Crazy weather

Mrs. Stepford next door was on the other end of the line.

“Look at that rain come down!” I said. It was coming down in very visible fat lines of rain. Millions of them. It was so curious – mostly rain seems to have spaces between the raindrops making it looklike a shower much as you might get out of a sprinkler system. But this stuff! This stuff looked like giant lines of uncooked spaghetti. Yes, I’m not off my noodle. Spaghetti!

It hovered between rain and sleet as we watched it and then Mrs. Stepford exclaimed,

“Ohmigod! It’s Hail! ”
Within the half minute that we were watching this phenomenal rain, it had turned from rain, to sleet to hail, and now was coming down in one massive dump of small BB-gun sized pellets. The sky turned white and so did the ground.

“I”m not going out in this,” I declared. “It’s too crazy!”

We both signed off and went about our days. I went back to my computer to check e-mail and blog stats. Just before I settled down, I looked out my study window and saw a curious image across the street that would have inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice. It looked like a giant amanita mushroom with it’s scarlet red cap and white furry polka dots.

In fact it was a little girl waiting out the hail with her mother, standing under the cedar tree that was right close to the bus stop. The little girl was hanging on for dear life to the handle of her red polka dot umbrella, both hands grasped just under chin level, and she was looking up with some apprehension. In that stance, she could have been a perfect model for one of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy characters.

Her mother, on the other hand, was frantically trying to adjust the pram’s various covers and zips to protect the babe within from the fury of the hail. I ran for my camera. If only I could photograph this girl before she moved! But as so often happens, by the time I’d got my camera to hand, turned it on, zoomed it, opened the front door and the screen, propped it with my foot so it wouldn’t close on me, the mother was ready to go and the girl turned sideways and started walking to keep up with her mother, ruining the perfect vision I had seen. I photographed anyway, just for remembrance of this impish vision I’d had.

The ground was white with ice, snow and hail.

After a while the weather turned back to a steady and heavy rain, then, as often does, it quit altogether. I took my chance to go out in relatively dry conditions to take out the compost. It was slippery outside but not overly so. It was relatively warm, too, and the hail had dissolved into the sodden snow mass.

Later, I was supposed to be going out. I watched from the studio window as it alternately rained and snowed. The road were slightly slushy but not overly so. There was a meeting for the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Artist’s Walk that comes up in April and I wanted to be in on the first organizational meeting. It would be a perfect way to meet some of the local artists and to become involved in the community.

I thought it prudent to check the news before I went – the weather channel, at least. I turned on the tube, precisely capturing the beginning of the news-breaking story of freak weather in Vancouver. Simon Fraser University had been closed. No one was allowed to enter or leave. It sits on the top of Burnaby mountain, admittedly not a high one, but still…

The road coming down from the university was a sheet of ice; it was unnavigable. There had been several accidents and the police simply shut off the entrances and exits. Everyone who was there had to stay there. The cafeteria would stay open all evening, so no one needed to starve!

Late breaking, news that Douglas College had closed as well, was tagged onto the story. It was a zoo out there. I took a second look at my driveway and the busy road before me and thought that perhaps we had been spared. I couldn’t see a problem.

So I picked up my friend who is going to join me in this Art Walk venture and we headed out for our meeting which went very successfully.

Two hours later, my friend and I headed back home. The lights on Lougheed highway seemed dim although it wasn’t black. Headlights coming toward us were bright and dazzling, just normal night vision blinding.

“Turn left at the next one.” she directed. I’m new here. I don’t know the shortcuts, the beaten paths to my friends houses so I had asked her to navigate. I couldn’t even see the side streets.

“Here?” I asked.

“No, just a bit up ahead.”

I advanced slowly, my blinker clicking like a ticking clock.

“Get in the passing lane! Oh, sorry! Sorry! I should have said” she said in a bit of a panic.

I was beginning to panic myself. Cars were coming for us at 80 clicks an hour and I couldn’t even see the lane where I was supposed to be turning from. Cars were coming up behind us with the same speed. I said a little prayer and it worked. Nothing happened. As I turned, I accidentally activated the high beam and lo and behold, there actually was a street to turn into.

It was a very dark street. These people went to bed early, I could see.

At River Road there was no traffic.We found her house with little difficulty. I dropped her at her well lit door, turned around in the driveway and headed back out.

Past Dewdney Trunk Road, everything was very dark. I was going to pick up milk at the little corner store, but it was all dark. I’m new here, but I thought they were open in the evenings. It was black and closed up. Not a light to be seen.

