It’s very strange, watching your country from another hemisphere take up the evening news. Our only surreal comfort with the Christchurch disaster, was that we had our own little earthquake – 30 miles away – on the same night. Somehow it was reassuring; the long fault fingers of the Pacific Rim were stretching up to us in northern California. Reminding us how fragile the earth is. Like many other kiwis around the world, we knew the only way to help was to send money.
We never expected the terrible tragedy to actually help us. Well, me. It’s made me appreciate how precious power is.
I have been a right strumpet about our lack of it all winter.
In telling this tale, I’m not trying to be flippant about the earthquake. It feels insensitive to mention it and insensitive not to. All I can do, from afar, is relate to it from my small little life in the forest. I believe each of us learns how amazingly resilient we are, from adversity.
Here’s the thing about living off the grid: during summer camp, monstrous generators provide power 24/7 because the population justifies it. In winter they don’t. During the shortest, coldest days we can have power from our own generator, but we’re not meant to turn it on – unless we really need to – until dusk.
That nebulous rule prompted some heated discussions about need. I needed music during the day, to stay sane. I needed my laptop when the ‘Dactyl was asleep, to write. I needed light in the bathroom, to not look like a panda. I needed to vacuum when I felt like it, otherwise it might not happen for a year. I needed to get online, to stay connected. Such were my passionate power ON arguments.
John Paul Sartre believed, ‘The essence of reality is scarcity.’ And we evolve because we need to – to get those things we don’t have enough of. ‘Conflict propels us forward; it’s the nature of life.’
Going without power, during the day, created a lot of conflict. I didn’t shift countries and continents to go without! “My happiness is more important than conserving energy,” I said, to the Dimple, in one debate. “And the darkness might make me depressed.”
Threatening madness is like a royal flush in poker, for women. Men fold.
So, the Dimple got busy rigging up an LED light in the kitchen so it wasn’t like being inside a tent, then an FM transmitter to run off a battery system – which worked without the generator – so I could have music. Nothing like scarcity to spark invention.
But I wasn’t happy. I wanted to heat up forgotten coffee in the microwave. I wanted to bake cookies with the children. I wanted to write. And eat toast. Sometimes I wanted the iPod instead of the radio. I wanted to check email when I had a moment, not at night. I knew it was a waste running the generator, as big as a car engine, for the toaster but I didn’t care. I wanted to live like I used to in Wellington city.
I started to flick that switch ON more and more but I was careful not to do it around the Dimple or the Other Camp family, like a sneaky addict.
The Other Camp Mama, who also came from city life, has happily lived here for eight years. She told me she enjoyed the silence of winter days, and no appliances meant she spent more time playing with her children.
Oh, the guilt. Addicted to power AND failing as a woodsy mama.
Then our generator caught fire. It poofed its last surge of voltage and collapsed into a flaming sulk. That’s when I realized how Off The Grid we really were. There was no generator guy to call – we had to fix it. Actually, the Dimple fixed, while I figured out how to make tasty toasted sandwiches over a gas flame, as encouragement.
He’d never repaired a generator before. It was like open heart surgery, neither of us wanted him to mess it up; that was our life line. Three days of toil and quite a bit of cussing, but he did it. He fixed it! That made us all very happy.
Now, I get it. It’s better to run the generator once a day, from dusk until we go to bed. Like a long drive for the car, rather than short trips. We have to look after what we’ve got, because if it runs out, there is no grid to tap into. We’re in the dark. Literally.
Which brings me back to the earthquake. I went from feeling guilty I wanted more power to feeling so sad I have had way more than Christchurch people – who have gone without for seven dark days and nights.
The stories of loss: of buildings, monuments, time, homes, hopes and lives, are making me slap myself. To live here, in this magical forest, I can’t live like I used to. It doesn’t work that way – I have to adjust. Scarcity is making me evolve, and learn about alternative energy.
And the Christchurch quake is making me realize what’s important in life: living, loving, dealing with conflict, getting over myself and feeling alive. Every day. With or without the lights on.
Kia kaha Christchurch.
* At nearly four, we can no longer call our son, the Toddler. Bob’s the word now.
PS Something not scarce right now, is pork. The last moments of our pigs are here (tiny bit of gore)