Friday, January 1, 2010

The new year

I'm attuned to two calendars, neither of which marks January 1 as an important date. The seasonal calendar here on the island marks the winter solstice, a little more than a week before January 1, when the sun begins drawing closer to the earth, the days grow longer, and the seasons hold the promise of a harsh winter followed by a wet spring and then a spirit-lifting summer and autumn. The academic calendar, which I also follow, begins the new semester late in January. To usher in this new year, the winter is bringing a large snowstorm. With the newest computer modeling for the weather, it's now possible to predict storms well in advance. Early in the week the forecasters were excited about the possibility of a "historically significant" storm, if everything set up properly. Now, a day into the first of two storms, a light storm, the forecasters are not so excited but predicting a two-day storm starting tomorrow, January 2, producing anywhere from a foot to two feet of wet snow and winds up to 50 mph and a coastal flood watch because of the full moon and high tide. Surely the power will go out at some point tomorrow or tomorrow night; the question is how long it will be before power is restored.

I was down at (to, in local parlance) the local hardware store and BJ, the owner, was talking to me about how it seemed like there were more power outages this year than before. I reminded him that in the 1980s the local power company on the island sold out to Bangor Hydro, with the promise of better lines, and fewer outages. In truth, the lines are better, service is better, and perhaps there are fewer outages. The island power company didn't generate its own power; rather, it bought it from suppliers and brought it to the island. If it had generated it on the island and distributed it to the people here the costs would probably have been prohibitive; yet if I peer 50 years into the future I see an island power company here, with windmills generating local power.

With the electric power out in the sub-freezing winter life becomes elemental. The furnace and water pump depend on electricity, not to mention lights and computers. The phone usually goes down when the power does. A small minority of locals have electric generators for power outages. I'm thinking of getting one. When the power goes out, heat in the house depends on the wood stove, plus a kerosene heater. Water is bottled and rationed for washing, drinking, and coffee. Some of the contents of the refrigerator are placed outside. Toilets are not flushed. If possible during breaks in the storm I will go cross-country skiing out the door and back on the woods trails. It's never soon enough before the power is restored.

I am still hoping that the storm won't be as bad as the forecast.

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