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Katydid’s Song: Thoughts on the North Bay Power Outages
The traffic lights were out. The cars that used to cruise through busy streets on their way into town or toward the highway are now…
The traffic lights were out. The cars that used to cruise through busy streets on their way into town or toward the highway are now congested, piling up behind the three empty lights above the intersections. The sound of generators heavily buzzing came from every street corner. You could see families walking in the day. Teenagers walked around, gossiping. Kids on skateboards headed over to Memorial park, slipping through the lines of traffic. People said hello to each other on the streets. Early in the morning as the sun would rise everything would be silent. That soft hum from the telephone poles, the motors of leaf blowers and power-tools, the refrigerator — all was gone. I would wake, make coffee outside on my camp stove, grind the coffee with a mortar and pestle, taking in this terribly comfortable quiet, watching the light rise glazed in the encroaching smoke. This beautiful suburban morning. This, as everyone is now calling it, new normal.
My sister was visiting from New Orleans when the power went out. Her and I sat with my brother outside drinking some of her favorite red wine. We turned off the lights so we could sit peacefully in the dark. Just as we were talking, all the lights in the neighborhood vanished along with those tucked in the trees on the hills. And with the light went the sound. There was no longer a humming. We spent the rest of our time outside drinking wine, until we heard a lone katydid in a bush. We fixated on that, my brother wondering aloud how many katydids there were in the world. Their sound is everywhere, yet you rarely see them. As the thought of the katydid passed, our world became focused around us. Yet our thoughts still lingered on the Kincade fire north of us, close to friend’s homes. I began to imagine that the fires were my own sort of katydid. I rarely see them. I smell them constantly. They turn off my light. The fire’s power, like climate change, effects my every action. Yet I rarely see it.
These power-outages is likely to happen more often with the growing risks of fire, with the growing embellishments of climate change. It will be easy to place blame on the power companies, on the greed of our society, on ignorant generations, on bad and extractive forestry practices; however, it is all of this. All of this makes long, intentional, power outages that disrupt our daily activities part of our lives. But perhaps it’s the sort of dramatic shift that is needed, especially in secluded places such as the small, affluent and white, town where I live. It may just remind us that we are a part of the world, though we like to pretend we live sheltered from all the “bad” of the world. In fact we are a part of it.
I see the power outages, in the most simplistic perspective, as a beautiful phenomenon. It is peaceful. It makes me realize just what is necessary. What I can stand to live without. Yet it reminds me of how this world is now founded on all this tech, all this power, all those fossil fuels and strange rare metals that power our smartphones. It reminds me how much I need the internet. But at the same time I know that I can still eat, drink, sleep, read, and write. I don’t need power for them, though I do need fossil fuels to bring me these things. Even in a blackout, the phantom of the climate crisis lingers behind you, watching.
As these events become habitual with the seasons it only makes more clear, for those of us in the affluent and global North, just how the world is changing. It is because of the gas I use to make my coffee in the morning that, to some extent, much of this is happening. Would capitalism be the same without it? The question doesn’t need an answer. It lays plain in front of us that this reality, built on imperial and capital exploitation of the many for the few is not sustainable. We will need to let that dream die in the growing sod of these fertile ashes. We will need to wake up from that fantasy and dream up something else entirely — that we need to keep lives simple. That, like a blackout, we must change our habits dramatically.