A few nights ago, after two days of rain and snow, there was a power cut. 2045, just as we’re settling down for the evening after the day’s work is done, we’re fed, food shopping is done and put away and we have some relaxation time before bed, there’s a small but definite click, and all the lights go out. In those first few seconds stood still in the pitch black of the kitchen, we hear the heating boiler and fridge freezer power down and as our eyes adjust to the new absence of light, we realise that there’s no streetlights outside, and no light from neighbouring houses.
For the first minute we don’t move, wait until our eyes adjust, think about the nearest sources of battery powered light. Shapes form in the gloom, the lighter patch of tiled windowsill, edges of cabinets and worktops, the dark of a doorway. The rain is somehow louder, the usual clicks and whirrs of household appliances are void, the soundscape is unbalanced, weighted towards the wild.
The wind rattles the windows. We fumble for pocket torches from the little hook on the wall, thin wavering beams show familiar surroundings. Make our way upstairs. Our usual relaxations are denied: no computer, no films, no internet, no electronic books. It’s been a long while since I’ve read by torchlight.
I’m struck by how I’ve got used to this electronic world: light, heat, entertainment and relaxation, work, social life, online faith practice. Especially in the last year, with the huge global shift to distanced remoteness and online meetings.
This darkness would be familiar to people in the past. Once Sunna’s track led her past the horizon, the dark and cold would push in like a tide, a fire or candles keeping it at bay in globes of light. Hearing rain hammer on the high roof, spattering in through the ceiling chimney hole, the winter fire smoking reluctant with damp wood, using fuel which would have taken time and energy to gather. Working in flickering light on mending chainmail, cooking, stitching, carving a child’s toy, telling stories, when the eddas were new. Finding the sitting distance from the fire that let’s you stay warm, not too hot or cold.
This cold darkness is a welcome reminder of the benefits I enjoy.