Tonight we’re under the first winter storm warning of the season. A real mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain is predicted for tonight into Sunday evening. With the possibility of ice comes the probability of power outages, so I took some time today to prepare.
Power outages in the winter are actually better than outages in the summer. It’s much easier to heat a space than it is to cool it. I have a wood stove, which keeps my home as warm as I want it without any electricity, and I can cook on top of it. Additionally, I can light my gas stove with a match and easily boil water for tea, to heat up my food, or for washing up. The biggest challenge is actually obtaining water, as without power my well pump doesn’t work. So any time a storm is due I go into water collection mode, filling five gallon buckets and storing them in the garage to water the chickens. I fill my big brew kettle inside for my drinking and cooking water. I also fill a bath tub in order to have water for flushing toilets and bathing. All this would last me about a week, in winter, maybe more. Beyond this, if I ran through my cut wood and drawn water and the roads were blocked, I know that I can walk into my woods and cut and carry enough dead, downed wood to run the stove, and I can haul enough water from the creek to boil and drink.
I have a refrigerator and freezer full of food, and when that’s gone there are enough stapes—flour, yeast, canned beans, tinned fish, sugar, etc. in my pantry that I’d be fed for quite a while. A friend who was here for Thanksgiving took a look at all the packaged broth I had stored and joked that I was preparing for the apocolypse. Maybe. And outside in the winter garden are rows of frost-sweetened arugula, kale, mustard, chard and broccoli raab, all of which are happy to hibernate under snow, so I won’t want for fresh greens. And if push really came to shove, I’ve got ten fat chickens roosting in the coop, and the tools and knowledge and mental willingness to turn them into meat. I’d start with the roosters, then move on to the nonproductive hens, and so on.
Food storage during a power outage in winter isn’t usually a problem, as if it’s cold enough to make an ice storm it’s most likely cold enough to use the back porch as a refrigerator. So anything perishable gets moved from the fridge to the porch. And I’d eat my way through what’s left in the freezer as it defrosted.
So heat, water and food are taken care of. The car’s full of gas, for charging a cell phone that doesn’t get much of a signal here anyway. That leaves light, which some could argue is really a luxury and not a necessity. But light is easily accomplished with an arsenal of rechargeable lanterns, flashlights and carefully-contained candles. And even in the absence of light, remember I built this house from a hole in the ground on up, repositioning light switches as they were installed to most easily meet my grasp. Sometimes I feel like I wear this building like a second skin, and to navigate it in complete darkness is as intuitive as reaching out to touch my toes.
As I put the house in order tonight, thinking ahead in anticipation of potentially losing power and being house-bound by ice, I kept coming back to this idea of survival. Of course this concept is relative, and compared to many in the world even suffering through an extended power outage in my home would be their very definition of luxury. But I live here, not there, and this is the survival that is relevant to me. I am also a relatively young, single woman, making these winter preparations on my own instead of counting on a husband or boyfriend to take care of me, my animals, and my home. Other than a few bloggers, I don’t know any one else in this position.
Fortunately survival is really more a state of mind than a set of strapping male muscles. Thankfully I was raised by parents who between the two of them, had they been born 150 years earlier, no doubt would have been leading the Conestoga wagons across the frontier, such was their self-reliant determination, intelligence, and ability. I spent years during college and after camping across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and that helped hone my ability to stay warm, fed and hydrated in all sorts of backcountry situations. And finishing school was living in an off-the-grid, no road access log cabin in Alaska, where I learned how to run a wood stove and take an entire bath in a saucepan of melted snow.
All of these experiences culminate in nights like tonight, when I go to sleep knowing that no matter what the weather brings tomorrow, I will survive. I will be fine. I will be better than fine. As the ice sluices down, whether the power is on or not, my animals will be fed and watered, I’ll be curled by the wood stove with a hot mug of tea in my hands, and I will thrive. There is hardly anything I’ve done personally or professionally of which I am proud. But to be able to say that I have the knowledge, skills, and mindset to survive when the comforts of modern life disappear under a quarter inch coating of ice is the greatest accomplishment of my life.