Under Fire

A photo of my local gas station made it into the New York Times this week. It showed a bunch of cars lined up for gas as residents prepared for what’s become the deadliest month of the year. October is always warm and dry, but in the last few years things have gotten worse as “devil” winds fuel firestorm infernos.

In order to forestall another disaster, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) turned off the power to nearly 600,000 residents. We were one of the chosen.

With ample texts and emails this week alerting us that this was going to happen, we couldn’t claim we weren’t warned. But that doesn’t mean I felt prepared when the lights went out.

I’d gathered batteries and flashlights, cooked up some perishables and pantry items so they wouldn’t go to waste, scored some elusive ice to keep everything cool if not cold, filled the bathtub just in case we didn’t have water, charged portable batteries and printed work documents I might need off my computer. I made sure there was gas in the car; did all the laundry.

No stranger to power outages—I grew up in the wilds of Idaho, after all—I still fretted over what was to come.

When would the power go off? When would it come back on again? We were told it could be off for as long as five days. Did I have enough canned tuna and almond M&M’s for five days?

The thing is—we knew this would be a selective power shortage. I could likely drive down a few miles away where there wasn’t a shortage and buy anything I needed. I could drop by my sister’s or a friend’s place and charge my phone. Worse come to worse, I’d go watch Renee Zellweger warble “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

What I couldn’t do was work on my desktop computer or catch up on my DVR listings.  I also hesitated to listen to podcasts or make calls in case I ran down my old iPhone 6 battery.

Stranded in the silence, I made a list of analog activities to fill my day:

Read a book

Read an e-book

Write by hand


Don’t check your phone

Cut out a new quilt

Go for a walk in the woods

Play the piano




Don’t check your phone.

This was starting to look like a list of My Favorite Things.

Add to that some long-delayed tasks like:

Sort out the laundry closet

Clear off your desk

Donate old clothes

Don’t check your phone

It seemed that PG&E was gifting me the Zen lifestyle I aspire to.

The pinch was getting all that done in the daylight. When daylight lasts less than twelve hours, one must ‘hop to.’ The sun waits for no one.

I discovered that being forced to pay attention to the sun meant I couldn’t ignore a glorious sunset. After spending a quiet day reading, sorting, and noshing through my emergency Halloween candy, I was rewarded with a sky aflame as we left the dark house for the back deck, ate rosemary beans on grilled bread, buttered turnips and apple cake, grateful there had been no firestorm to disrupt the silence.


Thinking of all those in SoCal who are suffering the fall fires now. May they be safe and comforted.


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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.