Modern conveniences, nay necessities

Ice hanging from branchesAs I write, I’m watching snow flakes drift gently from the sky, adding to the quintessential snow scene outside. My vantage point inside is warm, with plenty of electricity to turn the furnace fan, run this computer, and light the Christmas tree.

A week ago, an unexpected ice storm caused massive power outages in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as falling tree limbs, branches, even entire trees brought down the power grid. Our power company said 322,000 customers in New Hampshire lost power at the peak of the disaster.

Our home went dark shortly after 11 pm on Thursday; power wasn’t restored until around 5 pm on Tuesday, roughly 4 days 18 hours later. I know a couple of people who didn’t get power back until yesterday (Friday), more than a week after losing it. My wife, kids, and I spent two nights in a hotel and three nights with gracious friends who had electricity and spare bedrooms.

Reflecting on the experience, I have a few observations.

Modern society is completely dependent upon the electric and telecommunications infrastructure. The reliability of these services is so high, we take them for granted and, in many cases, have little or no recourse when they fail. Without heat or light, my family had to seek shelter elsewhere.

We live in an age of instant gratification. Having to live without power for days and not knowing when it would be restored was contrary to our experience and expectations. My anxiety and frustration increased in proportion to the number of days we were forced to do without. I was not alone. One online posting quipped “If we put a man on the moon, why can’t they restore power in less than a week?”

The men and women who tirelessly worked around the clock to repair the damage, organize the effort and crews, and communicate to the public deserve our deep appreciation. When they finally have a chance to catch up on their sleep, I hope they will find deep satisfaction from their technical skills and, more importantly, their connection to the fabric of our humanity.

With no power, our cordless phones didn’t work; the phone line via fiber connection failed when the back-up battery drained. However, our cell phones did not fail, as long as we found a way to keep them charged. More impressive, though, is that the cellular base station network that relays our calls, texts, and Internet access remained powered and working throughout the ordeal.

For those who could access the web, at least from time to time, an online community formed around the ice storm. We tracked restoration efforts, followed one another’s experiences, provided encouragement, shared gallows humor, and celebrated when the lights finally came on. I feel a connection with people I have not met in person — a reflection of the Internet’s ability to form community.

Forced to choose my priorities, I prefer heat to light.

With deep gratitude, I think I will go take my morning shower. As hot as I can bear it.

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Mountain view

Flat Irons outside of Boulder

Traveling on business isn’t as glamorous and fun as often imagined. Crowded airports and planes, up early and late, hurry and wait, delays, jet lag, traffic, getting lost, missed or hurried meals, and boring meetings are the routine.

Now that I’ve convinced you of the negatives, I’ll hasten to add that there are a few moments in most every trip when I resonate with the awe of traveling: the miracle of flight, an occasional spectacular view from the plane, seeing a place where I’ve never been, meeting people and learning a bit about their lives and the universality of life.

This week I had a meeting in Boulder, Colorado. The night before, I arrived well after dark in a rental car from the Denver airport. The next morning I awoke fairly early, still on eastern time, and had the opportunity to watch the day develop. While making my ritual trip to Starbucks, I was able to capture this photo of the Flatirons, the mountains that define the geographic persona of Boulder.

Who knows when — even if — I will return to Boulder. So having a few hours to be in the presence of these mountains was a real gift.

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Fall colors

Fall colors
New England is ablaze in the colors of fall,
The warmth of summer replaced with cooler nights and days, seeing the breath in the morning, frost on the grass.
Dawn comes later, dark earlier, as the sun falls faster into the horizon.
Apples, pumpkins, and leaf peeping spur family outings – the children’s laughter the same delight as the “oohs” and “aahs” of the adults.
Life has a renewed sense of urgency:
Winter is coming.

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Sunrise at 30,000 feet

My dream was interrupted by a soft British accent, a BBC announcer in London where it was already mid morning. It took a moment to shift from my dream to realize it was already time to rise if I were to make my 6:10 flight. While early morning flights are fine in theory — I can make it to the west coast before noon – I usually question my choice when the alarm goes off.