The street lights were out too. Finding my place was a challenge. It was hard enough to see in the first place, in daylight. Now with no light, I resorted to high beams despite the oncoming traffic. It was as I approached the turn that I realized it wasn’t just the street lights. All the power was out.

Just then, a large truck drove up and two men hopped out. They were the Recycling men, just now at eight thirty picking up my recycling. I walked towards them and remarked
“You’re working late!” It was highly unusual.

One of them must have noticed my cane. He picked up the blue box, stuffed the red, green orange and blue bags back in it and handed it to me.

“Can’t you take the coffee pot?” I said. It was still lying on the ground and he had not made any attempt to either put it in his truck nor return it to my blue box.

“We’re not supposed to.” he stated flatly, as he picked it up, rolled his eyes meaningfully at me and flung it into the truck. “There, it’s gone.” There was a curious note of triumphant defiance in it.

I thanked him and turned back into my driveway, carefully picking my way up to the car and past it to the front steps.

Well here’s a test of my emergency power failure preparations, I thought philosophically.

The sky was fairly light, the clouds had lifted high and there must have been a good sized moon on the other side of them. I could see my house and the steps. They had a layer of slush on them but not ice, and I reached the front door. When I opened it, I could hear the alarm asking to be shut off, a high pitched beep; and when I managed to get there, it was lit up sufficiently from inside for me to turn it off; but when it did, there was not an ounce of light left in the house.

The open front door was letting in cold, but it was also letting in the only available light. I groped for matches that were not there. Oh lordy! Where did I put them!

Then I remembered that I had a flashlight right there. After that, I found the matches and lit three candles. I tried the gas stove, but without electricity, it only releases gas. It doesn’t have the clicker to light it and so I turned it off immediately. Now that I had light, I closed the front door. Next, I tried to phone out. But the phone is connected with electricity as well, and there was only a beep beep from the receiver to advise that the battery was going. There was no dial tone.

Thanking goodness for cell phones, I then called to Mrs Stepford next door.

“How are you coping?” I asked.

“I’ve got a bottle of wine!” she declared. “C’mon over.”

I doused the candles, took my trusty flash light and a half bottle of wine I had sitting on the counter. She greeted me at the door flashing her mag light into my eyes as I approached, and I with my dollar flashlight, did the same to her. Minutes later, wine poured and imbibed, we chatted about the Art Walk meeting.

Mrs. Stepford is an artist as well, but she’s been there, done that. She didn’t like people she didn’t know traipsing through her studio. She didn’t like waiting for someone to come. We thrashed about the merits of going in the tour, I being for, she being against. When it almost came to a serious argument, we shifted gears.

“What are you going to do when Frank comes home from Cambodia?” she asked. “You can’t start that up again. Neither of you will be able to go forward with your lives.”
“It’s not your business,” I declared hotly, and I went silent. She might be right, but I have to do that decision by myself. It’s my life lesson, not hers.

The silence endured and became uncomfortable, but it couldn’t have been longer than a minute or two.

“Can’t you imagine,” I broke the silence, “how pioneers must have lived with this lack of light every night. How could they have read by candle light? It must have just ruined their eyes!”

“I was thinking the same just an hour ago,” she replied. “With two candles right here, it wasn’t too bad. We’re quite spoiled, you know. It’s quite an artificial life we are leading with all these luxuries. Many poor parts of the world don’t have electricity, fresh clean water, automatic heat and we won’t even talk about air conditioning.”

“We’re going to be in for a rude surprise one day if all of this is no longer available.”

I thought about some of the trouble spots in the world and knew she was right. We talked about making our own gardens, producing some of our own food. We shook our heads at the next generation coming, with their iPods and Wii’s. If all the superstructure for that ever collapsed, would these young things know how to light a fire, sow a garden, make a shelter; find and test clear water; weave, knit or crochet blankets?

Our deliberations were “old-people” deliberations. Those questions of whether or not we would survive from generation to generation have always been asked. Each generation has different questions. As pioneers came to Canada, a principal concern for immigrant families was, how can we educate our children and give them a better life? Two generations later, a vast majority of Canadians were educated at least to High School graduation. There were so many “educated” people that there were no longer enough trades people (as if that weren’t an education in itself).

Just as we delved into this age-old discussion, the lights went on. It broke a spell. We emerged from the 19th Century into the 21st. We said a few words of parting and I went home to my blinking clocks that needed resetting and my computer that stared blackly at me, waiting for a reboot.

Well, duckies, it’s time for a coffee and bit of breaky. Talk to you soon.

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