper, blew out the lamps, and followed her off into the darkness.

About as soon as we closed our eyes, the lights came back on. You could just hear the refrigerator cranking up, against the steady drumbeat of the last rains of February.

Country Living, brought to you by the fragile, expensive, and unpredictable twenty-first century.



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