Power Struggles: Revelations from a power cut
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The Scottish Highlands are beautiful, captivating and rugged. But you pay a price for living in this magical wilderness - the remote nature of the communities mean that some of the cultural commodities taken for granted by most 21st century British citizens (e.g. mobile phone coverage, frequent public transport links, copious numbers of supermarkets…) do not really exist here. But you know, amazingly, not only do I not miss these things, I celebrate life without them, and the community is all the stronger for being so remote.
Here, the strength of the community is expressed through knowing each family member in every cottage, knowing who might have spare eggs from their chickens today, who would benefit most from your extra wood, the community here cares for each and every soul in the area.
Never has this been more apparent than this last weekend.
In the early hours of Friday morning, a storm brought a lot of trees down in the area, a few of them fell on power lines, blowing electricity and phone lines along our side of the loch. It is now Sunday night and we are yet to be switched back on.
Seeing as it’s currently Winter, the days are short, so no lights, no landlines and no mobile coverage (masts are down too!) has the potential to be quite isolating. However, within hours of discovering the power cut, people were up and down the track checking everyone was ok, who had and hadn’t lost power; candles were distributed, fridges were emptied, food shared.
Initially we were a bit nonplussed about how to fill our dark hours but as time went on, we rediscovered the power of powerless living. I taught my mum how to play Cribbage, we found ingenious ways of boiling water for tea, our life centred around the fire and we finally had time to talk, properly talk: we reconnected!
Interestingly, almost immediately, my body aligned itself to a more natural rhythm, by 7pm I was tired and 11pm I was completely knackered, for a natural night owl like myself, this was a revelation. And honestly I feel so much better for it!
A complex network of brain regions, hormones and external inputs governs circadian rhythm; a key player in this is the hormone melatonin, it is released by the body in response to falling light levels and makes you feel sleepy. Artificial light suppresses melatonin production, so impedes the natural build up of the hormone at the end of the day, prolonging our waking hours. With this is mind it seems pretty logical that I would feel tired earlier. Science aside however, I was happier having reconnected with family members and knowing I was living according to my simplest needs; snuggling by the fire, wrapped in blankets, playing cards I was more contented, more fulfilled, spiritually cosier (if that’s a thing!) and I think this is just as satisfying an explanation to my tiredness as any scientific one.
The most amazing thing though, was the way everyone pulled together, popping round for tea is a regular occurrence anyway but now the local grapevine was a lifeline: the oldest and youngest were moved into homes with heating, houses with landlines called phone and power companies for neighbours left in the dark and teams of us congregated to clear roads of fallen trees.
As I say, it is now Sunday evening and even though we’ve no indication of when the lights will come back on (the weather is still bad and many bigger villages and towns are still out, leaving this small community low down on the list of priorities), I’m at a neighbours house, having just shared lunch with three households, fire blazing and whiskey out - true Highlands’ style.
Of course, a three day power cut is not that much time for me to justify waxing lyrically about the unifying nature of a simpler existence, but to tell you the truth, it really has been a profound weekend.
A power cut is quite an extreme situation to be thrown into as a citizen of the western world (and I acknowledge the privilege of that position), and its novelty and romantic associations wear off rapidly, about as long as it takes for icy water to travel from the shower to your bare skin in fact. Very quickly you realise that you are incredibly vulnerable alone and the value of having a network of caring people around you is never more apparent.
Losing electric power gave power to the humanity of my community: bringing people together to share stories, to lend a hand in clearing trees from roads, to open their homes and share, even if it’s just to give a few candles to a neighbour in need of a little light.
Sustainable living can be achieved through a number of ways but to be truly successful it needs to be shared, a joint movement. Life up here is as close to sustainable as it has ever been for me. People grow their own vegetables, raise chickens, compost waste, water is tapped from springs off the hill and wood stoves are fuelled by trees you have felled from forests you manage yourself. We all rely closely on the land and help each other to keep it that way, sharing out extra produce, building one another’s fences- the ‘pay it forward’ principle is ingrained in the local psyche.
There are a lot of people in the world, we have a huge human population, but we are also one global community. We need to pull together in the same way I experienced this weekend, supporting each other in the quest for a sustainable, eco-friendly society. It would have been a very different weekend had our neighbours not called round to check on how we were doing- social warmth more than made up for the electrical darkness.
So, from this point on, from this magical, eye-opening weekend, I’m starting a 2015 pact with myself, powerless/powerful Sundays, flicking the main override off from the fuse board, and putting out power in the house. One day a week isn’t much but I’ll reduce emissions, taking a small step towards readjusting my impact on the planet, as well as rediscovering the power and beauty of simpler living, and of reconnecting with those around me.
Article written by Maya Reid