For my regular readers, you are aware that, though we live in a rural area, we make trips into town for theatre and concerts regularly. For most folks, an event in town might mean arranging for child care, dinner reservations, ordering tickets, and driving to the venue. Most of the time we skip the childcare step, and head on in. However, some times funny things can happen on the way to the Forum.
This past Sunday, we had arranged to see Arena Stage’s season’s final show, A Normal Heart. We planned to catch up with some friends after the matinee show. Friday, as we drove home from work, we double-checked our itinerary for chores to do Saturday, and errands to run on the way in to the theatre. The sooner we had tasks done, the more relaxed Sunday would be.
Linda wanted to make cheese while putting together dinner Friday evening. When we unloaded from work, I turned around to drive over to our neighbor’s to pick up the half gallon of goat milk she needed. The past few days had been near 100F, even up in the mountains. A dense haze hung over us. We both noticed that clouds were starting to form in the mass.
When I returned home, Linda was rapidly cleaning up dishes as she cooked and whipped the milk on the stove. “Look at the weather map… It looks like a fireball is coming toward us.” I checked the radar map. Rather than the usual, thin line of yellow and red thunderstorms running into the mountains west of us, a disc of yellow the width of Indiana and Ohio, with a wall of red several counties wide was headed our way. Often the line of thunderstorms breaks up in the western ridges of the Allegheny Mountains that stand 2000 to 3000 feet taller than our Short Mountain. This system was estimated to be moving at 70 MPH.
For the next 15 minutes, we scurried around to gather the dogs, move the dishes along the cleaning process, get dinner on the table, and finish warming the milk for cheese. The haze hung without a breath of relief. We turned off and unplugged the computers. I had a match in my hand, ready to strike and light the hurricane lamp, when the lights went out. Pause. On again. Pause. Off. Strike, fizz, puff, transfer the flame to the lamp’s wick. Time for dinner, and to wait in the twilight silence. Even we, who live in the country, can forget how quiet life without electricity can be. No fans, no radio, no light timers, no range or microwave, no well pump. No wind, but distant flashes of lighting and occasional rumbles of thunder (and echoing response from distressed dogs) was to be heard.
We finished our dinner (pasta and salad), rinsing the bowls in the tub of water that we had left in the sink. Formal washing would be later. I called the 800-number for the electric company to register our outage. As I hung up the phone, the sound of a freight train roared up the mountains as the first wave of wind pushed through the forest. We sat in our dinning room, well away from the windows, watching the western sky. Sixty foot oaks danced in the wind, leaning 15 to 20 feet this way, then bouncing back and over just as far to the other way. Having felled, cut and split similar sized trees, I could not image the energy required to bend them such, let alone the flexibility and strength to come back to upright when the pressure subsided.
This period of lightening, thunder, and wind lasted about 15 minutes before the 5000 gallon drywall bucket of water was poured on our cabin. Usually in thunderstorms, we get sheets of rain that last 5 to 15 minutes, interspersed with moderate or light rain before the next sheet. This night, we could see the lightening and silhouettes of trees one minute, then nothing but water, then the forest scene again. More than an inch of rain fell overnight, most in that first burst.
We watched the storm pass over the hour. I played my Native American flute, from Monument Valley, for a while. The wind, rain, lightening, and thunder passed west out of the mountains to head toward the populated suburbs of Washington, D.C., then off the coast. As the rain settled into a drizzle, we went to bed. The dogs were pleased.
We awoke before 6 a.m. to a bright dawn, the calls of birds, and the complaints of goats wanting to be fed. We checked the local radio station on our battery operated radio, to find out that power was out from Ohio to the Atlantic, including most of WV. Though I do not like to make noise this early on a Saturday morning, with the electricity still off, it was time to run the generator to give the freezer and refrigerator 30 minutes each of power, and to perk a pot of coffee. Travel mugs and a thermos would keep the coffee hot for the morning. With cold cereal breakfast consumed, the generator went off. Time to inspect the roads for damaged and downed trees. By 8 a.m. we had found a few branches, and 1.3 million twigs on the dirt roads, two neighbors driving out, one to take care of his farm and the other expecting to find coffee at the local gas station, and two trees down with only crown braches in the road.
Back home, we decided on the priorities for the day, while we waited to see if the electricity would come back on. Planting beans around the corn and thinning flower beds were top on the list. We called (the land-line phone work) neighbors to check in and invite them to come by for coffee, which gave us another run of the generator and freezer. Before lunch, I took out the chain saw and cleared the braches of those two trees from the road. I stopped by the neighbor’s cabin, on whose property one of the trees lay, to check in and get, “I saw that I tree down. I was going to get to that later…” (how much later?). After lunch (another run of the generator), cleaning the goat barn was next. A little extra weeding brought us to clean up time and dinner.
