What I Learned From a Christmas Without Electricity

This year, in the spirit of simplicity, I celebrated the holidays without electricity.  I wanted to return to nature, test my ability to survive without modern conveniences, imagine myself as Thoreau or Ingalls-Wilder, embracing the important things that can’t be bought with money.

OR a freak hurricane-level windstorm hit Nova Scotia on Christmas Day and knocked out the grid for something like 100,000 residences and I was forced to eat cold stuffing in the dark while I grumbled to myself for nine hours about my phone battery level.

Whatever.  The important part is lessons were learned.  Those lessons are thus:

1.   It is not impossible to cook on a woodstove or a fireplace.  It IS impossible to cook on a woodstove when the wind is so strong that it blows across the top of the chimneys so fast that it acts like a damper, not allowing any oxygen down to fuel the flames (or when it does, it sends it down so fast, it extinguishes said flames).

2.  Cold stuffing is actually pretty good.  And let’s face it – some of us only endure the whole exhausting ritual of a holiday meal so that we can eat too much stuffing without being judged anyway, right?  But when you can’t cook, the rules go out the window and it moves to the next level.  How about rounding out the stuffing-based repast with appetizers of chocolates, sides of cookies and pie, with a box of wine for dessert?*

3.  Wine will stay cold in a fridge for up to nine hours without power.

4.  Wine makes you give less of a shit about what you’re missing on Netflix and Facebook.  And it’s Christmassy AF.

5.  The pet snake that you are keeping an eye on for a neighbour will not, in fact, die without his heat lamp for the aforementioned nine hours, despite your desperate attempts to determine this without being able to reach that neighbour or being able to frantically Google “snakes named Joe”.

6.  There is someone living within 300 feet of your house who named their network “Don’t try to steal this, yo”, and they still had power.  You totally could have stolen that, yo, if you hadn’t had so much wine, thereby dulling your password-deducing senses.  (This challenge has now been added to your New Year’s Resolution list.)

7.  The dog cannot, despite her firm belief that she can, scare the wind into submission by barking.

8.  It is not paranoid to have a box full of survival stuff in case of emergencies.  Those candles, oil lamps, and flashlights came in very handy.  It does, however, require some modifications, such as including more chocolate, more wine, and more books about wizards or sexy Scotsmen and maybe not quite so many books about edible forest foliage or igloo-building.

9.  When parking at the gas station to charge your phone in the car and check your voice mail, be wary of drunk holiday revelers who will repeatedly slam their car door open against your car, while shouting, “I KNOW I’m hitting the other car!  Be quiet!” to their mates.  Also, send a note to Santa for credit on next year’s nice list for recognizing that the anger you were feeling was less about the dents and more about being jealous that she was drunk and you weren’t.  Yet.

10.  Accept that you maybe wouldn’t make quite as good a pioneer as you sometimes think you would.  Even though you really like camping, you also really like hot water and computer games.

11.  It is NOT advisable to attempt to pick up dog poop on a cloudy night when the streetlights are out and you forgot to bring the flashlight.  It IS advisable to remember, though, roughly where that dog poop was deposited when you sleepily take the dog out again in the morning.  (Don’t worry – I did remember.  But I feel like it cannot be emphasized enough.)

12.  Despite your firm conviction that the Universe is pissed at you in a way that suggests Charles Dickens might, in fact, be your personal life-story author, there were likely at least a few (hundred thousand) people in Nova Scotia with it worse than you on Christmas Day this year, and perhaps, just maybe, a few (billion) outside of Nova Scotia with it worse than you all the other days of the year.  Possibly.  But regardless, that pie would have been a lot better warmed up, right?

Well, I can’t say this Christmas wasn’t in keeping with the rest of 2017, so there is something to be said for staying on-brand.  But let’s try a little harder in 2018, shall we?

Please note: A much-deserved shoutout to all the Nova Scotia Power employees who put themselves out there to get most of us back on the grid by day’s end.  Your Christmas definitely sucked more than ours.

*I’m not saying I did this.  Salad can also be part of a well-balanced cold meal, or so I’ve heard.

My Beach (or…The Luckiest Chick in the World)

It occurred to me today (not necessarily for the first time) that I am a very, very selfish woman.

Simultaneously, it occurred to me (also not for the first time) that I am a very, very lucky woman.

I was on my favourite beach. It was nearing twilight on a day that had been cold and rainy, but burst forth with a brief blast of sun just as the day was winding down. That momentary flash of warmth was enough to send me flying for an end-of-day run.

Of course, when I got to the shore, it was grey and misty, and a wicked wind was openly pummeling the coastline without reserve, buffeting my poor little ragtop like a poorly-set sail. A weaker person than myself might have turned around and driven home. But I had just rediscovered ‘my’ beach after missing out on it last year due to an injury involving broken bones and a couple of surgeries, and I was determined not to let a moment of summer pass me by this year.

Resolute, I wrapped myself in a sweater and set out.

