Friday, March 05, 2010

The Pioneer Life

I used to have this little fantasy. In it, my family and I were pioneers circa the mid-1800s. We would live in a cozy log cabin that my husband, "Pa," had built with his own two hands out of nothing but materials from the land around us. While he was out trapping or hunting or fishing to put fresh game on the table, I -- with the help of my daughters -- would knit and sew and preserve the bounty of the garden we would plant ourselves using nothing but the most basic of hand tools. It wouldn't be an easy life, to be sure, but it would be oh so rewarding in its honesty and simplicity.

Then, last week, I got to live my dream.

The power went out at around 10pm on Thursday. We really shouldn't have been surprised; over 2 feet of snow had fallen, and trees were bound to be coming down all over. But, in over 10 years of living in our house, we'd never been without power for more than a day and a half. We headed to bed, secure in the knowledge that the lights would be back on the following afternoon. Evening at worst. In the meanwhile, I would indulge in my Little House on the Prairie daydreams.

I got up on Friday morning, raring to start a fire in our wood stove. Of course, we hadn't used the stove since my older daughter had been born nearly five years earlier, which meant the only wood we had was a termite-ridden pile that was currently buried under nearly a yard of snow. Undeterred, I brought in a few soggy logs and set them up at the back of the stove, behind the pile of crumpled newspaper and junk mail that I'd scrounged up in lieu of actual kindling. My inner pioneer just shook her head sadly.

Fifteen sooty, smoky, fire-less minutes later, I finally remembered the lone Duraflame log I had tucked away in the downstairs pantry. At last, success! A fire roared in the stove, and I hastily piled wood as close as I felt I could without setting the house ablaze in an attempt to dry it off. Night fell with no power in sight, and we all realized we were in it for the long haul.

Saturday morning, I headed out to find that not only had all the generators in a 20 mile radius been purchased the morning before (and, really, a generator? who needed a generator? we were pioneers!), but so had all the Coleman lanterns, camping stoves and firewood. I stocked up on Duraflames, bought a three-pack of battery-powered headlamps and headed for home. When I got there, I found that in addition to having no heat, no way to cook food and no telephone, we now also had no water. I began to wonder why people referred to the past as the "good old days."

By Sunday, we sent the girls to stay with my in-laws for the duration. DH and I melted snow to flush the toilets and heated it to bathe. Do you have any idea how long it takes to heat a big pot of water on a wood stove? I could have licked myself clean, cat-style, faster.

Monday, I woke up to find dishes, including the coffee pot and oatmeal pan, in the sink. Not usually a problem, except when you need to boil water to wash those pots and pans before you can actually cook breakfast. So, while DH slept, I fed the fire (started this time from the prior night's embers -- Pioneer Me was so proud!) and spent 2 hours collecting, melting and heating snow, all so I could wash the freakin dishes in order to dirty them again immediately. When Pioneer Me pointed out that this is why the dishes should never sit in the sink, unwashed, overnight, I wanted to slap her.

The power came back on again late Tuesday. DH and I celebrated by taking hot showers, eating takeout Chinese and staying up past 9pm. Pioneer life had been pretty exhausting, and quite frankly, I was delighted to be done with it.

I have a new fantasy now. In it, my family and I live in a cozy A-frame with heat, hot water and light, all available at the touch of a button.

Oh, wait a sec...that's my reality.

At least, until the power goes out again.

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