The storm started innocuously enough. I was busy backing up my computer hard drive and didn’t even notice it had started raining until the hammering on the metal roof became so insistent that I went to look outside. There were rumbles of thunder, but that’s nothing unusual in the Queensland summer – minor storms can happen every week and sometimes it rains for days without respite. But when the wind started slamming the open doors hard enough that the glass might shatter, and the sky began to ignite constantly with simultaneous sheet and fork lightning, I started to pay attention. It was dusk, but the white lightning sky displayed trees bowing almost at right angles, in a way I’d only ever seen on news reports of hurricanes. Suddenly the power failed, and the only source of sound and light was nature’s own rock show. But we keep torches and candles handy, and it still didn’t feel like anything to worry about until I heard a huge crash from the front of the house. Running out to the verandah, I could make out something I hadn’t even thought to concern myself with: a massive gum tree, perhaps fifty metres high and a group hug’s circumference, had fallen right across the front of the house and onto my car, which was now completely invisible under the vast expanse of branches.
The storm did its worst for another couple of hours and eventually I went to bed – I wanted to investigate but it was way too dangerous to go out there. When dawn came, I could see that my car, though trapped, appeared to be un-crushed. There was a lot of damage to the surrounding forest, but I was ok, and the house was ok. The gum tree would stay in its final resting place for another 36 hours before the power came back and we could set to it with chainsaws.
And those 36 hours were some of the most interesting I’ve had. Completely unexpectedly, I loved being forced back-to-basics, and I can’t deny that a part of me was actually disappointed when our appliances started pinging back to life. Here are three things that those 36 hours off-grid taught me.
1 – What’s really necessary.
The first thing I realised was how spoilt I am to consider electricity a necessity. Millions of people live without electricity even today, and the whole world lived without it until it was introduced domestically in the late 1800s. Something that humans survived without for a quarter of a million years can hardly be considered in the same bracket as oxygen and water.
Lesson: Obviously electricity is necessary for modern life to continue as it is, and vital for hospitals; but in the bigger picture, and domestically, it’s very much a luxury.
2 – What’s necessary-ish.
For the first twelve hours the only slight annoyances were not having a fan in the hot bedroom, and figuring out how to arrange enough candles close to my eyes to be able to read without setting my head on fire. The next day, when it became clear by the power lines lying in the road that we might be in for the long haul, the food in the fridge and freezer became a source of mild concern. Back in London in December I’d just put it all outside and it would stay cold; here in Queensland that’s not an option. But hats off to modern manufacturers, they seem to have superior insulation in their appliances – it all stayed cold or frozen for well over 24 hours. And I could still cook, thanks to the clean drinking water that we all take for granted, and the gas stove which I could light with matches.
Lesson: If you have clean water and the ability to make fire, you are pretty much tickety-boo.
3 – What modern life has and has not improved.
I couldn’t noodle around on the internet, because I needed to conserve my battery power in case of emergency. That was no bad thing. I had to take a break from my twice-daily offerings on social media. That felt like a mini-retreat – although I enjoy it, I do put quite a bit of effort into trying to share useful content and it felt good to have a rest. I couldn’t Skype my friends back in England. That was a shame, missing out on the catch-ups. What it made me realise was that I use technology for entertainment as well as as a tool. That’s fine up to a point – it’s incredible how much valuable content I get to enjoy from other peole who share things online and write articles, as well as being able to download interesting documentaries and stream yoga classes with teachers I admire. But being without that resource meant I turned to other sources of entertainment in my down-time; I got my colouring book out, I journalled, I even read the local paper which turned out to be quite useful. I felt very relaxed and peaceful as a result.
Lesson: Whilst I wouldn’t want to be without the incredible source of connection that is the internet long-term, I’m going to use it and my devices more as a tool, and revisit the more ‘pre-net’ forms of entertainment more often.
Now, with the damage all cleared away and the power back up, things are back to normal. We have a new cleared area in the rainforest and some big logs that I’m going to make into a seating circle. The bank account took a bit of a dent from the tree surgeons we had to enlist, but we had an emergency fund and that’s what money’s for. The guttering is a bit bent and my car needs a new bonnet clip but that, incredibly, is the only damage. But the lessons I learnt in our 36 hours without power; those, I hope, will stay with me.