Cut off

Feb 22, 2011
With the power out, author Mary Sojourner reflects on what really connects us.

I wake to heavy snow bending the little lilac bush outside the window.  My throat tightens.  I easily feel trapped - me, a woman who once felt terrified by the huge spaces of the Southwestern deserts. I put water to boil for coffee, pull on my boots and go to the car.

There are decades of Up-State New York winter driving in my brain and hands.  I bully and seduce the blue Vibe out of its parking space and down the long slope of the driveway to the curb.  I sit for a few minutes to let my heart slow.  If walking solo in wild places is your sustenance, you might know how trapped some can feel in town.

I make coffee and sit with the meditation I say every morning:  for the furthering of all sentient beings; and the protection of earth, air and water.  For those moments, fear recedes. There is plenty of wood within easy reach for the woodstove.  I have enough food.  The phones work. I have the internet for travel - not the same, no, far from the same as stepping onto one of the trails at the Metolius Preserve or sitting on the huge Ponderosa branch at Camp Polk to watch birds - but I can send out writing, be in touch with colleagues and friends, and travel the road in my favorite Van Morrison Youtube.

I start sausage frying on the electric kitchen stove and go back to the computer. I’m working on a collaborative piece I write with an editor from Matador Network when the computer screen flickers, fades and jumps back up.  Every LED light on and around my desk is out. I flick the light switch.  Nothing.  I call my neighbor.  “Yep, power’s out.  A tree down a few blocks away. They said it should be back up by 4:00.”

I finish the next part of the collaborative piece and push Send.  Nothing happens.  Internet access is gone, the modem lights gone dead.  I try to bootleg a neighbor’s wi-fi.  Defunct.  I shut down the computer.

There is no sizzle of chicken sausages frying in the kitchen.  The stove is out. I set another log on the woodstove fire and bring the old iron skillet in to it. In minutes, breakfast is ready.  I heat water for a second cup of coffee, consider what comes next and realize the milk is used up.  Yuppie Crisis, as my best friend and I used to say.  I pull on boots and hike over to Jackson’s Corner.  

The power is down at Jackson's Corner, but they are serving food and something that looks a little like coffee.  The barista grins and says, “Want coffee and a cookie?  On us.  The coffee’s a little weak.  We’ve been smashing the beans with a hammer.”  I pass on the offer and pay for the milk.  I think how much local businesses can be like wild places - full of gifts and surprises.

The power doesn’t come back till after I’ve gone to sleep.  By then, I’ve read by window and candle light, The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, a weave of brutally heart-breaking stories of those who caused and lived through the mid-Thirties American Dust Bowl disaster.  The book is a reminder that we cannot disregard the natural rhythms and structures of the earth.  And it holds stories of what it is to be truly cut off - sodbusters trapped in shanties, blocked from loved ones and hospitals by five foot high dunes drifted across roads.

I’ve talked with friends and sat in the silent dark with the luxury of no-one else to take care of - and nowhere I have to be.  I’ve let my memories take me to Whychus Creek and Rimrock Ranch and the little bridge over Lake Creek in the Metolius.  My thoughts have carried me east, into the hard beauty of the basin-range.  I wondered how it is for people without connection to the earth.  How can they be alone in the dark?  How can they live with being so cut off?  

And, most important, how it would be to have no wild places left to go?  For shelter.  For medicine.  For remembering who we are.