At 4:30 in the morning it can be difficult to understand what is happening. Even the lack of a sound at this time of night is enough to set a person's nerves on fire. So when the fan we run for white noise suddenly whirred to a halt, we shot awake the same as if someone were being murdered in the next room.
The truly frightening part about losing power is that you don't initially know why you lost it. We got our answer soon enough. During the dig under the bed for flashlights we heard it - a cracking so loud it was like God ripped open the sky over our house. But it wasn't thunder in December, and what followed next was not the expected rumbling roar of the air masses bumping into one another as they roll across the county. It was a slicing and tearing and crashing that most people go their entire lives without hearing - the sound of wizened trees tumbling to their death as they succumb to the powers of ice and snow.
Running to the window we caught the last moments of the fall as the tree grabbed hold of the second string of electrical wires. Here is where we discovered that, in the moments prior to our waking, the lamppost had cracked in half and was swaying on its cables like a broken arm hanging by a tendon.
Snow alone can be an overtly suffocating thing. Piles up to the windows, branches weighted and full, cold that permeates the marrow. But ice is a powerful entity in a clandestine sort of way. It can seep in where it isn't wanted, expand vulnerabilities, break things apart, and destroy - and that is exactly what it did while we had been sleeping.
The house quickly lost heat as the furnace could no longer run. We were sure that incident was localized, and we figured to have power again soon. Yet, as the morning grew on, and the icy snow-mix continued to dump from the sky, we began to worry.
Buried under many blankets next to the tiny hearth, we struggled to keep warm. The thermostat read 52 degrees Fahrenheit and it was falling. Our little fireplace was not designed to warm the entire house, and it certainly let us know this fact. Only two hours after kindling the blaze as high as it would go, the glass door shattered. Nature loves a good laugh and merely seconds after this fireplace tragedy we heard a now familiar sound as a second tree came crashing down, this time in the backyard, roots and all. I suppose we were lucky that it fell only a few paces from our garage, and not on top of our cars.
This type of rare situation is when a person learns about how much the human body and mind can withstand. For five days the ice continued to fall. For five days we huddled under blankets to keep warm, listened to the transistor radio, and prayed that the pipes wouldn't freeze. For five days we ate peanut butter sandwiches because it was the only thing we had that didn't require the refrigerator or stove. For five days trees all around our property and community fell to their deaths, reminding us that we were not alone in our suffering.
And on the fifth night, when the electric company truck arrived at last, we could say without hyperbole that we must now understand how Edison felt when his light finally turned on.