SOMEBODY COINED THE TERM ‘CAR-WASH RAIN’ and the description was apt. Drumbeats on the roof. Sheets of water down the windows. It was like being in a dimly lit tunnel from which you could barely see out. Like a drive-through car wash.
But this wash and waxing wasn’t over in three minutes. The “atmospheric river,” or Pineapple Express, or whatever label the KOMO Weather Woman affixed on the latest low-pressure tantrum to blast Washingtonians with its Super Soaker, started the drenching Sunday afternoon and didn’t let up for the better part of 24 hours by my clock.
I’m a little fuzzy on the timing because for the latter part of that storm most of the Nuthatch’s clocks weren’t working.
Oh, I forgot to mention the Monday winds, gusting to 60 mph, that blew down trees and doused electricity to our island and several others in the San Juans.
Shortly after my power went out and clocks went dark at 1:23 p.m., Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, which electrifies all the San Juans, emailed me to let me know my power had gone out at 1:23 p.m. I thought it very efficient of them. Maybe I hadn’t noticed all the lights go off, the Internet go down, the heater fan stop and fridge go silent. Of course, I didn’t get the email until after my Internet came back on hours later.
Actually, I was the first Center Islander to report the power failure to OPALCO’s outage line. The phone is the first thing I reach for when things go dark. They can’t fix it if they don’t know about it, right? While our island’s utility wires are underground, our power comes via an underwater cable that originates in Anacortes and first crosses Decatur Island, where lines are on poles and subject to falling trees.
After phoning, my second move was to refill my indoor firewood rack and kindle a blaze in the woodstove. With my electric heat pump no longer magically pulling warmth from the howling winds outside, the cabin would quickly chill.
My next thought: Last time the power failed, in a storm last January, it stayed off for 18 hours. Long enough for the fridge to warm and the freezer full of food to start thawing.
So I stepped out to the shed and hauled out the gas-powered portable generator that got its first tryout in January. While I had already given it a pre-winter test run a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t refilled the gas tank. The good news: I knew I had a spare 5-gallon jug of gasoline. The other news: Said gas jug was aboard my boat, on the other side of the island.
Now, one thing I’ve learned in my long years on this planet and in my few years on this island is that it’s not a great idea to go out in a raging windstorm. The quick lesson on that comes from the loud thunks every few minutes on my metal roof as branches fall. Usually they are small branches. Sometimes they are not small. And they come down fast.
But I had Mr. Toad, the Cantwell golf cart, sporting a brand-new, $1,000 set of six 6-volt batteries installed just days earlier. (Timing can be everything.) Mr. Toad features a hardtop roof, strong enough to protect the noggin from most plummeting limbs. Happily, the pouring rain had ceased and sunshine was lighting up the wildly waving trees. What Mr. Toad lacks is doors. In rain, the going can be wet.
The wind-buffeted sojourn was without incident. Once I’d topped off the generator’s tank, the daylight was fading. I wouldn’t fire up the noisy, smelly generator just yet; the fridge would be fine for a while yet. But the lights had been out for hours and OPALCO’s recorded info line offered no estimated time of repair. My next thought was: What did I not want to be looking for in the dark? I dug out my battery-powered mountaineering headlamp, lost in the depths of my knapsack when last I’d wanted it. Then I distributed emergency candles strategically around the cabin, placed a lighter nearby, and retrieved my propane camping stove from the shelf high above the washing machine. (Note to self: The bamboo clothes hamper is not designed to support a 170 pound human, if that cracking sound was any indication.)
Things were getting decidedly dim in the cabin by 4:30. I pulled some bratwurst from the freezer to thaw, since I couldn’t rely on the microwave for defrosting. Then, having done all I could to prepare for the night, I decided to take my pre-dinner nap earlier than usual. (It’s called being retired. One of the better perks.) I had a good book to read, but I wanted to keep that for the potentially long evening, free of Netflix, music, the New York Times app and other electricity-dependent entertainment.
It was pitch dark outside when I awoke. Through its smoke-smudged glass, the woodstove’s low fire cast just a flicker of light on the cabin walls. I added fresh wood. Back in the kitchen, with candles lit and the ceiling flooded with light from a lithium-powered emergency automobile beacon (another treasure discovered while spelunking in my knapsack), I was just gathering items for dinner prep and about to ignite the campstove when the fridge suddenly hummed. And lights flashed on.
OPALCO, ever efficient, emailed me that my power was restored at 5:35:19 p.m. Well done, repair crews. Just in time for dinner. I was back in the 21st century. In 10 minutes, candles and stove were stowed and the microwave was doing its thing.
Today, the payoff for all that angst: A big Douglas fir had blown down across my road a few lots away from mine. The island’s caretaker cut it into big segments and cleared the way. Knowing I was on the lookout for firewood, he alerted me. (My woodshed is full, but my outdoor rack was empty.) By 10 this calm and sunny morning, I was there with my chainsaw. By early afternoon my drying rack was full of 10- to 16-inch rounds. It will keep me busy all winter splitting wood, my favorite therapy. By March, the fir might be burnable. Or at least I’ll have a jump on next fall.
Like a Boy Scout, I’m getting better at being prepared. It’s what you do when you live on a remote little island nobody’s heard of, amid nature red in tooth and claw. Or when it blows like stink.