A minor inconvenience in a world of hurt


What a way to start the new year. Last thing my daughter said before going to bed was, I don’t have to work tomorrow. I hope it snows three feet. Ah, yes. Be careful what you wish for.

It was raining when I drifted off to the sound of water rushing down the gutter into the rain barrel. I wake up to that deep stillness that can only mean new snow. Outside there are no bird chirps, no dog barks, no motor of any kind. No snowplow chuffing on I-5. No airplanes. Just pure silence.

The river birch and aspen are bent over double, with more big fluffy flakes adding to their burden. The patio table has a 10-inch layer of white frosting. The seats of the deck chairs are filled up level with the backs. The dolphin fountain an unrecognizable crystal mound on its stone pedestal.

I think I better get up and shower before the electricity goes out. Too late. Before I can shove my toes into slippers, the ominous clicking of electronics tells me we’re powerless. No little green lights from VCR, Bose radio or computer. No red light from the surge suppressor. No gurgling from radiant heating tubes.

I snuggle back under my down duvet, glad that I filed my copy at midnight. No sounds yet from the main house, what we call the west wing. Soon the kids will be shrieking with delight suiting up to sled or make a snowman. True, their snow creatures are rarely gender specific, more like androgynous fat blobs draped with caps and wool scarves. Soon I hear the garage door crank open, the quad fires up and the 10 year old takes off down the driveway, gleeful that school will not open today. Unmindful of the cold that drove him to bed early.

Before noon, the snowperson of the day arises from the patio, big and stout but unfortunately an amputee. Pointy head, crowned with baseball cap, carrot nose, hazelnut eyes, a green twist tie forms its bizarre grin. No limbs on which to hang mittens. It will be photographed seconds before the dog steals its nose. Soon he will whine to come back in the house, shivering and wet, still carrying the carrot. Our border collie has better sense. Somewhere in her DNA is a memory of herding sheep in foul weather on a Scottish moor. Not seeing snow as a reason to frolic, she’s tightly curled in her bed outside my door. Once we had Labrador retrievers. Now that’s one dog that knows how to play in snow. Even after it has pretty much melted away, they’ll carry their toys to the one white patch left and roll around in it. It never gets too cold for those guys.

Losing power is a common occurrence here in the mountains. It doesn’t take much: wind and rain, snow and ice, some fool crashing his semi into a pole. We have candles, we have stored water (electricity pumps water from well to house, hence no power, no running water). I can still cook by lighting the range top burners with a match and we can heat at least part of the house with the fireplace, even if newspapers and wet logs can be smoky and require constant tending. And we’re out of fatwood sticks.

Still we’re okay . . . until the gas runs out. The propane truck driver refuses to try to drive up the hill to fill the tank. After three days of cold food and jokes about the Donner Party, my son appears with two 10-gallon propane bottles he filled at the hardware store. And he knows how to connect them to the house line. God bless cowboys.

The power comes back on Friday night, so after refilling the water bottles, I finish a half-written column and send it 20 minutes before the lights go out again. Then, because reading by candlelight is beyond my aging eyesight, I listen to Molly Ivins’ “Who Let the Dogs In?” on tape. Hilarious!

But before I even begin to feel sorry for myself, huddled in my down jacket, ski pants, fleece cap and Uggs, I think about those made homeless by the tsunami. I think about flooded trailer parks in Santa Clarita, crumbling apartments in Orange County. About a homeless man buried alive in his tent under tons of mud in Griffith Park. I think of dozens of swift water rescues, not all successful, and of parents whose babies slip from their arms and are washed away in a torrent. God, how does anyone live with that?

We feel lucky. Protected from snow, freezing rain and wind by a sturdy house. Children safely snuggled in sleeping bags in front of the fire. We say a prayer for all those who have less than we have and who have lost more than we can imagine. May they find shelter and care and comfort in their grief.