By Walter Stoffel, author
The following is a recounting of an experience my dog Buddy and I endured two years ago around this time of year:
March 1, 2018—Canadensis, Pennsylvania. The nor’easter started as rain during the late afternoon and continued into the following day with ever increasing winds. Still, nothing to be alarmed about as far as I was concerned.
March 2—My wife Clara had weeks earlier booked a flight to Jacksonville, Florida to see her sisters. Her plane was to depart from Allentown, Pennsylvania at 4 a.m. on March 3rd. With the bad weather we were having, she’d originally planned to stay overnight at the house of a friend who lives further south of us in Easton, Pa. and closer to the airport. The winds were now howling, reaching sixty mile-per-hour gusts, and around noontime the rain changed over to heavy snow. That hastened Clara's departure from our house. She high-tailed it for Easton, earlier than previously planned, leaving Buddy, our poodle/beagle mix, and me to fend for ourselves.
Still not particularly troubled by the bad weather, I decided to work out on my elliptical machine in the garage. While huffing and puffing, I occasionally glanced through the garage door windows at the rapidly accumulating snow, appreciating the winter wonderland look to it all. I wouldn't be appreciating it much longer.
After exercising, I took a shower, had some lunch and sat down at my computer, the lifeline for a self- published author like myself. No sooner had I begun to go through my e-mails then the electric power got shaky. Lights flickered off and then came back on; the computer began to shut down and then revived itself. Finally, all things electric in the house stopped dead in their tracks. I got up from the computer and went out into the living room, finding Buddy, as was his custom, comfortably sacked out on the sofa, oblivious to what had just happened. I optimistically assumed power would be back on in a relatively short period of time so I set up the Keurig to make a cup of coffee the minute it did. Coffee—another lifeline for an author. Switching from optimism to realism, as a precautionary measure I ran the water faucets to get as much water out of the pipes as possible.
5:00 p.m. Still no electricity, heat or water and now it was getting late and the house ever darker and colder. I bundled up and trudged out to the garage to bring in the kerosene heater. I set the heater up in the living room and checked the gauge—the unit was only half full. Back out to the garage I trudged, only to find that the two containers we use to purchase and store kerosene in were bone dry. Since driving anywhere was now out of the question, I decided to start a wood fire in the fireplace and save the kerosene heater for the next day, if needed. In the midst of now blizzard conditions, I brought in firewood stored alongside the garage, making several uncomfortable trips.
By the time I had the fireplace roaring, the only light in the house was coming from the fire itself and a dim flashlight featuring well-worn batteries. I sat in my recliner, determined to let the inefficient warmth of the fireplace make me feel better. It didn't. Quickly concluding there was absolutely nothing to do in a cold, dark house, I decided to go to bed. I checked my home’s sole operating timepiece—a battery-operated clock—and realized I was hitting the sack at the ungodly hour of 5:45 p.m. Addicts use drugs to escape from reality; in this case, sleep would be my drug. Buddy hunkered down in bed with me and wasted no time getting underneath all the blankets. Disturbed sleep came quickly—disturbed because the intense cold had me waking up on a regular basis, wiggling my toes in an attempt to keep them limber and unfrozen.
In the dead middle of night, I was rousted out of sleep by a dog’s slobbering tongue planted all over my face. Buddy had decided he had to go outside. I grudgingly got up, fumbled in the dark for the flashlight, and stumbled groggily through a pitch black house to the side door. Out my dog went into the freezing cold, while I waited inside where it was only ever-so-slightly warmer. Some five or ten minutes later, Buddy came rushing back to the door, happy to have concluded his business. I was happy too, happy to get back under the covers that were providing me a small yet precious measure of warmth.
March 3—I got up from bed about 4:30 a.m. It was dark outside—and inside—the house, immediately letting me know I was still without electricity. The god-awful chill enveloping every corner of my home compelled me to start another fire. Once I got it blazing, I sat in my recliner and Buddy immediately hopped onto my lap. He yawned and I could see his breath, unexpected and somewhat startling proof as to just how cold the house was.
