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What I Learned at the Cottage this Weekend (or, How to Survive 40 hours without electricity)

July 21, 2011

I am an urbanite.  I appreciate the conveniences of downtown living.  I might even say I depend on them.

However, when Good Friends John and Lisa (I’ve chosen to use their real names to rob them of anonymity) invited KS and myself to their cottage for a couple of days last week, we jumped at the chance.  While I’m not much of a camper, cottages represent a nice middle ground – all the beauty of nature with the added advantages of running water and sleeping indoors.  The agenda for our just-under-48-hour visit was reading, swimming, napping, eating, drinking, more napping, and Carcassonne.

Leaving on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the 90 minute drive had us pulling into the narrow tree-lined driveway about 6:30 pm, where John and Lisa had that night’s dinner about ready to go (because they are awesome).  Moments after our arrival, however, the sun – shining since we left Ottawa – was cloud covered.  Thunder rumbled in the distance.  Rain spat intermittently.

Inside, lights flickered as dinner was prepped and clouds darkened further.  “We might lose power,” John or Lisa mentioned, casually, “but it usually doesn’t stay out longer than a couple of hours.  At worst it will come back in the morning.”  The urbanite inside me had a panic moment, I’ll admit, when I thought about the cheese and mayo in the fridge.

Then, less than twenty minutes after our arrival, The Storm hit.  For various reasons (panic, mostly) I don’t remember many details.  The lake, only metres from the back door, was no longer visible.  Rain poured in through the open windows and screen doors (all of them), a canoe flew off the dock, and our hosts were drenched trying to suddenly save what remained of the dock furniture (I was given the task of closing the back door, and could barely keep it shut against the wind. It was a comedy scene, I’m sure).  After all this, not unexpectedly, the lights went out.

Our loss of power was, at first glance, not terribly inconvenient or troubling.  It should only last “a couple of hours,” after all.  It would have been surprising had the power stayed on.

But as quickly as the storm had arrived, it dispersed, revealing what was a surprise: a fallen tree and the power line it took down with it.  With the power line down it would be longer than “a couple of hours” before the power came back on.  It would, in fact, be at least 40 hours, since power had not been restored by Tuesday afternoon when KS and I returned to Ottawa (and for all I know they may still be without, since cell phones had died and Hydro Quebec unheard from before we left).

Again, my inner urbanite started to panic.  What would we do?  What about all the food?  Will I have to go to the bathroom outside? Would there be enough light to play Carcassonne?  Our loss of power – while incredibly inconvenient – did not ruin the weekend.  We still read, swam, napped, ate, drank, napped some more, and played Carcassonne (by candlelight).

Instead, having no power for a couple of days taught me a thing or four.

1. You can BBQ anything (except coffee)
As a vegetarian, I don’t use a BBQ for much more than veggie burgers/dogs and grilling vegetables.  And while we did all that, we also managed to make two breakfasts (toast, scrambled eggs, and crustini’s with melted cheese), roasted potatoes, zucchini, peppers, and anything else we wanted to eat hot.  I plan to do the remainder of my summer cooking – at cottage or at home – on the BBQ.

The only failure?  Trying to make coffee.  Though I’m sure there’s a workaround somewhere.

2. I take access to running water for granted
Nothing puts water usage into perspective like having to go down and up a hill with a heavy bucket of it every time you want to flush the toilet.

3. Analog technology is more reliable than a smartphone
We had intermittent 3G network connectivity to check the internet for news and updates, and were happy to share the info with our neighbours.  Our neighbours, however, didn’t need our information thanks to their wind-up radio, giving them access to more up-to-date info that we could have hoped to have had, especially after my iPhone battery died.  Nothing is quite as deflating as thinking you have helpful news, only to be told you do not.

4. Food won’t spoil as fast as you (or me, at least) think
If you keep your fridge/freezer/cooler closed, it will stay cool in there for quite a while.  And the next morning two bags of ice – one for the cooler and one for the fridge – kept all the food that really needed to be cold, cold.  What wouldn’t keep was eaten quickly or cooked and stored in the cooler.  We made sure to drink the beer and wine as fast as possible, though, to prevent spoilage (some times you just need to sacrifice, I guess).

And the cheese and mayo?  Totally fine.  Also: delicious.

Thank you, John and Lisa.  KS and I had a great time.  It was just like camping, with the added advantage of sleeping indoors.

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