This particular beach and I have a long history. When I was a little girl, my parents used to bring me here. For some reason, although the place is often bright, clear and sunny now, every memory I have of it from back then is the way it was today – foggy, cold, windy. My mother would goad me, insisting that I join her in the icy waves (for some reason, my father was exempt – he was permitted to remain onshore, dry and warm). Even at such a young age, I was made to feel it would be an unforgivable loss of face to opt out, although the water was so frigid I would feel it in my bones for hours afterwards. My mother took hours to tire, laughing as she jumped in the swells and bodysurfed on the breakers, and it was unthinkable that I should go in before she was ready.

I remember sitting afterward, wrapped in a blanket, teeth chattering as I tried to regain sustenance from the bread and cheese we’d brought with us, my long bedraggled hair draped over my shoulders like seaweed. That half-painful, half-blissful sensation of the feeling returning to numbed limbs, the heavy drowsiness that set in before the drive home.

As I got older, I stopped going to the beach with my parents. Childhood turned into teenage-hood and now the beach took on a new significance. It was a place far from the interference of adults – a place where bonfires were lit, beer drunk, and youthful bonding took place. The beach became a place I saw only at night, lit by the headlights of cars and the tips of cigarettes (or other smokables). The water became a mere backdrop for our furniture of driftwood logs and stone fire pits. The roar of the surf and the cover of the night lent this place I knew so well from my childhood a new air of mystique and perhaps even a little danger. Nature in its rawest form meeting with youth in its rawest form.

Then I grew up and moved away. But somehow, perhaps due to being born so close to the sea – or maybe because of my early indoctrination – I found I sought out similar places. A boyfriend and I discovered another beach that felt a little like this one, on another part of the coast. It had a similar rustic feel, the same untouched beauty, the same wild roses that tossed their scent on the salt air, the same kelp-strewn sand on its long-reaching arc that disappeared into the horizon. We would take picnics, brie and baguette – I realize now, my own version of the aged cheddar and crusty rolls my mother would pack – and we would nap in the sun on the handwoven Mexican blankets we spread in the shelter of the dunes (this was before the population of such areas made the protection of them necessary – we were careful to avoid disturbing any residents). In fact, there were times we would spend entire days in the sun there and not encounter another person. We even made love there a few times, quietly and sleepily after a long day of running and swimming, on our brown wool blanket.

More time went by, and desperate to see ‘the world’, I took off on a road trip across the country, fully expecting to be blown away by the rest of it.

And while this is a land full of marvels, Canada, it took seeing the rest of it and coming home to recognize the beauty I so took for granted here.

Today, walking on this beach that I’ve rediscovered, I realized that I live in the most beautiful place in the world. Yes, there are tropical isles where the sky is always blue and the waters are clear, and there are waterfalls, and flowers the size of your head…but I get high from the unpredictability of our wild North Atlantic coast. I love that my beach has moods of its very own. I love that some days the sand is completely covered in organic rubbish spewed up from the bottom of the ocean, rotting and swarming with tiny sand flies; other days, it is jellyfish, as far as the eye can see. But those days are rare. And those days make the rest of the days – the ones where the sand is pure and perfect, where the sun shines hard and hot and makes you want to merge body and soul with the crisp green seafoam – that much more delicious.

Ironically, this beach has also now become a place of bonding for my father and I. That’s right – he has finally entered the water, too. Years ago, he took up windsurfing – became completely smitten and is now teaching the art to me. Like when I was a child and he patiently taught me to ride a bicycle, a motorcycle, and later, to drive a car, he now patiently (and excitedly, when he watches me successfully perform a tricky maneuver) watches me learn this new form of transportation. We leave the beach sunburnt and exhausted, but exhilarated at the end of the day.

As I ran tonight on that beach – ‘my’ beach – I did a full turn as I ran, and saw that I was alone. Not a soul as far as the eye could see, except the gulls scouring the shore for crabs and clams to smash open on the rocks. These are my favourite times here.

The fog was hanging heavy, and between the surf and the wind, I realized I could have sung at the top of my lungs and barely be heard, even by myself. The wind was so fierce that I was able to spread my arms wide and lean into it, give myself up to it, without falling over. The wind took the laughter away as quickly as I created it.

A lot of time has passed since I began going to that beach. I haven’t followed the path that most of my friends and acquaintances did – that one involving marriage and kids and the suburbs. I didn’t want to (remember, I started this story by telling you I was selfish.) In that time, I’ve followed most of my whims – a luxury I realize very few people have. And now, I am able to afford myself the decadence of my daily dose of negative ions, spending time getting strong and getting to know myself as I suspect few are permitted due to the constant background noise of life. As I watched a seagull maneuver itself into the wind to navigate a landing in such ferocious conditions, I recognized the technique I perform myself as a skydiver, and my chest swelled as I remembered how lucky I am to have been given this particular life, the freedom and the opportunities. I thought of the people who will never know what it is to see the ocean, to surf on the waves, to experience flight. I spread my arms to the wind again, my hand-painted batik scarf (a gift from a boy I once knew, who helped nurture this freedom of spirit I now enjoy) whipping around my head, and I smiled a thanks to the universe for bringing me back here.

Is it still selfish if you are grateful with every ounce of your soul?

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Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 5:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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