Grim Reality

Sweeping his hand across the map of the United States, the television meteorologist expounded on how frigid temperatures and precipitation were producing snow storms in Washington and Oregon. He stated, “These storms are moving east. By Tuesday night, when the weather system gets here, southern Wisconsin will get mostly rain and possibly an inch of snow. In northern Wisconsin, the rain will quickly turn into snow with accumulations up to a foot.”

Looking up from texting on my phone, I responded like a Charlie Brown adult, “Wah-wah-WAH-wah.” Hearing about the impending storm was getting old. I’d heard this forecast over and over for the last two days. It was only about 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside, leaving a few patches of snow here and there in the yard. We probably wouldn’t get much more than a thin sheet of ice.

Rain didn’t begin falling until late Tuesday afternoon. Once nightfall came, I pulled the living room curtains shut, blocking the cold, darkness from entering my warm, brightly lit house, forgetting all about the weather.

By Wednesday afternoon every surface outdoors, trees, highline wires and roads were coated in a thick layer of ice. Carefully inching across my icy back deck, I slowly walked like a penguin out to the mail box. Seeing the birdfeeders empty, I returned to the house for a bucket of seeds.

Everything in the yard looked grotesque, swollen with thick layers of ice. Weighed down by heavy ice, tree branches bowed awkwardly to the ground. Ice-knobbed twigs in the maple tree clattered as a slight breeze brought them together. I heard a prolonged, deep cracking sound followed by a thud in the pine tree patch behind the house. One of the over-burdened branches had snapped and fallen.

Shortly before bedtime that evening, I watched the weather and heard the meteorologist advise, “This storm is tracking further south than we expected. We’re now looking at 6 to 10 inches of snow in central Wisconsin.”

On my way to bed Wednesday evening, I looked out a window and was surprised to see a thick layer of snow covering the yard with a heavy curtain of snow still falling.

When I woke the following morning, something didn’t seem right. In the dim morning light, I turned to look at the clock-radio next to the bed. The time display window was blank. Instantly, I knew the power was out.

Scrambling out of bed, I headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day. To my dismay I realized that I wouldn’t be able to flush the toilet, use water to wash my face or brush my teeth. I shivered. The room felt cold. Without electricity the furnace couldn’t send warm air to all the rooms in the house, either.

Having seldom seen a power outage last for more than six hours, I optimistically planned my day. As the hours without power grew longer, the house became colder and colder. Happy that my gas stove can be manually lit, I heated leftover soup for lunch. A ventless gas heater in my office warmed one room of the house.

Evening came, and the electricity still hadn’t come back on. Hours dragged by as I sat in the dark, with only a flickering candle for company. I missed the company of the internet connection and television programs.

Fortunately, it was only 31 degrees outside. I wondered, “What would this be like if the temperatures were ten or twenty degrees colder? My water pipes would burst!” I felt horrified that I had to go to bed in the dark, cold and unwashed. Crawling into bed wearing my daytime clothing with layers of sweaters went against every instinct I had, but was necessary for warmth.

Power still hadn’t been restored on Friday morning, but daylight filled me with an optimism I hadn’t felt during the dark night. I began putting things away, wrapping Christmas gifts, addressing envelopes and melting snow to flush the toilet.

Lights suddenly came on minutes before noon. I had been without electricity for thirty-four hours. To my relief, the furnace, water pump, water heater and router for WIFI all began to work.

The prolonged power outage forced me to realize how dependent I am on electricity. I prayed for the people in war-torn countries who face the grim reality that life as it was before their electrical power source was destroyed will not be easily restored.


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