Unplugged and Lovin’ It


As a kid I looked forward to tornado season in Kentucky. Every spring brought the promise of stormy weather and, with it, the likelihood of losing our lights for an evening.

Nothing beat the thrill of watching those dark, ominous clouds roil in the western skies and hearing thunder crack so loud it could bring even the likes of my strong, silent father to his feet. Dad would glance out the window, probably worrying about the looming oaks and elms that surrounded our rural home. My mother would wait for the warnings to flash on the TV and check the “catch-all” drawer in the kitchen for candles and a flashlight.

The only thing more exciting than the storm itself was when the lights flickered and died, and a sudden hush filled our darkened house. My siblings and I would grope our way through pitch-black hallways until we found each other, or our mother, or whomever it was who happened to have a light source.

No electricity meant flocking to the basement to play ping-pong or shoot pool by candlelight. It meant cuddling up with a blanket in a peculiar place, like under the dining room table, without anyone noticing. It meant gathering around the kitchen table to tell stories of past storms and power outages. No electricity brought us closer together.

These days we seem to be crippled by power outages. We can’t check our e-mail or fix dinner or even take a hot bath. When an ice storm hit Kentucky last year, our family lost power for less than 24 hours. We were more fortunate than most, who were off the grid for several days—some even for weeks. The outage shut down many businesses and area schools.

But for my family, it proved an exercise in utility. We planned for the worst. Before the food could spoil, I transferred it from the refrigerator and freezer to a big plastic tub and put it on our deck. My husband set up an oven rack in the fireplace and boiled water for our coffee. Our teenage son rigged a converter from his car to power a small TV. The temperature in the house dipped to 60 degrees, so we pulled out an old mattress and prepared to sleep by the fire. Just when we resigned to live like pioneers for a few days, the lights came on and our furnace blower whirred to life.

I was relieved but also a little disappointed that we wouldn’t get the chance to really test our survival skills. We were saving money off the grid, and we were reducing our impact on the environment. Call me a control freak, but I despise being at the mercy of the utility company and Mother Nature. I wanted to see whether we could get by without buying a generator or a cell phone or some other handy gadget. Could we make it for a week, a day or even an hour by simplifying and being resourceful with what we have on hand?

If you’re thinking of starting small, consider joining me for Earth Hour, an annual event in which people all over the world voluntarily switch off their power for one hour. This year’s event will take place March 27. Sign up at earthhour.org.

With the days getting longer and the weather warming up, spring is a great time of year to try living unplugged. So dig out the candles, grab a board game and get cozy.

Bobbi Buchanan

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