The Unauthorized Biography of Rosco P. Coltrane

When it's my moment in the sun, I won't forget that I am blessed, but every hero walks alone, thinking of more things to confess

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Location: Owensboro, Kentucky, United States


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Captain of the Huckleberry Party

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this at Henry David Thoreau's funeral.

"I so much regret the loss of his rare powers of action, that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party. Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it is still only beans!"

Since my last blog post was about Thoreau, and our (see: my) dependence on electricity and modern comforts, I thought I would post a video that I have posted before, but thought I would post it again. Because not only am I on a Thoreau kick, I am also on an Ed kick as well.

They Have The Plant But We Have The Power

It was a common question around Owensboro for a few weeks last month.

"You get your power back?"

The answer was usually in days. Sometimes weeks. In some rare occasions, the answer was a few flickers and nothing else.

The ice storm crippled the Mid-South, and Western Kentucky was hit very hard. It had only been a few months before that the region was crippled by a wind storm, something pretty much unheard of in this area. The majority of town lost electricity for a significant time during both storms. What was an inconvenience and a bit of a novelty in the heat of Indian Summer became debilitating and life threatening in the frigid and blistering cold of winter. In September, a few hours after the winds had died down, the clean-up process began. After the ice storm, clean-up took much longer. With a couple of inches of ice on everything, the average chainsaw would dull in a few short minutes after trying to cut through ice and wood.

Jen and I took the cats over to my parent's house to ride out the ice storm. On Tuesday, a tree limb hovered dangerously close to our roof. When the power went out at 6:30, I told Jen to get Toby and Mona because we were heading for my parents basement. My parents had electricity for a few hours that Tuesday night, but we awoke to darkness and no heat. Luckily, my parents have a gas log fireplace that we could huddle around to keep warm. And slowly, things began to get back to normal. After a couple of days off, Jen went back to work. We found a restaraunt downtown that not only had heat and hot food, but also had wi-fi. On Saturday night, I learned that the power had been restored to our block. I came back home and found the thermostat said that it was 38 degrees and the house was a mess. If an anthropologist had inspected our house they would have thought that a Mount Vesuvius type of event had occured. There were shoes sitting out, tater tots in the oven, and dishes still dirty and half frozen. We roughed it for a few days, but things were getting back to normal.

Normal being a life totally reliable on electricity. The meter on the side of the house stopped for a grand total of 4 1/2 days. We survived. We were uncomfortable, but we survived. We got our power back. But when we begin to use the term "power" instead of "electricity," it saddens me. When we equate power to electricity, it shows just how dependent we our on lights, noise, and distraction. Because when that little meter on the side of the house is turning like a 33 1/3 RPM record player, it makes us feel safe and sound. It makes us feel like we have power. But in all actuality, it saps us of our real power.

For the most part, with no distractions and plenty of books around, I didn't take time to read anything. I always complain about not having any time to read, but when that time was afforded to me I simply wasted it. I had the time and the means to do something that I am passionate about, but instead I simply worried when I could get on Facebook or watch Lost. It is a harsh truth, but I am too dependent on the comforts of life.

And I came to two realizations:

1. I have changed quite a bit in the past decade.

2. Thoreau would kick my ass if he was alive.

I used to live in the woods. I survived a New England winter out in the woods. I lived in, for lack of a better term, a small cabin that had only a wood burning stove, wool blankets, a cot, and flying squirrels in the ceiling. It seemed to snow endlessly. The temperature was routinely in the single digits. And it was in that New England woods that I lived a simplified life. It was during that winter that the 2000 election debacle occured, and I knew nothing about it. I lived right through history. But I never knew what was happening. I had other things to worry about. My responsibilities didn't include watch CNN or reading newspapers that often. My days were filled with drama from my job, but my life was simple.

A few years after that, I lived in a small one room cabin a few yards away from a large lake. I had more comforts, but still my life was so much more simplified. It would be generous to call cellphone coverage "spotty." No internet. I had cable television and a typewritter, but not a lot of heat. I didn't even have a key to the door. It was simple. It was invigorating. It was a life that not many cared for, but for a while it suited me fine.

I look back on those times and barely recognize myself in my memories. It's as though I am watching a film of my life with someone else playing the part of me.

So the question is this: How can I simplify? How can our culture simplify?

Thoreau said that "Our life is frittered away by detail." His only answer was to simplify.

I don't know how I am going to simplify. All I know is that I can now make the distinction between power and electricity.