Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, staying at home because I’m old. I thought I was handling social distancing pretty well. After all, I’m something of a hermit anyway. The biggest difference in my schedule was a switch from going into town six days out of seven to get the mail and pick up odds and ends of groceries to staging a once-a-week-do-everything-all-at-once marathon.
Then, on Thursday, April 9 at mid-afternoon, the rain changed to heavy, wet snow. At 5:30, just after we finished an early supper, the power went out. Given the snow and wind, this wasn’t unexpected, but it hit me hard. After shutting down the computer, still running on the UPS backup battery, I curled up on the sofa and declared I was taking a nap. The husband got a fire going in the wood stove and dug out the battery and attachment that provides enough juice to power a lamp and recharge our iPads. We were already prepared for winter storm outages. It’s only April, after all, and this is Maine. Twenty-two years ago we lived through the ice storm of ’98—a whole week without power. Some lessons you never forget. We have a large bucket of water in the bathtub for flushing (no power=no pump to bring water into the house from the well) and a supply of camping gear: propane powered hot plate, lantern, flashlights, even an old-fashioned coffee pot. Did you know you can open up pods and use the contents like ground coffee? We keep lots of jugs filled with well water around, for washing and cooking, and a supply of bottled spring water for drinking and making coffee.
A half hour later, power was restored, but we didn’t trust that it would stay on. We were right. At 8:30, it went out again, and this time it stayed out . . . for sixty-four hours and forty minutes. That’s right. It didn’t come on again until Sunday afternoon.
We knew when we got up on Friday that we were in for a long haul. Trees and powerlines were coated with snow and there was about eight inches on the ground. One of our apple trees had been uprooted by high winds and a pretty birch in the yard was broken right in two.
No electricity means no cable, no Internet, no WiFi, and no running water. For a while our landline still worked, but then it went out, too. Yes, we have cell phones, but they’re not smart phones—that would be a waste of money because we live in a “dead zone” for cell service. In short, communication with the outside world was pretty much cut off from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon, and even after the power was restored, cable and WiFi were still out, so we couldn’t check email, Facebook, or blogs, or search for news of what had happened in the rest of the world while we were cut off. More on that later.
If we hadn’t been in the middle of a pandemic, we might have driven somewhere (Pizza Hut comes to mind) that still had power and offers free WiFi . . . but maybe not. As it turned out, about two thirds of the state of Maine lost power at about the same time we did. The governor ordered Central Maine Power and Emera Maine to focus on hospitals and group homes and other similar facilities before the rest of us. Sensible, but I felt sorry for anyone who was at home and sick, a not inconsequential number even in rural Maine. The worst health issue we had to face was the loss of power to run the CPAP machine I use at night to control my sleep apnea. As an alternative treatment, I spent the three nights of the outage sleeping semi-upright on the recliner end of the sofa.
As the hours dragged into days, the effects of the storm added insult to the injury we’ve all been enduring with self isolation. Things we’d been counting on to see us through were suddenly gone or in danger of disappearing.
Food was no problem at first. We had plenty, and by not opening the freezer or the refrigerator door any more than necessary, we knew it would keep . . . for a while. The ice cream went first. It was a hardship, but we poured it into glasses and drank it through big straws. Waste not, want not, right? After the first forty-eight hours, however, the food situation was getting worrisome. We’d already put the contents of the fridge into coolers, added snow, and put them on the porch to keep everything cold, but all the extra food we’d bought and put in the freezer, to reduce trips to the store during the pandemic, was starting to defrost. We cooked and ate some, but there’s a limit to what you can prepare in a skillet and a saucepan. The frozen vegetables were first into the trash. A lot of meat was destined to follow.
In the adding insult category, that night the temperature outside dropped to twenty-two degrees. It got down to fifty-eight inside, since we were deliberately letting the wood fire go out while we were sleeping. A lot of what we’d transferred from the refrigerator to coolers on the porch froze, while what was in the freezer continued to thaw into pulpy, watery masses. By Sunday morning, packages of chicken and hamburger had gone past the point where we dared eat them. The frozen pizza might still be good, but only if we could eat it that day. We were seriously considering digging the grill out of the garage and trying to use it like an oven. When the power came back on that afternoon, it was pizza for supper after all.
