Thursday, May 30, 2013

A World Lit Only By Fire

So, there I was, busily typing away at a blog post on Tuesday morning, when the power abruptly went out.

And stayed out for the next twenty-two hours.

A main line blew up, and a four-block radius didn't have electricity while SCE crews worked through the night to fix it. They got it back on late yesterday morning, then it was off again for about four hours late last night while they made some additional repairs.

Our electrical supply is always a little dicey; we get blackouts pretty consistently with the first big rain every winter, but they are usually just long enough to be annoying. This one was prolonged enough that we loaded up the fridge with bags of ice to keep dairy products from turning, and necessitated some cooking of now-defrosted meat from the freezer once the power was back on the next day.

For the kids it was an adventure, of course. Coming home after the Cabin Boy's baseball game and the Cabin Girl's dance rehearsal, we lit candles and dug out our battery-powered lanterns - we live in earthquake country, so this stuff's always close at hand - so they could take their baths and get ready for bed.

Sitting in the candle-lit living room after the kids were down, I was reminded how quiet it gets when the power's down. The modem was out, so there was no wifi for the laptops or the iPad, and no television, of course. I could've dug out the portable DVD player or one of the iPods, but the stillness was a treat; it reminded me of my days as a park ranger in Mineral King, living in a barracks with propane lights and refrigerator, but nothing electrical that wasn't powered by batteries.

I soaked in the sensation of the room, of the constant motion of the shadows from the flickering candles, the strong scent of the burning wax, of the wavering waft of smoke from one candle that guttered out. I peeked outside and saw similar scenes in my neighbors' windows.

Without the distractions of our various media devices, my wife and I sat and talked for a solid hour. After she went to bad, I sat and read for awhile - by battery lantern, as my eyes aren't up to reading by candlelight.

Before electric lights and gas-lamps, the world was filled with shadows. Those big crystal chandeliers designed to suffuse a room with light were expensive and necessarily rare, and for most people it was the tiny light of candles and lamps that imperfectly kept back the darkness.

It was a good reminder that, when running a roleplaying game, the night is so much darker and quieter than the world we know. It would be hard to recognize friend from foe until they're close enough to manifest bad intention, and mistaken identity - or deliberate deception - is more likely in the shadows.

It's also a reminder of how people entertained themselves; they sang and told stories and gathered with friends. In the darkness, I considered calling a friend to see if he wanted to meet me at our local pub; remember, there's a reason 'you all begin in a tavern' makes perfect sense in many game-worlds.

For the Cabin Boy and Cabin Girl, the blackout was an adventure; for me, it was a reminder of what my world of adventure is really like.


  1. This reminds me of the northeast blackout in 2003. It occurred during the Perseid meteor shower, so there were several meteors visible over the course of a minute. It was easy to see so many stars in even downtown Toronto that they appeared to fade into faint dust.

  2. Nicely evocative (both these kinds of events, and your telling).

    So, you managed to prevent the creation of any, so-called 'really bad eggs' in the fridge, eh? A missed opportunity?

    Sorry to see the wife went bad.

    1. As several bags of frozen peas can attest, my days of producing Cabin Kids are at an end.


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