The chaos started late on a recent Sunday afternoon when the power went off. Exasperated because I still had not finished resetting all the clocks from the two-second power failure the day before, I started lighting candles.
This power failure lasted more than two hours. I sat at home, my dogs huddled next to me, no working computer or television. It was too dark to write in longhand.
I began to think about how I would have fared in a rougher time.
This came to mind because one of the students in a writers workshop I teach found her great-great-grandmother's diary, written when she moved West in a covered wagon. Listening to what their group went through is captivating.
With candles flickering, my fantasy commenced: The day would start at the crack of dawn as I crept from under the homemade quilts. The first thing I'd need to do would be my toilette, so to speak. That presented a daydream glitch. No toilet facilities in the covered wagon. By now some of you may have guessed I am a creature-comfort kind of gal. My idea of camping out is staying at a hotel without room service.
The thought of life without a basic bathroom became depressing, so I moved on to something more pleasant: coffee. I imagined wandering down to the stream with my long dress whooshing along the grass, filling my coffee pot with water, starting a fire with kindling and a match I had in my apron (a 24-hour clothing accessory) and then somehow figuring out how to set up a makeshift stove.
Even though I turn my nose up at the thought of instant coffee, watching myself standing outside of a covered wagon as I stoked the fire made it much more desirable. How to boil water remained a mystery. And where would I get the milk for my coffee? Would I have to milk a cow?
Moving on, I envisioned myself somehow holding a tin cup of precious coffee in my hand. Sipping the delicious brew, thoughts of breakfast came to mind. Any bagels around? What about Hostess cupcakes?
I guess I'd wear the same clothes I'd been wearing for the last several days. No chance of a warm, luxurious shower. The old-timers are said to have used spices and perfume to camouflage unpleasant odors. Would that be the solution? Could I walk around smelling like nutmeg? How about parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme?
If it turned out to be laundry day, I'd have to go down to the stream again, wash my clothes on the rocks - a task that would probably get me all wet - then set them out on trees or rocks to dry. How long would that take? We couldn't leave with them wet. What if it started to rain? Maybe on laundry day we'd all take a day to do chores, write letters, make entries in our diaries, spin and weave. This scenario became mind-boggling.
What kind of food would we have with us? I doubt there was a supermarket down the road. As I got deeper into thinking about this, I felt sorry for those brave souls who ventured forth in yesteryear.
I was about to continue my imaginary trip when a ferocious clap of thunder shook my house. Charlie came closer to me, trembling. Toots looked at him with disdain. Making my way into the kitchen, I remembered when I thought having lit candles around the house was romantic. Now my place looked spooky, as if we were preparing to tell ghost stories.
I managed to find a treat for the dogs - food calms Charlie, sort of the way it calms me. Family trait?
Going back to my thoughts, I reflected on how much we depend on electricity. How did people keep food cold without a refrigerator? I know there were ice boxes, but how long would a block of ice last in a Tucson summer? Or any summer, for that matter? What did people do with their time when there was no television or computers, and how did they live without air conditioning?
Suddenly, the lights came on. I could hear the whirr of the air conditioner. The refrigerator made some noise and my copier came to life. With glee, I turned on my computer, deliriously happy that my life was back to normal.
I then realized that although we've come a long way technologically, Mother Nature still controls the switch. I wonder what other tricks she has up her sleeve for the rest of this monsoon season.
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