The Night the Light Went Out

Thursday, July 22, 2010

David and Tony had no idea what they were in for.  Well, neither did we.  Fog descended on the way through Phippsburg driving south on route 209.  By the time we parked the cars and loaded the boat and were out on the water you couldn’t see much at all.  I’m sure Ethan could do it in his sleep and have total confidence in him.  Still, not being able to see anything on the water until you’re practically passed it is daunting.

As we loaded the cart at the bottom of the tram, I wondered for the first time how the operator in the Donkey House at the bottom would be able to see the hand signal from the person at the top indicating when to stop the tram in the fog.  We had David and Tony walk up the tram instead of taking the trail and space themselves along the way so that they could relay France’s signal from the top.  It worked well.

The guys were amazed and impressed and before long, after we’d unpacked, while the sky began to change all around us, we began to make preparations for dinner.  But first, a couple of beers were in order to catch up and wind down from the ordeal of settling in.  We’d planned on grilling Italian sausages to go with the peppers I’d roasted.  Following a recipe, we nuked some sliced onions and put them in a disposable pan for the grill while I got the coals going.  In the wind, it wasn’t easy to get the chimney starter going but with Tony’s help we did and it started working like a charm.  In thirty minutes we’d be able to turn them out and begin the recipe we were following, putting the uncooked sausages on top of the onions on the tray, wrapping them in foil and letting them sit on the covered grill for 15 minutes before taking out the sausages to brown.

In the middle of the process, my sister Suzanne phoned from New Jersey to say she’d been following a storm on the weather channel that was featured that looked like it was right on top of us in Maine.  I agreed the sky in the west was very dark and there were ominous clouds, but we’d seen bad clouds before.  It made me want to get off the phone and get on with dinner in case the rain came and prohibited the process.  She admonished that we take care and I thanked her for the call.

As we continued to enjoy each other’s company all sorts of changes seemed to be happening in the sky over the mainland, and out to sea didn’t look much better.  We had just sat down to eat when the lights went out and came back on again.  This had happened before in storms and I told the guys not to worry.  It happened several more times.  We had gotten the food off the grill just as the rain began in earnest and the wind had picked up considerably.  Then, suddenly, looking out the window from the dining table I thought I’d been transported to Kansas.  Had our sturdy brick house been sucked up into a tornado funnel?  The rain was no longer coming down; it was whipping across horizontally from the west.

Then bright lights seemed to be flying passed the window and I realized it was the bright burning coals I’d secured under the lid of our new heavy duty Weber grill.  I raced outside to see the grill creeping across the lawn, the lid nowhere in sight.  Instantly drenched to the bone and feeling a bit like Auntie Em looking for Dorothy, I grabbed the grill by its sturdy handle and fought the wind to back it up against the end of the picnic table and secure it there, upwind of the storm.  France was soon at my side and we used buckets from the rainwater barrel to douse the embers.  We’d find the lid in the morning, hopefully.

That’s when the lights went out and didn’t come back on.  France noticed that the big one had gone out as well which we thought wasn’t possible.  With the little juice left in my cell phone, I got Steve on the line with the Coast Guard and he said there was nothing we could do and that they would pay a visit on the 30th.  At least we now know when the helicopter will land and can be prepared for it.  I’m really glad about that.  I was sure they’d come on a Wednesday or I’d be goofing around somewhere when they showed up unannounced.  France wondered if there wasn’t something we could do to warn ships but Steve said not.  We’d already tried to light things up with the grill and that hadn’t worked.  We’d have to let nature take its course and hope that everyone was secure for the night.

I remembered the couple from the 45 foot sailboat who had come up as we were cooking dinner saying that they were spending the night in the cove and after quizzing them how they had tied up, recommending that they switch to one of the larger Coast Guard buoys.  They didn’t want to bother us or really spend much more time chatting with the storm approaching, but asked how early they could come back and visit in the morning.  We agreed that nine was civil; I went to check on them at seven and all seemed calm in the cove.  The grass between the trail and the outhouse was leveled but the lightweight chair and table on the deck in front of the boathouse hadn’t moved.

We called Dave after speaking with Steve and learned that when the power goes off in Popham, it not only goes off on the island, as we knew, because the cable goes underwater to there, it also goes off in the tower.  We had been told otherwise and now were perplexed about what to do even more.  Dave said there was nothing to do but ride it out.

The guys and I lit candles and got out the Scrabble.  Boy was I rusty.  Lost to the brothers.  Defeat.  But listening to the wind howl and the rain beat down was thrilling.  We finished the wine and went to bed.  In the middle of the night, I woke up with the night light next to the bed on and felt secure enough to go back to sleep soundly.  The electricity was back and we’d have coffee in the morning and not have to toss out item by item in the refrigerator as they went bad.

Surveying the damage in the morning actually made me think we might have been caught in something like a tornado.  Even the sunset bench previous caretakers had made, had blown off its concrete platform and toppled down the hill toward the pine tree, aka mens’ room.  Getting it back up wasn’t easy because it is very heavy and well built.  The Adirondack chair on the lawn placed in a spot where phone reception is best was down on the sidewalk by the tram; the yellow plastic can we use to water the garden had blown from the back door down across the front lawn into the sumac under the martin house.

It seems we dodged another bullet.

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