When the storm approached, at 8:30 p.m Friday, the temperature was 90F. An hour later, the air had cooled to 70F. By morning, a pleasant 63F refreshed us. By mid-day, we were back to 95F. Without electricity, we were without a well. We had plenty of water stored for drinking, and rain barrels full for flushing toilets (under the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; If it’s brown, flush it down” policy). But, a day in the garden, drenched in sweat and dirt, bathing takes on a different priority… especially, when we planned to head into town the next day.
We were hot enough that a cold bucket of water from the rain barrel sounded pretty good. Standing out in the field, lathering up and rinsing thoroughly, sounded a bit more arduous. Anyway, the last time we did that 15 years ago a small plane just happened to buzz our field at low altitude (cheap thrills). The phone rang, and Linda went to check on the call. “The electricity is back on!” Ah, a cool shower would greet us inside.
With our power running our appliances again, a trip to town the next day should sound easy. But, this storm continued right into town. With internet access again, we checked on Northern Virginia and Washington, D. C. electric companies. Most of the area, including the theatre and restaurant we planned to go to were disconnected. No matter. We had salmon and vegetables to grill. At 8:30 we headed out to fill up the truck and spare gas cans, the back up cans for the generator, and to get soft ice cream. We closed the gas station at 9 p.m., with our last $40, and found that the bank ATM was down. Time for bed, with a threat of more thunder storms approaching.
Saturday night was quiet, and we awoke to another cool morning and hot day approaching. After feeding the animals, making breakfast, and setting up lunches for the week, and picking berries, we called the theatre. Though much of D. C. was still off line, they had power and the show would go on. If you have ever lived on the East Coast, you know that summer means sweating because you exist. We took another quick, cool shower before dressing and packing up for the ride in.
Our first stop, after finding another ATM open, was at the Woodbine Market. It is peach season. We cannot miss the best peaches in the region just because of a storm. When I called them, they reported that their power never went off. Okay. Five hundred miles of power lines are down, and the market where we buy peaches keeps the coolers on! But, it is 11 a.m. and we are headed to town to have the car sit in the 100F sun on asphalt for at least 5 hours. How do you keep peaches from becoming jelly? We hauled in the cooler with ice packs, had the helpful young man weight this, then fill it with peaches, the weigh it again and deducted the base weight to pay only for the peaches. We toss in two quarts of apricots and one of plums, and a loaf of bread.
Our next stop, at 12:30 is Trader Joe’s, which is also open and full of people who are remembering what hunting and gathering refers to, when you have no way of storing food without refrigeration. We are just stocking up on dry goods and inexpensive wine ourselves. All these dry goods get packed around the cooler, hoping to absorb some of the road heat from the peaches.
One o’clock. We have one hour to travel the last 35 miles into D.C., pass by the Pentagon, cross the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac, and get through two stop lights to find our usual street parking two blocks from the theatre. We were mostly concerned about avoiding intersections, because Saturday most of the traffic lights were out, and drives either feared crossing the intersections, or barreled through them assuming that they had the right of way. And, as it was mid-day, we had lunch to eat before arriving. Today’s menu consisted of carrots and celery appetizer, root beer soda, and plowman’s lunch (remember that loaf of bread? Add Stilton cheese and apple slices). Ah!
We arrive, make the two lights, pull into the last shaded spot on the street, and walk into Arena Stage’s lobby at 1:35. We had never seen the lobby so full. “It’s air conditioned” a man smiles as we enter. We have never seen lines up to the bar, with whole families cued up. They are purchasing meals there. Business is booming for one of the few places up and running! It has a real European sensibility about it. Then I realize that while they provided AC and meals, they did not have showers for all those folks getting away from homes without power. Oh, this is really European! (And, that coming form the guy who considered bathing in a rain barrel the day before).
After the show, we swing by the restaurant where we were planning to meet friends for dinner. First, I notice that the traffic lights are mostly off along this major thoroughfare. Next, I notice that many of the empty parking lots have burrito trucks stationed in them with people purchasing meals. Not good signs. Our restaurant is closed. We wonder what degree of mess the Baskin Robins next door will be when they return some days later to clean out the hot freezers full of melted ice cream. We turn back on the highway and return to the mountains, where the air cools at night, the grill is waiting on the deck for burgers, the electricity is on, and the peaches survived the trip home, still cool. The apricots and plums went right into the dehydrator to become winter supplements.
So, the next time you read one of my blog reviews, you might wonder how much of the adventure was the event vs getting to the event. Oh, what about he play? That will come later.