We spent a lot of time and a great deal of money to install a standby propane generator here at Longleaf Breeze. Last night, the first time we really needed it, it did us no good at all.
The generator has started itself faithfully every Tuesday since we installed it and run for five minutes, reassuring us that when the power failed the lights might flicker but would immediately turn back on. And it started faithfully last night when a thunderstorm knocked out our power and ran throughout the power failure. The only problem was that the power the generator produced never made it to us.
As nearly as we can tell, the electricians (now disappeared) who installed our generator and transfer switch failed to wire the transfer switch properly. So all the careful preparations Amanda and I had made for intermittent power failures came to naught. We were reduced to the measures most people take in power failures, grabbing flashlights, rooting around for candles, calling the power company, and cursing the darkness.
The power interruption last night was mercifully short; we had the lights back on within three hours. We are already coming to see this little blip on the voltmeter of our lives as a gift, because it alerted us to the fragile state of our supposed preparations. Everything we humans plan for accidents and disasters works great when we plan it out, but reality has a bad habit of intervening, and we struggle to cope. So there is much value in designing resilience – multiple ways of accomplishing the goal of staying healthy and happy – into everything we do.
For us, it means we can’t assume that high-priced generator will perform the way we hope. When it fails, we need to have other ways of staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer, other ways of preserving and preparing food, and other ways of getting the water we need.
I’m painfully aware, for example, that all our two-way communications with the outside world, both telephone and Internet, flow through a single cell-phone tower, and I don’t even know its location. One of my long-range goals is to become a licensed ham radio operator, so we’ll have at least one additional communications channel we can open in a pinch.
Food is less of a challenge for us here at Longleaf Breeze. Thanks to the diligent efforts of the Farmer-In-Chief and the mildness of Alabama winters, Veg Hill is producing at least some food 12 months out of the year. Barring a disaster or a poisonous cloud that renders all horticulture toxic, we will have food.
Water is another matter. Last night that sophisticated pump 228 feet below the surface of our farm temporarily became a worthless hunk of high-priced steel, and we rationed our water. “If it’s yellow let it mellow.” “Run the water into a cup and wash your hands from the cup.” I’ve already described here our long-range plans for water and energy flow. Now that we have sold our suburban house, Amanda and I need to set about making our plans a reality.
As we do, however, we need to act with humility and a keen awareness of our human fallibility. There will be a disaster we hadn’t thought could EVER happen, or we will leave out something, or a crucial component will fail, or we’ll forget to keep a backup system primed and ready to go. Better keep those candles handy.