This morning, the flight from Manchester left the gate early, took off to the north, and banked eastward. Sitting in 3A, I had a near-perfect view as we turned south at the ocean, Portsmouth below, and traced the coast to Boston, the distinctive crooked outline of Cape Cod clearly visible and seeming smaller than it should be. Still pre-dawn, the eastern horizon was outlined in the glow of hot embers, yellowing at the point where the sun would soon rise.

Witnessing the dawn from 30,000 feet more than justifies a 4 am wake-up.

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High Sierra vacation

The last of July, my son Grant and I spent a carefree week hiking and exploring the high Sierra just west of Donner Lake.

We were part of a Sierra Club family outing, with nine other families from around the country and two capable leaders. Home base was the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge, which provided lots of wonderful food and a comfortable place to sleep.

Growing up in Reno, on the eastern edge of the mountains, I feel a strong connection to the Sierra: it’s inherent to my identity, and the grandeur brings me a palpable connection to the sacred. This trip was an opportunity for me to spend time with Grant and to introduce him to an important part of my life and a place just to have fun. The continual vistas of mountains, lakes, meadows, and stars recharged my batteries and reminded me of a few of life’s priorities.

Looking across Flora Lake, where this photo was taken, I penned these thoughts:

Clouds proceed across the blue backdrop.
Granite cascades to water’s edge,
competing with pine and brush.
The breeze – no wind – gusts across the lake,
rippling water and bushes along the shore.
Chilled, I move into the sunlight.
The breeze stills and the sunshine becomes hot,
sending me back into the shade.
Nature plays this game
and lets me join in for too short a time.
An afternoon out of an eternity.

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Glimpse of a parallel world

Drying off after my morning shower, I raised the shades and glanced out the window overlooking the yard between our house and the neighbor’s. Bare trees, snow, sunlight, and the motion of what I initially thought to be a neighborhood cat. A return glance revealed a reddish figure with a long, fat tail, a figure much larger than a cat. A red fox was casually and gracefully sauntering through the trees to the neighbor’s back yard.

For just a few moments, I caught a glimpse of the parallel world of the wildlife that share the neighborhood. We’ve seen fox before, as well as deer, fisher cat, opossum, skunk, and wild turkeys. The sightings are infrequent and don’t last long, yet they leave me with a renewed sense of humility. Thankfully.

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Morning run

Fall leavesOut for a run on a crisp (35 degrees), clear Sunday morning.

The sun and blue skies give no hint to the rain and wind from Hurricane Noel, which passed along the New England coast yesterday.

The leaves that remain on the trees have all changed to their fall wardrobe. Surely within another week the limbs will be bare and stark; for a few more days we’ll enjoy their beauty.

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Burning BushAfter several days of dreary gray clouds, mist, and rain, clearing skies to the west allowed the golden rays of the setting sun to briefly ignite the leaves of a Burning Bush by the side of the driveway.

All around, the green leaves of summer are surrendering to the inexorable and vibrant hues of fall: yellow, red, burnt orange.

We should pause to savor this glorious display of nature. Don’t let it be a dull background to the routine of our days.

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Beginning of Fall

Astronomically, the equinox occurred earlier today, one of two times during the year when the sun is directly “above” the equator.

Translated to the personal, here in southern New Hampshire the weather defined perfection: sunny, blue skies, low humidity, warm in the sunshine and cool in the shade, a noticeable breeze rustling the leaves.

All of the senses could savor this day: the sight of blue sky and trembling leaves in the golden sunlight, the sound of the rustling leaves, the feel of cool breezes skimming along the skin, the smell of dryness, the sweetness of a neighbor’s beech plums ripened by the summer sun.

Let me pause and be grateful for the gift of a perfect day. It won’t be long before the warmth gives way to the cold breath of winter.

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