My wife, Laurel, and I, along with all of our neighbors, plus over a hundred thousand other Oregonians, have been without electricity since last Friday night, February 12.
That's when a massive ice storm hit Northwest Oregon, powered by cold air from the polar vortex that afflicted much of the United States and a moisture-laden storm coming in from the Pacific.
The result was snow in areas to the north of us, including Portland, but freezing rain in our area. Which, believe me, is way worse than snow.
I shared photos of the damage to our property in a Saturday post on my HinesSight blog, "Photos of the Great Salem Ice Storm of 2021." The next day I wrote a light-hearted post, "Our dog is enjoying no electricity. Me, not so much."
After that, my mood turned darker as Portland General Electric, our power company, stopped providing estimates to their customers of when power would be restored.
I wrote "PGE getting well-deserved ice storm criticism" and "Ice storm disaster should prompt close look at PGE." By tomorrow PGE claims that power will be restored to 90% of those with outages. I hope we're not part of the 10%.
Laurel and I have a wood stove, a fairly plentiful supply of oak firewood, and a generator -- so we're more fortunate that lots of other people in Oregon lacking power. Still, it's been tough.
Our routines have been disrupted, obviously.
First thing in the morning Laurel starts a fire in the wood stove. I add gasoline to the generator, check the oil level, and start it up.
That provides us with warmth that slowly permeates through part of our house, and enough electricity to power some lights, the microwave, cooktop, TV, and internet router, plus some outlets to charge our phones.
During the rest of the day we have to keep the wood stove going and the generator supplied with gas. We've done quite a bit of cleanup of tree limbs that fell from ice accumulation, but there's a lot more to do on that front.
The chain on my chainsaw came off and was damaged in the process. So I had to take the chainsaw in to Ace Hardware for a chain replacement. The seal on our wood stove door fell off, which required a drive to a wood stove store that, thankfully, was able to glue in a replacement seal.
Otherwise it would have been difficult to burn wood, our only source of heat.
In short, going without electricity changes one's focus to immediate needs. Heat, water, food. Sure, we still watch TV in the evening, but much of our day centers around activities that were absent from our life prior to the ice storm.
I'm a political person. For the past week I've thought of politics much less often.
In fact, recently I emailed our conservative Republican state representative to complain about PGE not giving estimates of when a customer could expect to have power restored, and to ask him to urge PGE to start providing estimates.
Ordinarily Representative Nearman and I are on opposite sides of the political divide. We've never talked, but if we did, we'd disagree about most issues facing our state and country. However, when it comes to PGE giving its customers an estimate of when their power would come back, we were in perfect agreement.
Nearman told me that he also lacked electricity. So we had that in common. It felt good to have a pleasant exchange of emails with someone whose politics I heartily agree with.
That didn't matter, because coping with an electrical outage provides the common ground that politics lacks.
Something similar happens during the two-mile late afternoon dog walk that Mooka (our Husky mix) and I take around a road loop in our rural neighborhood.
I end up talking quite a while with people who I usually just exchange a nod and "Hi, how's it going?" with. The electrical outage creates a bond that brings us closer together, since everybody out here has to figure out how to get the same basics of life -- again, heat, water, food.
Sometimes it seems like what divides us is stronger than what unites us.
But the ice storm electrical outage has shown me that this really isn't the case. Underneath the divisions of politics, religion, nationality, and such lies a common humanity that rests on our common needs to stay alive and well.
It's been a very good thing to realize this more fully. That said, I really, really hope our electricity is restored soon.