We had a big storm here. Big. At least big enough to rip through power lines, flood rivers, uproot large trees and cut us off civilisation for five days.
The power is now back on, so is the internet. The river’s drained away and everything goes back to normal – except for those trees lying on their sides in our paddocks.
But in those five days of relative isolation, we learnt many lessons.
Lesson one: water
Our water tanks are uphill from the house and the gravity enabled us to have water through taps and toilets. The pressure pump is almost proving superfluous unless we want to get the dishwasher and front loader washing machine running. Our traditional hot water system might need pressure too to function properly but it kept water warm for a couple of days. I dream of transforming it into a water heating rocket stove like at Milkwood’s.
Lesson two: food
Our permaculture garden, well-stocked pantry and flock of laying chooks fed us well in those five days. In fact, we’ve never eaten so well!
We also ate of what was stocked up in the 200l chest freezer and no food was wasted.
We moved sensitive food like milk in the little fridge-freezer and kept it cool by gradually moving stuff from the chest freezer into the fridge-freezer to slowly thaw out and later be slow cooked onto the wood stove.
Not knowing how long the power would be out for, we did borrow a generator to keep the freezer alive but we only just started using it when the power came back. I think the small size of the freezer combined with the fact that it was stocked up to the lid with very frozen food meant that it kept everything frozen for that long.
Lesson three: heating & cooking
Our indoor wood stove slow cooked everything from porridge to soups and stews. I was skeptical it would fulfill that job and I quickly changed my mind when the soup furiously boiled away in less than half and hour. The only tricky thing is that it’s hard to adjust the heat so you may end up with charcoaled bits! This new skill needs refining!
We also built a small outdoor rocket-type stove and boiled water for washing and cooking. Washing dishes in cold water is not pleasant. Neither is sponge bathing a child. That makeshift rocket stove brought a 20l stock pot to the boil in twenty minutes with only sticks!
Lesson four: lighting
We realised that we really don’t need that much light around the house! We did flick the switch every now and again, out of habit more than necessity and gradually our eyes got used to the dark. Candles and oil lamps are great though – they make every one glow!
The trick is to prepare all your meals in the morning (or well before the night creeps in so you don’t chop up your fingers instead of those carrots for the soup).
A head lamp helped with tricky tasks.
No electricity means that you learn to live within the natural light budget of the day. And then you go to sleep early! It is very pleasant and in tune with nature. We thoroughly loved it.
If torches are available, make sure you also have batteries! I would now opt for solar-torches or hand-cranked ones.
Lesson five: entertainment
We don’t have nor watch television so we’ve not missed it. The only thing though is that none of us play any musical instrument and music is the only thing I found I missed. I didn’t know that until the power went off.
I had saved the battery life of my computer for the ‘emergency entertainment’. When cabin-fever started to grind down the mood of our little one (or mine!), I played one or two educational programmes on my laptop and the mood went up! We made puzzles too, and cubby houses, and beeswax Autumn displays, and crochet, and knitting, and darning, and we harvested food of the garden, and we lit those many candles or the rocket stove. Our little one didn’t feel the impact of that storm – she’s been used to not watching TV and not playing on the computer, so for her it was business-as-usual… and how fun it is to blow the candles every evening!
For many years now we’ve learnt to live more simply. And with that storm, it’s proven that this is the way to go to face up challenges like a natural disaster. We didn’t feel the impact of no power or no telephone or isolation. We kind of just breezed through like it was business-as-usual.
Living more simply is about living prepared – that’s what permaculture taught us.
And we were.