Have you ever flipped an electrical switch only to find that nothing happened? Usually that’s followed by several quick off and on flips, as if we’re trying to wake up the circuit breaker or something. Unless there is a ballast problem or switch problem, this doesn’t do anything. During a power outage, have you ever entered a room and instinctively hit the light switch, even though you knew full well that the power was off and your action was useless? The convenience of having the power of electricity literally at the end of our fingertips has become so engrained in us, I shutter to think what would happen if we were deprived of it for an extended period of time. We can however, adapt to life without power.
Years ago I used to teach mule-packing schools in the center of the Idaho wilderness. Each month during the spring and summer, a plane would land on the grass airstrip and drop off anywhere from three to ten young men (and a few women), wide-eyed, awestruck at the remoteness and wondering what they had just done. It was nearly the same every time – bags were thrown off, some trash was loaded back on for the back haul, maybe some outgoing mail, greetings were exchanged; then the pilot would spin the plane around right there in front of us and lift off at the other end of the airstrip. A moment of silence would fall over the group, knowing that the plane had dropped them off for good (at least for a month), and as soon as the buzz of the plane’s engine could no longer be heard, life as they knew it would cease to exist. They were now fully immersed into the wilderness and with it, a life without plumbing, engines or, God help us, power.
Fortunately the human mind and body has been created by our Creator to be very adaptable and resilient. Within just a few days, the students would become more or less proficient at lighting the old single mantle Coleman gas lanterns, or the propane lights in the cabin. They progressed quickly from not being able to light or regulate the old Monarch cook stove, to being able to place the kindling and paper in the firebox just right, regulate the draft and damper and soon have heat capable of cooking a large meal. Trips to the creek to haul water became second nature, as well as the ability to get a bucketful without an inch of mica and sand in the bottom! Bathing, trips to the outhouse, washing dishes – every aspect of life without modern conveniences went on just as usual and became an acceptable norm.
Some of you may be saying about now, “sure they adapted, they had instructors, and lanterns and fuel and buckets and everything they needed – how could they fail?” You guessed it – that is the point of the whole story. We can adapt to live without plumbing. We can learn to live without power. We can do whatever we need to do – feats and skills that we previously would have thought impossible. But, and it’s a big but, we must have the tools. We must have the alternative means for lighting – be they white gas lanterns, kerosene lanterns, battery lanterns or solar cell lanterns. We must have a supplementary cooking device – be it fueled with wood, propane, kerosene or solar collection capability. We need to have means to provide heat for our dwelling and in all cases, fuel to provide the energy to cook, heat and light. And, we must know how to use it, how to repair it and some spare parts to repair with.
We don’t want to have that wide-eyed, awestruck look on our faces as the plane departs over the horizon, unsure of how we are going to provide for our basic needs and the needs of our loved ones. Put aside some flashlights and batteries, some lanterns, mantles and fuel, procure some cooking apparatus and fuel for it, put aside something to warm yourselves and fuel for it. Don’t forget some disposable lighters and matches. Do it now, little by little. As far as instruction, better to befriend someone that is proficient in the old-time skills, that is the best. An honest to goodness, real life mentor can answer questions and show proper techniques without wasting a lot of time and the resources that were so costly to procure. Short of that, the internet and books are full of “how-to’s”, some better than others of course. But the point is, get your provisions in place. Put them in a safe place so you know where they will be. A Rainy Day Root Cellar of course is the ultimate storeroom. All your supplies will be where you need them, when you need them. Another thing we learned in the wilderness was a little saying – Better to be looking at it than looking for it. In other words, have what you need, know where it is – it makes life a lot easier when the power goes out.