Have I mentioned the challenge of washing dishes when the power’s out? Cleaning plates, glasses, mugs, and cutlery isn’t easy when you have to heat the water to wash with on the wood stove and then pour more out of a jug to rinse off the soap. Pots and pans in need scrubbing get a lick and a promise. First priority when the power came on and hot water was available again, however, was not doing the dishes. It was taking a shower and washing my hair!
We missed getting news of the outside world while the power was out. Without WiFi or cable, we couldn’t watch the news on television or read newspapers and magazine articles online. We couldn’t tune in for the daily news briefing from the Maine CDC. Maybe it wasn’t entirely bad to take a few days off from hearing the latest death total, but not knowing was hard, too. We have three different battery operated radios in the house, but lousy reception. None of the stations we could get seemed to have regular news or weather forecasts, or if they do, we weren’t lucky enough to stumble on them. After a while, we gave up trying. A little talk radio goes a long way!
Entertainment we’ve come to take for granted also disappeared. There was no TV, no streaming from Amazon Prime or any other service, and no power to run the DVD player. Yes, we had plenty of books, both downloaded onto our iPads and in print format, but one disadvantage of using a wood stove for heat is very dry air. The eyes give out after a while. To alternate, I did some writing and editing by hand, worked on the current jigsaw puzzle, and listened to the book on tape I’d had going in my car. Yes, I do mean book on tape. On the principal of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I still listen to audio cassettes on a Walkman.
On Sunday morning, my husband finally dug out his cell phone, found a spot where he could get reception, and called Central Maine Power. The phone tree was a disaster. Their computer couldn’t understand why we weren’t calling from our landline, the phone number they have on file for us. Then they wanted phone number, account number, and social security number (say what?). Declining that option, he finally reached a real person, and without being put on hold, either. She was delightful. She had just gotten her power back that morning herself. She told us that at 6AM Easter Sunday morning there were still 30,000 outages in the state but that everyone was expected to have their power back by 10 PM. We didn’t necessarily believe her, but her words were encouraging. The contact was also proof that we were not, after all, the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse.
I passed the day proofreading the book I have due June first, reading, listening to that book on tape, and cleaning the refrigerator. Hey—it was empty. How often does that happen?
When the power came back on, the first thing we did was flush the toilets. Then we waited for the water heater to heat up again so we could take those showers. Then I washed lots and lots of dirty dishes. Not too surprisingly, although we also got phone service to our landline back, we were still without cable and thus without television, Internet, and WiFi, although we could now watch DVDs again. A call to Spectrum confirmed that there were outages due to the storm. Unfortunately, as we soon discovered, that’s not why we’d lost our connection.
The cable line runs to our house from the telephone pole on the other side of the road. The heavy snow made it sag low enough to be snagged by something sticking up from the top of a passing truck and it was literally ripped free. We weren’t the only ones this happened to, and no one can say how long it will take Spectrum to fix the lines. The upshot is that in order to access the Internet to check email and Facebook, I have to drive into town and sit in the car in front of the (closed) public library. And this blog? Well, it’s on my pc. As I composed this, I had no idea if I’ll be able to post it at Maine Crime Writers on schedule on Thursday the sixteenth.
That was definitely adding insult to injury!
EPILOGUE: When did the cable and Internet and WiFi come back on? Our original call for service on Sunday apparently got lost. When we called again on Wednesday, working our way through another of those wonderful phone trees, and finally convinced a real person that it wasn’t just a matter of throwing a switch (the cable is lying on the ground, folks!), they promised someone would take care of it that day. At around one, a computerized phone call informed us that “Matthew” was on his way. The same computer with the same message phoned us at four, at five-thirty, and at seven. At seven-thirty (dusk), Matthew arrived. He came to us from New Hampshire by way of Bangor. Don’t ask! Until almost nine he was still sitting in his truck in our driveway waiting for the bigger truck with the bucket to arrive so they could run a new line from the telephone pole on the other side of U. S. Rt. 2 to our house. We were back in business at 9:13. Yea!
With the (now possibly tentative) June 30,2020 release of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains three websites, at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and another, comprised of over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century English women, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.