Hurricane Sandy and the Virtues of Power-less Living

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, living much of Northampton County, Pa. without power. Most of College Hill — including Lafayette College — doesn’t have power, though there are a few streets where the lights are still on.

We’re not one of them. We lost power Monday night, and likely won’t get it back for a few more days. I’m posting this from our local coffee shop becaus no power means no internet, save for the weak 3G connection on my iPhone. The biggest consequence of this is that our sump pump — which keeps the basement dry — won’t run. That in turn means we have to manually bail out the basement so it wouldn’t flood; our freezer, washer, dryer, furnance and electrical box are in the basement, so a flood would be catastrophic.

Fortunately we didn’t get as much rain as originally forecast, and we were able to keep ahead of the water. Some of our friends weren’t as lucky and lost their basements to the surging water table, so I’m not about to complain about having to bail every 15 minutes (more like 60 now that the storm is passed).

Those two things aside, we’re in pretty good shape power-wise. The kids aren’t phased by it; I think it helps tremendously that we go camping for a week or two every summer on Lake Champlain. Living conditions are similar on Butler Island; there’s no power in the cabin, and while we can charge some devices using solar power, you need to be judiciious in their use.

The kids were anxious about the storm, but now that it’s over they’re adjusting to their power-less life. There’s the occasional whining about not having anything to do, but then we just point them to books, board games, and workbooks. We ration out Nintendo DS time as needed; they’re both battling their way through Legenda of Zelda: Ocorina of Time on the 3DS.

In the short term, there are advantages to not having power. It limits, by the sheer fact that batteries will run out, how much time you can spend working. While staying up all night bailing out the basement wasn’t fun, there was a certain appeal to reading comic books by candle light in between basement runs. The same goes for playing Ticket to Ride with my wife the last few nights; there’s no TV, no internet, so we just camped out on the floor and broke out the board games. The house is amazingly quiet without the constant whir of electronics, and with the hurricane no longer throwing debris around outside we can enjoy the silence. And there’s something to be said for getting together with the neighbors (the ones who have power) and enjoying the creature comforts of wine and conversation.

Of course, the romance of the situation only goes so far. It’s exhausting too, and as the power-less days go on, other problems become more apparent. We have running water, but with no power we can’t do laundry. The pilot light is on in the furnace, but without power we can’t force the heated air into the house. There’s a limit to how many sweaters you can done if it gets colder. The freezers have been holding so far, but soon we’re going to need to move stuff to our friends’ freezer and start throwing out the luke-warm food in the refrigerator.

For now though, our power-less lifestyle has its virtues, and we’re embracing them whole-heartedly.

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