Dawn came quietly. No air conditioners or refrigerators humming. No scent of coffee wafting through the house. No showers, no flushing.
RB and I, the first two awake, drew curtains and blinds to keep the sun out. We went out onthe upper and lower porches to unfurl the shades, working to shield the house, and us, from the unyielding July heat. We talked about coffee.
One by one the rest of the group wandered into the refectory. What should we do? Do we stay? Go? And what about P.? She was due to arrive by about noon?
“We don’t have any water we can’t stay.” B. offered.
“We have a couple of buckets full,” C., our hostess said.
“And the river, we can always walk to the river to fill more buckets.” I don’t know if R. said that, or RB. But to say B. and I were incredulous would be a vast understatement. We sat around the table in silence, pondering our course of action.
“I think we should wait it out,” someone suggested. “How long could it be?”
“The house stays cool. And we all have paper and pencils.” Well, I don’t have a pencil, I have a pen, but anyway…
“We’ll need water.”
“How will we eat?”
“We have fruits and summer garden veggies; tomatoes and cukes. There’s charcoal and a grill. We’ll be fine that way. But we’ll need potable water.”
“And ice for the perishables.” We chatted briefly about the chain saw that had woken each of us up about 3 a.m..
C. and I had both survived hurricane Isabel; C thirteen days without power, and me nine. Everything else was doable—it’s about water. And ice. Everything else in the psyche adapts as long as there’s water and ice. And coffee.
The other lesson learned from hurricane Isabel was that we would need those commodities soon, before they became scarce and people began to fight over the limited available resources.
We’d go to Lovingston. Surely, condition in the town would be better.
“We should charge cell phones and laptops on the ride,” I suggested.
“We should call P. and tell her there’s no power, maybe she’ll want to stay home.”
RB had the most power jacks and gas. Gas was another resource we couldn’t afford to squander, no power, no gas pumps.
Before RB, C., and I left, I called P. “The storm knocked the power out. We don’t know when it’ll be back on…”
“Pfft!” she replied, “I can sweat with the best of them.”
“Bring drinking water then.”
C. learned that a neighbor had a hand pump. News updates from various family members let us know that the storm had covered several states, and that it could be days (plural) before power was restored. Not without some trepidation, we decided we’d be fine.
The road to Lovingston was littered with down branches and mulch. VDOT had been hard at work clearing debris from the road. We relaxed our guard, took a deep breath.
And then we came around the curve. There, hanging over the road was a massive tree. RB slowed down. “Oh my god!” And then forged ahead. C. and I held our breath as we drove the SUV under the fallen tree.
We stopped at the first store we found open. A tired young woman with a baby in a bucket-seat was tallying items sold on a clipboard and using a calculator to determine cost and change. Cash only. I was grateful to have listened to the still quiet voice in my mind that had said, never mind your card, bring cash.
Six bags of ice, but still no coffee. We drove almost twenty more miles before we surrendered and began our return journey.
We held our breath as we drove under the downed tree, now surrounded by concerned citizens and road crews. We had just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief when, thawk! A downed wire, hanging low over the road, slammed into the windshield. No damage. Well, other than the ten years we each aged.
We filled the huge cooler that Chris had loaned to me. He had been somewhat insistent. I was grateful. Everything from the refrigerator fit with the six bags of ice into the mammoth cooler. C. and R. went to pump water.
With nineteenth century daily chores completed, P. in the door, and the power restored, we decided to workshop. With frayed nerves, not enough coffee, and too much pent up frustration, this wasn’t our best choice. But I don’t think that’s my story to tell, so I’ll just leave that there.
We had a dinner of salad, pasta (topped with amazing pesto that JL had made), and finished with a desert of coffee with amaretto and homemade whipped cream.
Drained, I retreated early into the quiet of my room, to meditate and regain my center. This wasn’t shaping up to be the retreat I had planned. I got no writing done, and my impression was that no one else did either…
With the power restored people could regain their equilibrium, Sunday would be better. It would be what I had come to expect of retreats at The Porches. Nothing could undo the workshop experience, but we would forge ahead…