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Reading by Firelight

By On Nov 14 2011, 9:00 am

Recently, my family and I got to do a little time traveling, back to the days before electricity, thanks to a freak October snowstorm. There’s a saying about New England – if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. Well, even for us Yankees, this particular storm delivered a nasty shock. It wasn’t so much that the snow was heavy and wet or that it came down in near-blizzard conditions. It was that the trees were still adorned with the jewel-toned autumn leaves we’d been admiring just the day before. The fat flakes piled up on leafy branches ill-suited to bearing such weight, and down they came. Connecticut residents are forest dwellers, and there’s barely a yard that doesn’t have many old-growth trees. All night during the storm, we heard creaking and cracking as limbs crashed to the ground, often taking surrounding trees with them, as well as electric wires. My husband and I held our breath, hoping the towering old oaks that line our driveway would survive, and that the shagbark hickory near the front of the house wouldn’t smash through the roof.

In the morning, we awoke to a pretty, white war zone. Debris cluttered every yard and road. An ash across the way had split in half, taking the adjacent maple with it. Our next-door neighbors lost all four Bradford pears in their front yard. Streets were closed. School was cancelled (much to my children’s dismay, as you can imagine, haha). Halloween had to be cancelled as well, which was sad; I felt sorry for families with little kids who’d been looking forward to trick-or-treating. In addition to all that, we’d lost power around 2:00 on Saturday and as it turned out, we would have five days without it.

While the days were warm, in the balmy sixties, the nights dropped into the thirties. You don’t really realize just how dark it gets outside until you’re living without street lights. Our house felt like a cozy little shoebox as we huddled around the fireplace and relied on candles and flashlights for illumination. Cut off from all electronics, the kids and I played a lot of Monopoly and Scrabble. I suppose no one in the 1800s had Kindles, but was I ever grateful for mine. After strapping my miner’s light around my head, I was able to shine it on the Kindle screen and read. Never before had I been so appreciative of the Kindle’s long battery life.

As I caught up on my TBR pile, it occurred to me that living without all the electronic distractions puts your brain in a different place. I didn’t feel the need to check my e-mail every few minutes (or check my crops on Farmville!). I didn’t glance back and forth from the book to the TV screen, and the living room wasn’t filled with the distracting gunfire sounds of the PS3 game my son would normally be playing. Rather than retreat into our individual corners of the house, we gathered before the fireplace, played games, talked, and read. Even though it got pretty darned cold and eating crackers and leftover Halloween candy got old real quick, all in all, going without power for five days and nights was kind of refreshing. It also made me appreciate the companionship of books. Sharing stories in front a fire on a wintery, dark night is surely one of the oldest of human traditions. One evening, the kids and I even made up ghost stories to try to scare one another.

In this busy electronic age, it’s easy to think of books as consumable fiction, quickly read, quickly forgotten, but spending such quiet, concentrated time with books in front of the fireplace reminded me that every story told is a way for one human to reach out to others, to reestablish the familiar connection that has gotten our species through many a cold, dark, lonely spell. It reminded me once again of why I love the written word, and why writing and reading are such valuable past times. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed – turn off everything. Curl up in front of a fireplace (or flashlight), lose yourself in a story and make that uniquely human connection once again.


8 Responses to “Reading by Firelight”

  1. I hope everything on FarmVille survived while you were gone. :) In Utah we get whomped like that occasionally. I find the time without power makes me slow down and enjoy simpler activities. :)

  2. One of my favorite “pioneer” activities is reading aloud. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately since I have a six-year-old, but I’m hoping to keep the tradition alive long after she reaches her teen years.

    There’s something about laying back and hearing a story (from the lips of someone you love rather than an audiobook narrator) that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

  3. Having lived through two snow/ice storms, I can sympathize. Very fortunately I only went just under 24 hrs without electricity each time. Neither place had an alternate heat source, so I was pretty glad when the lights came on. I stayed with my ex-inlaws during the first storm in Nashville, and a couple of years ago I was at my mom’s in KY, where I live now, and the apartment building was so well built the temperature only dropped about 5 degrees inside.

    Your family’s storytelling and game playing around the fire sounds idyllic…almost. I’m so glad you weathered the storm. Would hate to lose my editor.

  4. Tina Donahue says:

    Despite the cold and obvious discomfort, it sounds like you had a nice time. Talking, reading, sitting in front of a fire. Sometimes you just don’t need email. Many times, I’d like to flee it and the phone. :)

  5. JL Merrow says:

    Your post brought back memories of my childhood – I grew up in Britain in the 1970s, with miners’ strikes meaning regular powercuts. I have fond memories of watching Mum light the gas lamp at tea-time and then playing with my toys by the light of the fire (although as I recall, the big red plastic bus ended up a bit melted!)

    I’m fairly certain my parents’ memories of the time aren’t quite so fond, however! ;D

  6. Cathryn Cade says:

    Your post brought back fond memories (fond only because they’re so long ago) of regular winter power outages in the Western Montana Rockies.

    The heavy snowload would bring down the lines at least twice a winter, and we’d cook and heat water on the woodstove, using oil lamps for light. It was fun for one or two nights, playing Legos and board games with the boys by the stove, and reading aloud together.

    Then it got old–especially when the boys were forbidden to play outside without us, because the snow built up on the metal roof might slide any time, crushing anyone in its path. Once we couldn’t find our 3 year old immediately–I died a thousand deaths until he piped up from behind their snow fort!

    Glad you’re all safe and sound, and so sorry for the trees lost. Love those trees.


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