COLUMN: Poor man’s apocalypse

This is my Sunday column for the July 8, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. As you may have noticed last Monday night’s storm knocked out power throughout Itasca County where I live. We didn’t have power back until later in the week, so I’ve been slow to resume blogging because of the backlog of “actual work.” This week begins anew.

Poor man’s apocalypse
By Aaron J. Brown

So there was a big storm and the power went out. Nothing unusual; we live in a forest. The power goes out for a diverse spectrum of reasons, ranging from squirrels to storms to the alcoholic whims of rustic entrepreneurs. But usually in a few hours, no more than a day, we always expect the power to come back on.

But this time the power stayed down for 67 hours, almost three days. I did once venture out from the woods to find some internet, like an e-bear emerging from Sleep Mode. But this is like comparing the experience of *going to* a circus with the experience of *being in* the circus.

When you live where we do the lack of electricity means more than the loss of internet, TV and interior lighting. We also lose water. Honestly, that’s probably the part that wears you down. We have bottled water to drink and do some basic grooming, but any dishes that weren’t washed by Monday night are still there. Laundry is piling up. You can’t flush the toilets unless you pour a bucket of lake water into the back of the tank, water that smells roughly as bad as the used toilet water we flush every fifth use. As one of our sons pointed out, “It smells like a petting zoo in here!” Actually, that’s exactly right.

I’m a meticulous planner. I foul up the execution of my plans constantly, but I begin every day with a written scheme. Tuesday, the first full day of the power outage, I realized that 16 of my 19 tasks involved using the internet. With no internet and a host of tasks around the house, this meant that my career as an online college instructor, blogger and web writer was not only on hold, but in this time would actually cease to exist. That is, until and unless I got to town, where outages and the July 4 holiday kept most things closed at that time.

Even more depressingly, when I did get to town to check for any emergency messages from students I realized that two days of e-mail didn’t produce any emergencies at all. My Facebook notifications were a depressing list of people in other places asking to join online games I’ll never play.

Now’s the part where some of you hook your thumbs in your suspenders and tell me that in the old days you had an outhouse and a hand-pumped well. Ha Ha! I don’t have an outhouse or a hand-pumped well. As I sit here I am trapped between two worlds. In one world I’m doing live video chats for large news services on my computer and in the other I am calling my dad for advice on drilling a sand point well with a rope, pulley and a post driver. Which is it, Universe? I need direction!

The mosquitos have sharpened their needles for this newfound opportunity. No running water requires mandatory daily swims in the greenish midsummer water of our lovable marshy lake. I sure hope I’m not hauled in for some crime because I’m covered in blood and I literally couldn’t tell you whose all of it is.

I know this is the part where I’m supposed to say that I learned an important lesson about the simple things in life and that from now on I’ll strive to be less wired to the ether of the internet. But I think it took exactly five minutes for me to hurl myself like a rag doll into the digital machinery of our modern world when the privilege returned.

But the experience helped me remember a few things. The sounds of the woods are fascinating if you let them be. If you’re only going to have one broadcast source, radio is a good one. We’ve got one you can power with a crank. You can listen while reading or writing or doing chores. The cool of a summer morning is heaven. If you play it right you can trap the cool essence in your house through the early afternoon. While family can get on your nerves sometimes, the interdependence of family is both a work tool and a spiritual comfort.

I’d have a lot to learn if this condition were permanent. The well. The outhouse. The trip to town to find an antique typewriter and enough paper to write a novel. Stamps, of course. We’d have to send letters again. But this could be done. Together, we could do it.

But, seriously, I have no idea how I’d make a living without electricity or the internet. So I gladly welcome it’s return. We’ll deal with the apocalypse only when necessary.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE‘s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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