The Short Story (Because brevity is bliss):
We had a storm last week and it was craaaaaazy.
The Long Story (Because I want to remember the whole story so I can tell it to my kids some day when all they remember about this ordeal is that they got to stay up late and eat ice cream in the dark after we’d already brushed teeth. And because I suck at brevity.):
Last Tuesday, January 10, actually started off quite fantastically. We have a tradition in our neighborhood that whenever a child from our community has a birthday, we gather at their house in the morning for a celebratory breakfast before starting the day. We had one such birthday on Tuesday, and I’m not one to complain when I’m served sizzling meats and birthday cake before 8:00 AM. After dropping the boys off at school, I took Hannah to her first baby-and-me music class. Also wonderful.
There was no problem at all until I got home from the music class and realized that the “atmospheric river” the meteorologists had been warning us about was reaching it’s max capacity. We were in the midst of one of the biggest winter storms I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something.
Now, I grew up in Seattle. I know rain. I’ve seen every manner of rain and lived to tell the tale. This rain, however, was different. This was dark, brooding skies, incessant sheets of rain, and strong gusts of wind. Making matters worse, we live in a narrow mountain canyon, literally on the edge of a creek (and by “on the edge” I mean close enough that the boys pee off our back deck into the water, and by “creek” I mean that the storm had turned it into an insanely full, about to spill over, raging river.).
By the time I picked up the boys from school in the afternoon, I could tell there would be problems. Tree branches littered the streets and a few large rocks had rolled down the canyon walls outside our house. Things were getting wet and wild, and I cancelled our afternoon plans in favor of hunkering down inside our safe, warm house.
That night Jon had to work late, so I put the boys to bed and went upstairs to begin a night of bingeing on all of the shows Jon refuses to watch with me on the basis of “risks to his masculinity” (Call The Midwife and The Crown were on the agenda). I was about to cut into a pan of brownies when there was a loud crashing sound, followed by darkness. Utter and complete darkness.
It’s hard to describe the kind of dark that it gets in our house when the power goes out suddenly in the middle of the night during a storm. Since we live in a canyon, there’s already no external light–no distant streetlights, no ambient light from the city, not even moonlight reaches the canyon floor. In those first moments, it was so dark that I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Thankfully, I was prepared for a power-outage (we’d already had one for a few hours 2 days before when the storm was just getting started), so I fumbled my way over to the kitchen counter where I had stashed a few flashlights.
I turned on my light and went to check on the kids, but the loud crash had woken the boys up and they were already on their way upstairs. Since the boys were awake and now WIRED, I decided to let them stay up and play for awhile so I could try to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to leave. After all, we live in a narrow mountain canyon with a quickly rising creek in the middle and steep muddy walls on either side–not exactly the ideal place to be during a raging storm with a power outage.
I set about packing overnight bags for us and called Jon at work to let him know what was happening (read: I called Jon to freak out and completely lose my mind.). I was about to go wake up the baby for our great escape when I got word from a neighbor that no escape would be possible. That loud crash I’d heard? Yeah, that was a mudslide and the only road out of the canyon was now blocked by a ginormous downed tree, splintered power poles, and live electrical wires. There would be no leaving…for awhile.
The mudslide damage on our street in the canyon
For the next few hours I attempted to look calm and excited about our little “adventure” in the storm while I continued to fret internally at the possiblity of our house either (A) Being wiped out by another mudslide (B) Having the roof crushed by another ginormous tree making its way down the hill or (C) Being washed away by the raging river outside our back door.
The boys loved that I let them stay up after bedtime to eat all of our ice cream…after all, I didn’t want it to melt during the power outage and go to waste. When people ask the boys how the storm was or what we did all week, they always answer the same thing: Ice cream. The only thing they remember about this whole crazy week was that we ate ice cream in the dark.
Eating ice cream in the dark
I finally gave up on the idea of trying to get out of the canyon that night and realized that we were just going to have to lay low in our own dark house. I made myself a bed on the floor of the boys’ room and laid down with them until they finally fell asleep around 11:30.
Shortly after, at about midnight, Jon made it home and I got my first report from “the outside”. There was another mudslide on Highway 17, the only road we can take to get to our mountain, and he’d been stuck in traffic for hours before he finally snuck past the barricade during the workers’ break. Once he got to the canyon, he couldn’t drive down our road because of the downed trees. He parked about a mile up the road and walked in…in the total darkness, with no light, and stepping over the (hopefully no-longer live) wires that were strewn across the road.
We got our first glimpse of the damage once there was daylight the next morning (Wednesday). Several men from our community were already out in the street with chainsaws working to clear the downed trees off the road. The power company, PG&E, arrived on scene a bit after 8:00 and began to assess the damage. In total, 7 power poles (including the one directly in front of our house) had been knocked down and needed to be replaced. This would not be a quick fix.
Power pole down in front of our house.
Since Jon’s car was already parked on the other side of the mudslide, he was able to walk back out of the canyon and go to work on Wednesday morning. I, however, was still trapped at our house. David’s school was cancelled anyway, so we just hung out inside the house reading books and sitting by the fireplace.