It didn’t take long before I realized how inefficient a fireplace without an insert is. I cranked up the kerosene heater and again “relaxed” in my recliner with Buddy. Ah, the precious warmth! Unfortunately, there would be no accompanying cup of coffee, breakfast, shower or access to the computer. March 3rd promised to be as dismal as March 2d had been.
7a.m-The sun was up and, despite an overcast sky, the weather much improved. The snow had stopped except for the occasional flurry. More importantly, the wind had subsided to half the force of the previous day’s gale-like outbursts. Things looked good outside, much better than they did inside.
At this point, my only contact with the outside world resided in my Smartphone. I’d lose that lifeline soon enough. There was no way to charge it in the house and, weeks ago, I had lent my car charger to a friend. Using the phone while I still could, I surmised from news reports that, like much of the northeastern United States, my local area had been devastated. The local electric company had issued an electronic form letter on its website announcing power would be out, at worst, for twenty-four hours. In view of that company’s track record, I found this form letter less than inspiring. Unfortunately, my lack of faith would prove justified.
I got a text message from Rick, my daughter Gina’s fiancé. They lived in the next town over, had no power and were going to stay at a hotel some thirty miles away. Would I join them? Not without Buddy, I wouldn’t. One thing I was certain of—by now, kerosene, firewood and bottled water and pet-friendly lodging were in short supply throughout the region. Buddy and I were in this together for the long haul.
A few minutes later Rick texted me a question: “What did the settlers do without electricity? I know they drank.” I texted back: “Yeah, they all drank and died of hypothermia. That’s why there are no settlers today.”
4:30 p.m. A combination of curiosity and cabin fever (the freezing kind) drove me out of the house and into my car. I wanted to see firsthand just what Mother Nature had done the past forty-eight hours. I couldn't take Buddy because he tends to get car sick, so I wrapped him up in blankets on the sofa and left him in the house. I started the car, pulled out of the driveway, drove to the end of my road and turned right onto northbound Route 447. The devastation was everywhere. Collapsed trees and tree limbs were draped over power lines, the latter now sagging under such ponderous weight. Trees and other debris scattered on the road created an obstacle course for drivers. Speaking of drivers, there weren't any on the road other than yours truly. There had been numerous motor vehicle accidents involving both cars and trucks—some landing in ditches, some smashed against guard rails, and others simply sitting in the middle of the road. I got as far as the intersection of Route 447 and Route 390. Not one place of business was open and I got the feeling they wouldn't be for quite some time. There was nothing else to do but turn around and head back home.
When I got there, I again started up a fire that only slightly warmed the living room. I gave Clara a call. Her flight had taken off as planned and she was now in the sunny state of Florida. She happily reported the temperature in Jacksonville was 74°F. I didn’t know what the temperature was in Canadensis and didn’t want to know. Clara had timed her exit from Pennsylvania perfectly and for that she had my grudging admiration. I was envious of her comfortable living conditions in Jacksonville compared to mine here in Canadensis, but the thought of asking her to end her vacation and come home to suffer with me never gained traction in my mind. The dice had been rolled and Clara was the winner. Our conversation was brief as I had nothing positive to talk about.
By 5:30 I was in bed with Buddy—extended sleeping hours were becoming a habit.
During the night, there was good news and bad news. Buddy slept through, so there was no need for me to let him outside at some ungodly hour. The bad news was that I woke up every fifteen minutes due to the intense cold. Again, I found myself wiggling my toes on a regular basis just to maintain circulation in them. During one of my waking spells, I pictured Lance (a border collie I rescued) spending ten consecutive winters struggling to endure weather like this—outside. Just because he was a dog didn’t make his fight to survive any easier. How the hell did he do it? I went back to sleep harboring evil thoughts about the Schmidts (his original owners).
To be continued…
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).