Easthampton, Massachusetts, USA
March 01
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MAY 3, 2012 10:51AM

Four days of darkness

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Some events, whether expected or unexpected cause us to suddenly wake up and remember the journey. We’re not often happy about it but we’re always better for it.

On October 28, 2011, a freak snow storm plunged the entire northeast into darkness. Those of us who spent a sleepless night listening to the terrible crack of falling tree limbs and the sudden boom and sizzle of bursting transformers right outside our windows were not completely surprised when the new day revealed wide-spread devastation and a thick unnatural silence.


Days earlier, forecasts varied. Some local news stations predicted the coming storm might switch to rain (it was only October) or be so fast moving it would only have time to drop a few inches. Others warned of record snowfalls. My husband and I decided to believe the former.

On the morning of the 29th we discovered how wrong we were. Deep snow covered everything. It was beautiful, wet, and because the trees hadn’t dropped their leaves, mercilessly heavy. Small trees were bent right to the ground. Others had their limbs ripped off completely. Old oaks and maples had fallen onto houses and across roads. Some trees had managed to stay upright but most of these had their tops snapped off like twigs. It was a mess.

Power lines hung gracefully across intersections and snaked through front yards. The streets were empty of traffic. Nothing moved. No birds sang. No wind blew.

Everything stopped. The phone didn’t ring. We couldn’t turn on the TV. We couldn’t run our computers. We couldn’t boil water. We couldn’t turn on the lights. We couldn’t cook or wash. Every comfort was gone. In the blink of an eye nature had shown us how puny and fragile we were. In a few hours, my life had been tossed on its head.

My husband switched into survival mode. He found candles, made a make-shift refrigerator outside so our food wouldn’t spoil. He made sure the fire was always burning and kept us warm but as the days passed I got depressed. The fact that the situation was only temporary was not the point. The point was, everything that made my life work depended on power; my job, my health, my food, everything. I was nothing without it.

Like magic, power crews began to arrive from all over the country to put us back together again. They worked around the clock. The sound of chain saws was constant. Within a few days the snow melted. Blue October skies returned and street by street the power slowly came back on. Traffic began to return as trees were cleared. Businesses and schools began to reopen.

My family went only four days without power. Others were in the dark for weeks.

I’ve lived through power outages before but for some reason the October snow storm six months ago was a reminder that I need to wake up. The questions raised by those four days of darkness have stuck with me. How can I live a life that matters whether the lights are on or not? What is valuable? If I were going to be hit by another killer storm tomorrow, what would I do differently today? If I’m lucky enough to live another 30 years or 262,000 hours how would I like to spend them?

Every day I get mad at stupid stuff, complain my computer is too slow when I should be glad that I have one, rush around when I could be taking my time, wolf down my food instead of savoring it. Every day my creature comforts, my electricity and gasoline, my grocery store and internet, conspire to lull me back to sleep. I slip back into old patterns. I forget the cold, the discomfort, the uncertainty, and the strange alien silence that swallowed everything the day my busy, mechanized world came to a sudden stop.

Why can’t I keep the lessons of humility and gratitude fresh in my mind? I easily forget the journey and it’s only a matter of time before the universe sends me another reminder.


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I think you have learned a valuable lesson here and a friendly reminder to others too.
I know exactly what you mean. It's like when you feel miserable with the flu and you think about all the things you could or would rather be doing. You think when you're better you'll be so grateful. For one or two days you are, then you fall back into complaining about all that you have to do. We've been without power for two days and it does certainly make you appreciate the little things you take for granted. Good story great pic too.
Well said! We have killer storms where I live, and get almost annual reminders of our frailty. As you say, it doesn't seem to last very long. Thanks for writing this.
Last winter we got over two feet of snow in a two day storm that left us without power for the better part of five days... I put everything in the fridge & freezer into an ice chest and set it all out on the deck. With the central heat out of commission and no fireplace I boiled water on the stove to heat the house, woke up with ice crystals one the inside of the windows and bathroom mirror. I layered up and wore my watch cap and gloves throughout the day and slept in them as well... It took me most of the five days to dig out the stairwells, drive and my car. Hard work but it had the advantage of keeping you warm.

The experience reminded me of one night at my father's family farm in Indiana... I posted about the experience a while back:

I've had similar winter experiences on the road and in the People's Republic of China but those will come later... we Americans never know how lucky and spoiled we are until Mother Nature or geography takes it away...
Thanks to all for reading. Yes, I did learn a lesson that for some reason I have to keep learning. Six weeks after the storm my husband had a stroke (another story). He has lost the feeling in the right side of his body but it could have been much worse. He could have become incontinent, lost his memory or his speech (among other things), or even died. For about a month afterward we were so happy he was still alive that nothing bothered us. The regular frustrations of life rolled off our backs. We seemed weirdly happy. But it didn't last. Slowly, we fell back into old patterns and now we're back to being as curmudgeony as ever.
I like your writing and your point of view! Happy to have stumbled upon you here on O.S.

Why does the universe keep sending us the same lessons that we keep failing to learn? It's sort of like the movie Groundhog Day.