Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A strange day . . . now that I'm officially unemployed/between jobs/on vacation, my body and sleep rhythms no longer wake me up in the early morning for work. Now, Eliot the cat usually lets me know sometime around 7 that he wants to go outside and pee or hunt early birds or whatever it is that he wants so urgently to do before dawn, and I usually crawl right back into bed after letting him out. But this morning I awoke before Eliot sensing that something was wrong.

I didn't know what woke me up - the house was quiet. In fact, it was a little too quiet and that's what was so wrong. I then noticed that it was rather cool inside and that the silence I was noticing was the furnace not running. Rolling over, I looked at the alarm clock and saw that the electricity was out.

It was still dark both outside and in, but I stumbled out of bed, threw on a shirt to protect me from the chill and walked to the front door to see if lights were on in any of my neighbor's houses. I was sure that I had paid my electric bill, but I wouldn't have put it past Georgia Power to cut off my electricity in error. My mind was already rehearsing the caustic phone call that I would make to protest the cut-off if indeed mine was the only house without power.

But looking outside, I couldn't tell if the entire neighborhood was dark or not. I didn't see lights on in any of the houses, but it was still early and my neighbors perhaps hadn't awakened yet. Through the bare trees of winter, I could see a few lights that appeared to be over on the next block. A few solitary points of light seemed closer so I couldn't tell for sure if the power outage was just me or my neighbors as well. I decided to go outside and investigate.

I pulled on some more clothes, including a couple layers of fleece to protect me against the morning chill, and headed out into the pre-dawn darkness. Eliot followed (my early awakening had arisen him in a reversal of our usual roles). I think he knows that I have a fondness for dogs as well as cats and he does his best to fulfill as many dog functions as he can, including tagging along with me as I walk around the park across the street. He won't tolerate a leash but he does keep up with me as I walk. The two of us headed down the driveway toward the street.

As soon as I got to the road, I saw that the streetlights were out, indicating that the outage was not merely confined to my residence. Walking down the street, I was that the solitary points of light were gas-fired lamps some of my neighbors have in front of their homes, but no electric lights were visible in any of the houses.

Turning a corner, I saw the reason - several power lines were down, laying in the street and on a neighbor's yard. I wondered if anyone else knew yet. I was careful not to get close to any of the lines, but naturally Eliot ran right to them in a typical display of feline curiosity. I snatched him up and held him, even though he struggled to get free.

Walking a little further, I saw the reason that the lines were down - another large tree had fallen in the neighborhood, this time completely across the road, entirely blocking off the street. We've had a number of trees coming down since I've moved here almost 5 years ago, but this is the first time that I've seen one come down not during or immediately after a storm. But despite the lack or recent high winds, another sizable oak had fallen taking the power lines down with it and as a result my neighbors and I had no electricity - and no heat - on a chilly (mid 30s) winter morning. I wondered if it was the sound of the falling tree that had woken me up earlier.

Eliot and I headed back to the house, where I called Georgia Power and reported the incident. No need for caustic complaints about power disconnections. Since I was now awake but couldn't cook or really do much of anything in the house, I headed out to breakfast at the nearby Silver Skillet restaurant. The Silver Skillet, in case you're interested, is a classic Southern diner founded in 1956 that serves a deep-south breakfast all day long. This picturesque Atlanta icon has been featured in several movies, commercials, and videos, such as the film The Real McCoy, several episodes of I'll Fly Away, the made-for-t.v. Hank Aaron Story, the music video for Travis Tritt's Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares, as well as numerous national and local commercials.

Back home, I saw that the power company had not yet responded to the incident, so I made the best of things, enjoying some chilly zazen and later, as work crews were finally attacking the fallen tree with chain-saws, a little light reading by a sunny window. In fact, I was just starting to enjoy the simplicity of life off the power grid when the furnace kicked back on shortly after noon (internet and cable access were restored about an hour later). Temperatures in the house had dropped into the low 60s, even as the day warmed up outside.

As a result of all this, I continue to be spooked by the frequency of falling trees around here. One came down in my own yard last summer, damaging my shed (which still hasn't been repaired). Another damaged a neighbor's car earlier in the year, and several have struck nearby houses. It's just a matter of time before one strikes my house. I'm also reminded both of my dependence on electricity and of how unnecessary it actually is.

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