We had a mighty wind overnight. It sounded like a freight train rumbling by outside – loud enough that I assumed the snowplow must be coming down our street, dragging its blade along the pavement.
But it wasn’t.
When I woke, I looked outside. No snow.
The house was eerily quiet. And chilly.
No power. No light. No heat.
And no phone. Not even the hard-wired landline had a dial tone.
Plus, the battery on my cell phone was down; I couldn’t recharge it.
No Internet, no email – the cable modem needs plug-in power.
I thought I could at least have a shower. No water.
Later that morning, I discovered that the wind had tipped a big old pine tree, higher up the hill. The tree’s roots had snapped the water main.
What happened to the electrical power lines, I still don’t know.
My world had shrunk.
When I was younger, I dreamed about finding a lake, somewhere in the mountains, where “the hand of man had never set foot,” as my friend Ralph Milton sometimes puns.
In those days, I considered myself relatively proficient with a crosscut saw and a sharp axe.
I imagined building a cabin on the shores. Finding everything I needed in the lake or the forest. Being totally self-sufficient.
Ralph Edwards lived my fantasy, at a remote lake deep in the Chilcotin mountains. Leland Stowe wrote his story – The Crusoe of Lonesome Lake.
Edwards built a cabin. A garden for vegetables. And a water system. And his own electrical generating plant. As I recall the story, he made a Pelton wheel out of condensed milk cans, split in half. He even learned to fly his own plane in and out of the lake.
But not even Edwards could live there forever. Eventually, he moved to a small community on the B.C. coast, where essential services were provided for him.
That day, I had none of those essential services. Certainly, nothing that could be fixed with a crosscut saw and an axe.
I realized how pathetically inadequate our ideals of rugged independence are. And how much we are dependent on community services that we don’t think about, most of the time.
We give them the bland and abstract name, “infrastructure.” Which means, most of the time, nothing.
Until you have to do without heat and light, power and water, sewers and garbage collection, schools and policing, buses and ambulances…These are all services that we cannot provide for ourselves, by our own efforts.
They’re possible only because we have learned to work together. To set aside our personal gain so that we can all benefit.
Life is not about getting more than someone else. It’s about helping both of us get what we need. At the most basic level, what we need for survival. At higher levels, what we need for learning, for growth, for reaching our potential.
My neighbour came over to check on me. Her cellphone was still working. She called my daughter, to assure her I was all right.
She didn’t have to do that, but she believes the teaching, “to love your neighbour as yourself.”
It’s the key concept of civilization.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.