Last night the rains came.

We live in Southern California, which is, in fact, a desert community. Of course, no one ever thinks about Southern California as a desert community, because we siphon off water from the Colorado River and use it to irrigate our green lawns and fill our swimming pools. We import plants from every climate imaginable and root out most of the cactus. The other day when Art and I went for a walk I saw a great big ball of twigs floating towards us. “Isn’t that tumbleweed?” I asked. Tumbleweed is probably native to Los Angeles, whereas the ubiquitous palm trees are not.

But most winters, we can count on a certain amount of rain. Mercifully, we only get a few good downpours, and the rest comes in drips and drabs. Last night we got a storm worthy of Tennessee or Kansas. The rain pounded down so heavily that I thought it would break right through the roof. It came down so hard that several times my husband, Art, had to go out and drain the water from the swimming pool lest it flood the back of the house. We even got lightning and thunder last night – bright and loud!

Naturally, since we live in the hills, we lost our power. (I don’t mean our personal power – I mean our electricity). This means that not only did all of the lights go out, but our heat went out, our electric hot water heater went out, the cable went out, and the ringer on our phone went out so that we couldn’t tell if anyone was calling.

As we dragged out our flashlights, our candles, and our forty-dollar black and white television set with the six-inch screen that runs on eight D-cell batteries, I had this vision of us as pioneers back in the covered wagon days. For the first time maybe in my whole life I began to appreciate what brave, indomitable spirits these people must have had. Even in sunny California, the sun goes down at 4:30 in the afternoon on December 28th, so that even though we were far from ready to go to bed, there was almost nothing else we could do! At least we had our battery-operated lights and our little almost-worthless TV to keep us sane. Those poor people had nothing.

Anyway, when the sun went down I walked into our darkened kitchen with my flashlight and opened the warm refrigerator. I found some eggs and figured I had better use them up before they went bad. I lit the stove with a log lighter (thank God that’s a gas appliance, although it has an electric starter). I fumbled in my cabinets and got out the necessary bowl and a pan and managed to make us an omelet, some bread and butter, and some steamed broccoli.

We sat down by candlelight and ate our humble dinner at 5:00. We straightened up the kitchen as best we could with cold water in the dark. Then we settled down on the couch in the living room and tried to drown out the sound of the pounding rain with the noise of our little TV. We couldn’t make out what the people were saying and there were multiple ghosts fogging the image on the one channel we could get, but the light from the TV, if not the content of the programming, was somewhat comforting. I even took out my crocheting, put a flashlight on my fingers, and made a little progress on my afghan. Art picked up his guitar and plinked on it for a couple of hours. We both kept staring at that miniscule screen.

That’s where we were sitting at ten o’clock when the power was finally restored. After only a few hours of being power-less, as it were, I was pretty rattled. This morning when we woke up and turned on the news we learned that there had indeed been at least one tornado in the area. Trees had been uprooted and cars had been smashed. Roads had been flooded. Homes had been damaged. There may be more to come before it’s all over.

It occurs to me what a thin veneer of progress separates our “modern” culture from that of the cavemen. If you think we’ve “come a long way, baby” – Think again. Try cutting off your own electricity for about six hours, and see what happens. You may find yourself wondering if that howling wind is indeed a manifestation of angry gods. You may wonder what you can do to appease said angry gods. You may find yourself growing edgy, bored, and anxious – all at the same time. Amazing to think that all of our supposed sophistication can be wiped out, literally, at the flick of a switch. Try it. It will give you new appreciation for the Amish.

© 2004, Robin Munson

 Category: Robin's Nest

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