Camping in a Power Outage

by Christine Cunningham, Alaska

When the power went out,
I sat in my recliner
with a shotgun in my lap, waiting
for the looters...

There’s something romantic about sitting under the stars and knowing that only your own survival skills will sustain you, that is, as long as you’re not in your own living room. My electricity went out for four days due to wind storms, but, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to exercise my woodsmanship-like prowess, I ran around frantically lighting candles with only a headlamp between me and total darkness. After the house glowed in pre-modern-electric-utility-industry light, I sat in my recliner with a shotgun in my lap waiting for the looters.

            The difference between a power outage at home and camping without power is about like the difference between driving your work vehicle, which has an electronic ignition and heated seats, and your all-terrain vehicle, which has mud tires and a snorkel. In extreme circumstances and with some modification, they could fill in for each other, but they were not made to pull double duty. My house as a campsite had none of the allure of an actual campsite, especially when I needed to get ready for work in the morning.

            At camp, I wake up and literally roll out of bed (since I’m either on the top bunk or on the ground) to the smell of coffee brewing. Somehow I manage to feign sleep long enough that someone else makes the coffee. I take mine without cream or sugar. Then I don several layers of hunting gear until the powers of camouflage render me invisible – and it’s a good thing, too. Scentloc technology replaces the shower and all those things the dental hygienist tells me to do go out the window, because my chewing gum is winter fresh. The cold morning air makes me feel alive.

            At home, the alarm clock goes off and it’s like waking up to the middle of a high-speed chase with me asleep at the wheel. Life in the fast lane starts with several reflex actions–the snake-like speed in which I silence the alarm in five-minute increments until finally, the daily grind must begin. Instead of camouflaging myself to the environment, I camouflage myself to resemble a better-looking version of myself. I do all those things the dental hygienist tells me to do. Well, I skip a few so that she has something to do at the annual cleaning. My first coffee is a heavily sugared mocha that costs five dollars and requires a professional staff working out of a mobile office to make it. The cold morning air makes me feel cold.

            A power outage slams these two worlds together so that I am in a complete state of confusion. Without an alarm clock or the smell of percolated house blend, I am incapable of waking up for work. I jump out of bed and flip the light switch. It is dead. My house is full of sharp corners and random objects. I fasten the headlamp to my head and look in the bathroom mirror–the light blinds me. I can’t find my teeth with my toothbrush and have toothpaste all over my chin. The last of the water chokes out of the faucet and I briefly consider the toilet as the last source of water should I become stranded and dehydrated. When I open the door, the cold morning air makes me feel scared.

            It doesn’t matter that I have camping supplies and a collection of fine guns I could use to protect myself–everything is put away in dark cupboards and containers. The image of a powerless eternity flashes before my eyes. I picture packs of domestic dogs scavenging the neighborhood, escaped zoo animals crawling into second story windows, crazed mental patients staggering in the streets and businessmen in ragged suits fighting over the last saltine cracker in the break room.

            I closed the door and briefly considered holing up for the duration. I’ll just go sit in the titanium bunker built under the shed and wait until I see a dove carrying an olive branch, I thought. But, in the interest of continuing to earn an income, I drove to work.

            People at work were talking about how they had things like generators and wood stoves and applications on their cell phones that allowed them to teleport to tropical regions (it’s been minus 20 degrees for two weeks) where they could order blended drinks and get a tan. I don’t have any of these things. I like the great outdoors and I like to have faith in the answer of the lineman to my plea to restore power to the line.

            As Jimmy Webb’s famous song Wichita Lineman says, “I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.”

A winter moose skeleton found ravaged by wolves and birds