Wednesday afternoon we got word that the trees had been cleared off the road, and anybody who would like to have access to the world outside the canyon should move their cars out of canyon now before they closed the road again to begin electrical work. Since there were still mudslides on Highway 17 that were intermittently closing down the road, I decided to just park my car outside of the community but stay put.
Walking back home from our car–we had to park about 20 minutes (at kid pace) away from our house.
Even though being stuck in a house without power isn’t ideal, it still beats being stuck on a Highway with a car full of kids for hours on end with no way to get off the highway (this has happened to us before, and it is a scene from a horror movie that I do not chose to ever repeat.). Turns out this was a good call–most people I know who left the canyon took 3-5 HOURS to drive the 3 mile stretch on Highway 17 between the last exit in town and our exit. No thank you, very much.
We spent the rest of the day Wednesday staying out of the way of the PG&E crews that had taken over the street, visiting our neighbors (some of whom ended up in the emergency room with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes coming off their generator), cooking meals on our BBQ, NOT using water (because our community water pump doesn’t work without power = no filtration, and no way to purge sewage…ewwwww….), napping (Hannah) and going completely bonkers from being stuck inside all day (Boys. And me. Mostly me.). With the mudslide commute, Jon got home around midnight again. The rest of us were already asleep huddled around the fire in my bedroom.
Our home within our home…sleeping bags around the fireplace.
Thursday was pretty much the same as Wednesday. Still no power, still no way to get off the mountain.
By Friday we still didn’t have power, and I was starting to lose it. We’d all been living, playing, eating, and sleeping in one room, because that one room was the only room with a fireplace…and heat is a good thing when it’s 35 degrees outside. Since we were all sleeping in one room, that meant I was doing very little “sleeping” and much “tending to children who woke up in the middle of the night” so that they wouldn’t wake up the rest of the room. Plus, I was still nervous about the whole tree-falling-on-our-house-or-washing-away-in-a-river possibility. After 3 straight nights of no sleep, I was SPENT. Like, really, really over this whole storm adventure thing.
By Friday morning they seemed to have the mudslide situation on Highway 17 under control, so I made quick to get the heck off of our mountain. I was beyond excited to finally re-enter civilization! My cell phone had been perpetually out of battery for the last 3 days (which is a bit disconcerting when it’s your only link to civilization and emergency help should you need it), and the only way I could charge it was to go plug it in to my car for a few minutes at a time. On the agenda: finding a place where I could charge my phone and get something warm to drink.
As soon as I dropped the boys off at school, I drove over to the closest Starbucks ready to get my charge-and-drink on. When I walked in, however, my dreams of recharging disappeared. Every single chair, booth, and table was already full. I even asked a few different people if I could sit at their tables, and I got denied each time. Under normal circumstances I would have just brushed this off and moved on with my day. But this? This was not a normal circumstance.
I’d been scared and stuck in a cold, dark house for almost 4 days with 3 young children. I needed a warm place to sit and charge my dang cell phone. Nobody would make room for me. I’d just been through one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and nobody cared. Nobody here even seemed to notice. It was, shall we say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I burst into tears and stormed out of Starbucks (baristas, by the way, love it when their customers grab their drink, randomly burst into tears, and then storm out of the store.).
Then I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I called my mom. I was done being the “strong” grown up, and I just needed to cry with my mommy. I have no regrets. She totally talked me off the ledge and made me feel like someone really did care (because, really, people do care). She (and my dad, who had been called in for reinforcement) offered their love and support, then convinced me to go home and take a nap. It was sound advice, and I took it.
I tried to take the nap, but my brain wouldn’t turn off–I was trying to figure out how to get the heck out of here. I couldn’t stand one more night in the cold, dark house with everyone huddled around the one, small fireplace. I sent out a plea of desperation on Facebook, looking for someone who might have room for us at their house for the weekend. After a few minutes I had so many responses from friends offering to help us that I had to take down the post so we wouldn’t break the internet (Thank you, friends, you really are the best!). See, I told myself, people really do care.
In the end, we decided to make a break for a warmer locale. My sister lives in southern California, and we figured this would be the perfect excuse to visit them for the long holiday weekend. I don’t know if my sister had been tipped off to my pleasant little phone call with my parents earlier in the day, but she and her family bent over backward to accommodate us. Her family moved out of their house for the weekend and stayed with her in-laws so we could have her whole house–and, most importantly, all of their beds–to ourselves.
We had a great weekend playing with my niece and nephew, swimming, eating out, hiking, and feeling very loved. When we went to church with them on Sunday morning, though, God got the last laugh: the sermon was on why God allows natural disasters to happen. Seriously. I took copious notes, and I left church that morning realizing that God’s grace can override anything and everything–even a storm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Hiking with my sister and her family in sunny southern California–no storm here!
By the time we got back home after our weekend away, the streets were cleared and the power had been restored. All’s well that ends, well…I guess.
So, that is the story of the storm.
I know that I’ll remember this adventure for years to come, but if you only remember one thing about my story, remember this: ice cream is not worth sacrificing. If your power goes out, just start eating all the ice cream. At least then your kids will have a story worth telling.