Jul 13 2013

Powerless (with pie)

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Monsoon season in the desert is a sight to behold: clouds mushrooming behind mountain ranges, normally placid skies sporting swollen cumulus columns, and dry washes transformed to churning rivers in a matter of minutes.

My husband, a US Weather Service SKYWARN Trained Spotter, loves nothing more than this sight during monsoon season. Click to enlarge.

It may not be every desert dweller’s favorite time of the year, but we relish the sustaining drops of water – even the humidity – and the transformation of the desert afterward. Of course, there are often prices to be paid when the storm season rolls in, and the transformation is not always beautiful:

Our poor paloverde lost a limb after 58 MPH winds roared past our home. Click to enlarge.

Below is a video of the hill behind hubby’s ham shack (my sometimes-writing office), transformed into a waterfall, with lots of water headed toward the septic clean-out and our house.

Almost always with these summer monsoon bursts, there is also power loss. In fact, the poor infrastructure supplying our electric guarantees it. So, we plan as best we can …

It was book club night on July 10 - storm night - and I knew I had to get my tarheel pie in the oven early ... before the electric went out. Click to enlarge.

Mother Nature, the jokester that she is, decided to wallop us with wind, rain, and sideways-falling hail exactly one hour before book club (see above paloverde and mountain river). She did, however, wait a few hours until after the pie was baked. Smart gal!

Like any group of serious book lovers, we decided: “the show must go on,” even as our homes’ electrical currents did not. On Laurel’s screened-in patio, we scrambled for slight breezes, even though they were wet with humidity. We drank wine, ate chile relleno, tostadas, fresh fruit and brownie pie (the food was cold and the drinks were warm, but we didn’t care).

Thanks to the flash of my iPhone camera, I got a photo of this delectable pie served in darkness. Thanks, Julia, for the crust recipe (my first homemade crust attempt). Do you see my flashlight in the background? That was our mood lighting.

As we discussed The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow on the silent screened porch, the desert was hushed, but somehow louder. Few cars traveled the main road a quarter-mile behind us, and the smattering of houses over distant hills were dark and silent. Coyote chirps sounded in the wash below, barn owls hissed from one tree to another, and as the night wore on, the nocturnal Sonoran Desert toads emerged – trapped beneath packed soil for much of the year, but now awakened by the rains. Their cries of rebirth punctured the darkness, a mewling-type croak: part ewe, part bullfrog.

It was magical.

Until the next morning when we still had no power, and our refrigerators and freezers were growing warmer, the threat of losing food quite real.

Flash forward to 20+ hours of no electric (and me, operating on 2.5 hours of sleep), indoor temperatures of 90, outdoor humidity at 55%, the sun blaring. Not much fun anymore.

To try to cool down, I built myself a nest in the bed of the Polaris under the breezeway. I have to be honest: the thought of doing anything other than breathing was painful at that point.

Finally, a magical breeze started up and lasted for two hours as I curled up in Rojo Diablo with Beth Hoffman’s Looking for Me. (See it there to the right?)

Unbeknownst to me, this little fella was has hiding right under Rojo's tire as I read for two hours. Aww! Click to enlarge.

By the time night fell again, we were at 28 hours of powerless living. Hubby, being the MacFryver that he is, rigged up some temporary solutions (before his wife went insane, and the cats’ spots melted into puddles).

A girl’s gotta have a way to charge her iPhone - even if she lives in the boonies (especially when her cars are so old they don’t have the fancy-pants charging adapters). Hubby somehow wired this up to the solar panels in the ham shack.

And a fan – a glorious fan blowing warm air in my face (also somehow wired up to the solar panels).

And a cheap-ass, old-school phone for emergencies since 1) AT&T thinks it’s fun to NOT put a generator on their cell site, meaning we lose all signal strength during emergencies and 2) the cordless phones and my desk phone were toast.

And then… ten minutes after Hubby MacFryver fixed it all up: the power came back on! Of course.

As the skies rumble outside at this very moment of writing, and the soft pitter-patter of rain hits the skylight, I wonder: were we really powerless – or were we, in some ways, empowered? Empowered to see how reliant we are on electric, how quickly the balance can change between man and nature? How beautiful silence can sometimes be and the things it allows us to hear (True confession: I’m not sure I could have gone more days in that kind of heat).

What I find most amusing, however, is that this power outage became a reading and writing adventure for me: an unforgettable book club evening, a reading retreat under a welcomed breeze, and writing about a storm during a storm.

For Readers: Have books ever come to your rescue? In what ways?

For Writers: Have difficult situations you’ve personally experienced ever inspired your fiction?


34 Responses to “Powerless (with pie)”

  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    I adore monsoon, Melissa, but I don’t live out where arroyos rush with water that can carry away a car. We enjoy sitting out under the porch whenever there’s a good lightening show, and the rain, after months of dry, is always a welcome bliss. Losing power sucks! You must’ve been miserable. Lucky your guy is so clever.
    Last year our A/C died during August, and it took 6 days to get a new one ordered and lifted up onto the second story. Fortunately we still had an old window unit out in the garage from years ago. We put it in a downstairs window and had cool air, but not enough to cool the entire house, so we slept in the dining room on blowup beds. These times teach us to use ingenuity and be resourceful – and that is a good trait to give our characters too!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, moving from the city to what I deem “the true desert” has been an adjustment — especially when a major wash runs through our property (it was flowing this time). However, six days without A/C in Phoenix is BRUTAL in August. So glad you had the window unit for your temporary dining-room bedroom.

    When we lived there, I recall one night when the transformer behind our house shot sparks into the air, then – of course – we lost power. It was still 100 degrees at midnight, and we TRIED to sleep outside near the pool.

