Christiaanse: Suffering in The Ice CityWritten by Jenifer Christiaanse | | email@example.com
I barely survived February 2011 in Toledo. Ernest Shackleton and his crew survived 20 months marooned in Antarctica at the bottom of the world. His team of 27 men all made it home alive even though their boat, the Endurance, was slowly crushed by ice flows. The crew survived on stored provisions and the seals which they ate day after day. Into Thin Air describes Jon Krakauer’s grueling climb along with some renowned trekkers to the top of Mt. Everest. Enduring unspeakable conditions, losing fingers, toes, and ultimately 8 climbers, Krakauer describes the difficult ascent to the summit. While reading these gripping stories entailing frostbite and endurance, I became so cold that I was forced to jack the thermostat in my house.
But despite these vicarious trips to Antarctica, to Everest, and even to the Yukon while reading Jack London’s classic story “To Build a Fire,” only once in my life have I actually endured brutally cold weather. I had been mountain climbing in the Alps in the summer when a freak snow storm caused us to have to seek shelter in an Alpine Hutte — cabins built by the Austrian government to help stranded trekkers.
Scroll forward — February 2011. Despite camping skills acquired in my youth, nothing short of Boot Camp in Alaska could have prepared me for February’s foul weather in once tame Toledo. The Groundhog Day snow storm should have been a clue that things were going to get rough. When rain fell the Sunday night before Presidents’ Day, who would have imagined that we would be aroused from our sleep—not by prancing hoof beats on our roof, but by earsplitting, thunderous cracks and booms while branches leapt to the ground. No, it wasn’t George Washington chopping down the cherry tree on Presidents’ Day morning. Instead, our back yard was strewn with 18 enormous branches which had decided that the free-loading ice was too much of a burden. Flinging splinters and projectiles, the branches crashed to the frozen ground shaking our house and our nerves. Some valiant cable and electrical lines tried to cushion their fall. By morning the yard looked like London after the blitz. Debris was everywhere.
But as bad as it was to lose mature trees, losing power was much worse. Our Coleman lamps and cook stoves were long ago sold at a garage sale. No sane person stores kerosene in a crawl space or shed. I was prudent. We were left to fend with decorative candles and aging batteries. Though the computer was charged, we lost the Internet. Agh! No school, no television, no phones, no hairdryer, no microwaves, and no lights. And the ultimate blow — no coffee!
Our cell phones quickly lost power as we tried to communicate our distress to Toledo Edison. Not wanting to open the refrigerator or freezer to break their seal, my family munched on crackers and nuts and dreamed of warm food. We were way too cowardly to venture out on Level 1 emergency roads. We froze and starved. No seals to slay, but there were a few fat squirrels munching down at our bird feeder ..!
The gas logs in the fireplace were worthless. I singed my wool socks. Not to worry. Sandalwood, apple pie, and cinnamon spice scented candles quickly overpowered the odor of burning socks. We fell asleep that night looking like the Unibomber — with our hoodies up, socks on our hands, and a gnawing feeling in the gut. Thank goodness there was a full moon. Mental note: next house must have windows in the bathrooms.
Day Two without heat was worse than Day One. We hadn’t learned many survivors skills from our first twenty-four hours. The refrigerator and freezer were beginning to leak. Caffeine deprivation was kicking in. I cranked a hand radio to see if school had been canceled. The local radio host blathered on and on about the protests in Wisconsin. On occasion, he took a break from his ridicule to announce, “For school closings go to WSPD. Blah blah blah.” I’m suffering in The Glass City now more aptly name The Ice City and all this guy can rattle on about is Wisconsin! Throw us a line. Give it to me straight. 84,000 people without power and without Internet. Do I have to go to school today or not? The phone is dead and our cell phones are worhtless. Help!
By 3:00 p.m. several Toledo Edison trucks rumbled through the neighborhood. They surveyed the splintered limbs in our yard and left. I waved with tears in my eyes as the trucks exited the neighborhood. We were beyond hope!
Slowly, across the darkening landscape, lights started coming on one house at a time. Yes! Life! Heat! What bliss. Nothing is as heavenly as the sound of a furnace, a sump pump, and the gurgling coffee maker. Nirvana. A hair dryer at last.
I’m making a list of things I need to buy once the shelves have been replenished of their survival merchandise. I’ve got to be ready for the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012. Forget Jack London, Jon Krakauer, and Ernest Shackleton. They didn’t help at all. By 2012 the branches in the yard will be neatly stacked cord wood. Do they make microwaves or hairdryers that run on kerosene? Next Christmas, I hope to tip the good people at Toledo Edison.