Monday, December 15, 2008

What do you do when the electricity goes off?

Many New Englanders were confronted with this problem just north of where we live, where an extensive ice storm knocked out electricity all over Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and parts of Massachusetts for several days.

The experiences are emblematic of what could happen during an extensive energy crisis involving supply shortages of oil, natural gas, and other energy sources.

Watching the news coverage, I was struck by the vast differences in preparation among the citizenry. Many were bearing up well with good-humored Yankee stoicism, but were barely surviving with homes cold enough on the inside to see your breath, long gas lines (or no gas), and difficult treks to find food to restock the pantry.

A lot of people simply threw up their hands and crammed into any hotel with power that they could find. I joked with my family, rather lamely, that we would have just headed with our Prius into Boston in search of a Marriott, where I have a sort of "frequent stayer" program.

The good ole venerable wood stove

I was impressed by one fellow in New Hampshire who seemed to be actually having a good time. The reason was that he had a wood stove, a chain saw, and plenty of fallen-down trees to chop up and stoke the heater with. A wood stove will keep a fairly large area of a house, about 500 hundred square feet, toasty enough to live in, and you can heat up water, soup, and other stuff on its hot surface.

The man's family was simply sleeping in the vicinity of the stove, they had plenty to eat and drink, and he was not letting the fire go out. He talked about how everything for this long weekend had become "simpler," and that there was something nice and bucolic about how they were living (no TVs, video games, iPods, modern stresses, etc.).

Doesn't this observation remind you of the kind of post-Peak Oil scenarios people often talk about?

I vowed after listening to him to do two things: replace my wood-stove insert with a full-fledged wood stove, and get a couple of free-standing, perhaps kerosene burning lamps. My father, who passed away this year in his eighties, but lived successfully for decades on the wooded coast of Maine, in his infinite wisdom, gave me a kerosene burning lamp about 12 years ago. After not using it for a couple of years I donated it to a charitable auction, and now I'm kicking myself.

As one stranded person in northern New England put it this weekend, "You don't truly appreciate something until you no longer have it," and that's electricity.

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