We all want life to be easy. After nearly 70 years of unbridled progress and the concept of convenience being considered an American birthright, it’s hard for anyone to adjust to events that vary from the perfect script.
How does a culture step back from snack foods packaged in single-serving containers, microwave ovens, and phone apps that do everything except shield us from natural disasters? No one wants to voluntarily go back to a time when life was hard and involved effort to survive. But does our learned helplessness bode well for the future?
Central Maine Power has some great commercials. Seeing them after having just lost power during the recent ice storm makes me thankful and comforted to know that “when you lose power, there’s one thing you can count on; we’ll be ready to roll.”
That 30-second commercial, like all effective marketing, makes power restoration and repairing storm damage much glitzier and easier than it really is. We’re so used to flicking a switch and knowing the lights will go on. In fact, if you are like me, you caught yourself doing it hours after you were without power because it’s so deeply ingrained in our psyches.
Another well-known office supply retailer, one I’ll just call, the “office supply company who will not be uttered in this house” as Miss Mary works for a competitor, has a commercial featuring an “easy button.” Other local companies have adopted it in their ads for automobiles. This point is one that’s amazingly effective because we all want life to be easy. We are a push-button people.
I found myself wondering the other day about our generational adoption of ease and our need for quick solutions. Could this be traced back to the invention of push-button devices? The answer isn’t easily found by plugging it into Google, the equivalent of push-button information gathering.
Power outages are reminders about life decoupled from switches, push-buttons, and technology. It’s a life that requires physical labor, some inconvenience and discomfort, or more than if you had already prepared for a scenario of not having the convenience of electricity from the power grid.
On Christmas Eve day, we were out retailing, since we didn’t want to sit around in a house without electricity. We ran into an old acquaintance at a local bike shop. We chatted and mentioned power and when we asked about his electricity, as he lives on the other side of town from us, he mentioned being “off the grid” and being unaffected. He’s been generating his own power for 20 years now, so ice storms don’t really affect him other than preventing him from biking to work, which he does most of the year. He’s not some wild-eyed hippie either; he’s now married and has two teenagers. He looked like everyone else working at this iconic Maine retailer.
I need to be better prepared. I don’t have a generator, even though Mary and I talked about getting one several times after the 1998 ice storm. That was more than 15 years ago. Old ways die hard, and it’s harder to change and adapt the older you get.
We have decided to take the steps necessary to finally get one. It will require some electrical modifications, and a bit of thought about what our basic needs are. Having a source of power to run our well pump, keep our food cold and/or frozen in our refrigerator and freezer are the minimal requirements. Heat isn’t an issue, as we have a wood stove. We have a gas grill, so we can cook on that. Longer-term, it might be time to consider ways to heat our water involving renewable sources, like the sun.
Becoming a self-sustaining island isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably a wise thing to do, especially being reminded again that life isn’t always as easy as flipping a switch or pushing a button.