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Where’s a D Battery when you need one?

“That’s the night the lights went out in . . . Monterey County,” courses through my brain. Forget Georgia. With global warming we now get storms of epic proportions right here in little ol’ paradise.

I write this beside a portable fluorescent light that may extinguish itself at any minute, because the D batteries it’s running on were purchased the day after the Big One (’89 quake) struck here and every citizen, dog and cat stood in long lines to acquire.

We Monterey Peninsulans swore to keep our earthquake preparedness backpacks and rucksacks up to date, didn’t we? And now our cans of tuna and aging batteries have exploded. The elastic in the Ace bandages we’ve kept have dematerialized. Fido and Tinkerbell would sooner die than eat the dated little cans we sequestered away for them. Even the water we saved isn’t good to drink. And what happened to the little transistor radios we kept?

Dust in the wind. And it’s only natural. The brain simply must go into denial because if we Californians actually contemplated the jittery tectonic plates beneath our feet on a daily basis . . . Well, we’d be living in Gillette, Wyoming dealing with the relentless wind but feeling secure.

But back to our recent nationwide headline-making storms: to my utter amazement, I did ferret out my transistor (are you old enough to remember that instead of cell phones, these were glued to our heads or plugged in with a plastic ear bud and no parent, teacher or priest could detach us from them?) And an even bigger wow – it worked!

So I tune into a radio station to hear of how widespread the damage is from the storm that has had the audacity to take out my lights. Its kinky announcer shames a caller off the phone who insists that at the last moment, Bush is going to create a national emergency to stay in office. Hm-m-m . . . But the station is making an attempt to keep people in the dark in the light about the storm.

At any rate, the lights went out 12 hours ago at which point a DJ said, “You light a fire and get out a candle and it’s cozy for awhile. Maybe three hours – tops. Then the crankiness sets in. I could relate and add these: “@@##!!! Oh, no, I can’t microwave this dadburn popcorn. And I was going to vacuum the house. And my walkable phones won’t work and my cell phone is out of juice.”

Ha! Here’s where I had them all beat. I have retained a corded phone beside my bed. And I can hear my next door neighbor clear as a Bell (remember Bell telephone?) as we talk about how scared we are. We live beneath dozens of 100-foot pines that are whipping around like tilt-a-whirls at the carnie.

The wind, gusting up to 80 MPH, has made projectiles of branches that zip horizontally past my window.

“Lemme outa here,” my cats are mewling.

At one point I’d swear I saw Rocky the flying squirrel sail past (you remember Rocky and his Friends? Well, his creator Alex Anderson is in my book StarWords, but that’s irrelevant).

Now panic is setting in. Dusk is fast approaching and I’m frantically searching for matches and candles.

“Get a Clue,” I tell myself, suddenly remembering Col. Mustard in the dining room with the candlestick. And – voila! – I find what I need.

As the evening progresses with the distressing surmise that the power may not come on at all this day and I will have no TV to watch, I get creative. My laptop has 1.5 hours of battery left on it. And the minute I pop in “A Shot in the Dark” I begin to chill out. Bummer, though, when, two-thirds of the way through the movie the batteries quit.

After a night with no heating blankie (I am now indignant and am going to give PG&E a real dressing down the next day) I fall into a tormented sleep as branches as big as Lincoln Continentals continue to thud down into my roof.

The next morning I am incredulous. The power is still out. Never in my 33 years of living in Pacific Grove has it been down more than a couple hours.

I get humble, however, when I read of the two-county-wide devastation. And when my electricity is restored after 24 hours, I am restored to sanity.

Thus, I set out for my walk along the ocean in Pebble Beach.

Oh, my God! I am stunned by the havoc wreaked on the golf course and roads there. All the turnouts on the 17-Mile-Drive have disappeared. The asphalt is buried beneath several inches of sand and dirt, kelp and boulders strewn so far you couldn’t drive on a turnout even if you could identify one.

And then the magic: glinting in a momentary ray of sun, abalone shells, a-swirl with opalescent colors, blanket what’s left of the seaside trail. Of course none of them are whole, having been dashed upon the rocks. But I remember 20 years ago when the beaches were so littered with perfect specimens that locals and tourists collected them by the armfuls for ashtrays and fences.

I stand at the Restless Sea turnout and watch 50-foot waves swallow lesser waves beneath them while churning out rainbow spindrift.

People braving this weather are talking excitedly and huddling together to watch the majesty of something so much larger and more powerful than humans that they are momentarily relieved of the burden of carrying the world on their shoulders.

I understand now why people climb Mount Everest. It’s not to feel like “king of the world.” No, it’s to feel small and powerless in the face of something they cannot control. It’s to feel right-sized in the face of nature.

Perhaps I even understand, a little bit (though I’m not conceding much because my first and last trip to New York led to being robbed on a Muni bus) why people brag that they “survive” New York (you know the ditty: if I can make it there . . .) It’s because they can feel their insignificance in the face of seething humanity. And in that, they huddle closer for protection from the havoc they wreak by their density of populace.

Well, I’ve gotten a bit too esoteric here so I’ll end by revealing that what I suffered in the power outage was so insignificant as to be embarrassing. It turned out that thousands of people were out of power for up to eight days and trees took an innumerable toll on residents.

P.S. (post storm) I’m out biking my trusty rusty around Pacific Grove and spy a house clearly being re-roofed.

In the driveway sit two cars, parked neatly beside each other, with their roofs smashed identically down to the seat levels. So I wheel up to a neighbor standing in his front yard.

“Say, did a tree come down on that house?” I query.

“Geez, don’t you read the paper?” the man says.

“Oh, (doy, doy) is this the house they wrote about on the front page?”

He then points out a rather large stump and describes how the tree once attached to it split in half and demolished the roof and cars.

“I had all my trees trimmed before winter weather,” I brag. But I’m really thinking, “Holy cow! That could have been me. Still could be.”

You just Never Cantrell . . .



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