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh Melissa! What an ordeal–and I applaud the way you and hubby coped. That outdoor “nest” surely got some funny looks from your feathered nesters, I’m sure;)! But I tell you what: if I had to endure what you endured, I can’t think of a better meal than THAT PIE. Thank you for sharing the images that I could only imagine for you all, knowing what you were going through. Is there much damage to your area?

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    Melissa Reply:

    My feathered friends, I’m afraid, have now twice abandoned nest no. 2 and no. 3 this season (both with 2 eggs each). A bit too hot, I guess.

    You know, what I endured is obviously NOTHING compared to your experience in New Orleans; as I wrote this I also thought of people affected by Sandy & all the other tropical storms/hurricanes plaguing the country over the past 20 years – and I realize I have nothing to complain about! (Damage: the back yard flooded, lost a tree limb, and lots of erosion, but otherwise OK).

    But the pie … YES, it made the ordeal much more bearable.

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    Once again you have written a terrific post with equally terrific photos. Wow … your tarheel pie looks divine! And thank you for curling up with my book, I have to say that your pic made me smile.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m so glad I made you smile. What I didn’t write about is that WHILE I was curled up reading, my pair of red-tailed hawks was screeching up a storm from hubby’s ham antenna. A bit eerie, don’t you think – given the red-tail’s role in your book? (I love Granny and Josh’s ties to nature. LOVE).

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    Beth Hoffman Reply:

    Ahhh … those red-tails were speaking to you (and perhaps acknowledging Josh, too!) … thank you for sharing this with me, Melissa!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, what an ordeal! So glad you’re ok! Your nest looks so comfortable (until I remember how hot it was…) and the water video is unbelievable (and scary). That’s impressive that McFryver could come to the rescue with the solar panels, nice! I did worry about the kitties as you were tweeting the outage, though, so I’m glad they’re ok, too.

    For us, power outages are almost always associated with freezing weather. One is most memorable: the ice storm of 1998. We were without power for about a week. The kids were young and we all curled up in front of the fireplace and many hours of reading (and writing) were involved for all. It actually was a lot of fun once we realized we could stay warm, quite an adventure. I’ve never thought of writing about it, but maybe I should!

    Love the pics and video, Melissa, and glad the pie was such a hit!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh Julia… I think I’d rather be hot than cold, to be honest. I can’t imagine no power for a week AND freezing temperatures! Thank goodness your historic home HAS a working fireplace, right? I can totally see that real-life event being revived as a scene in your fiction!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    What a crazy storm! While the book group sounded fun and almost calming, I can see where being without power in such warm weather can get pretty scary after a while. What an adventure! I’d be glad I had a good book with me too.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Your nest looks comfortable UNTIL I think of you being live bait for mosquitos and other blood-sucking, flesh-eating desert insects. I’m glad this experience is in your rearview mirror! Glad too, that you can look back on it with an “Onward!” adventurous attitude.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. “Blood-sucking, flesh-eating desert insects.” You reminded me that I forgot to post just “what” was sitting under my tire the whole time I was outside. Come back and take a look! Hint: furry and many-legged!

    Rearview mirror: you’re so clever!

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    I grew up on a block where it seemed the tiniest breeze caused the power to go out. I now live on a block where the power never goes out, so I have fond memories of searching for the flashlights with my family, watching the lightning from the back porch, reading by candlelight. (Of course, I didn’t live in the hot, hot desert.)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes! That’s us: the wind blows and the power goes out. You speak to something I’ve been wondering (our newly purchased generator should arrive this week) … will I miss those flashlight nights? One of my favorite memories when we moved here was reading THE WEIRD SISTERS via flashlight! Admittedly, that outage was only about 4 hours long – not 28 … Now we’ll have power even when the electric company fails us. It’s bittersweet in some ways, but then as you point out, yes, there’s the whole “heat” part of living in the desert.

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    MacFryver! That’s pretty awesome, and hooking up electronics to solar panels … that is doubly awesome. I hadn’t realized it was a storm that knocked out your power (I thought it was the heat), so I’m glad everything was eventually restored, and it seemed liked you passed the time better than I would have, 🙂

    Your question is excellent, too. Difficult situations can inform my writing, but after I’ve had time to feel the feelings thoroughly, you know what I mean? I usually will start and stop if what I’m trying to convey doesn’t feel authentic or represent what an experience really felt like.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, I agree that time is needed to process difficult situations before writing about them – sometimes even years. I also think some of those difficult situations, when authors can make their way through them authentically and put them on paper, become THE most powerful stories out there.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    You poor dear! I am amazed at your resilience and how you turned such a pain into fun with that pie! Looked delicious! 🙂

    We’ve had spotty power here, but nothing like what you’ve endured. You are one tough cookie! Xo

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    holy, Holy, HOLY Toledo! I would have died upon discovery. Heart failure – pure and simple!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    Those clouds are so beautiful, but the aftermath of the storm… how frustrating. I always enjoy the first few hours of a power outage when I’m forced to unplug. When the food in the fridge is at risk, though, that’s more than enough. I hope you didn’t have to throw everything out.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I agree… the first few hours of an outage are a bit novel. But when lots of food is at risk, not so much fun! We DIDN’T lose our chest freezer of meats, thank goodness.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    First of all, I thought of you lately because I totally loved The Innocents and I’m enjoying Sisterland now. Fiction is back. YAY!

    Now– I LOVE your nest! And how typical that right after your husband came up with those creative solutions the power returned. Hey– at least you know you can count on him the next time.

    There was a terrible storm here a few weeks. Seems like half of Minneapolis was without power for FIVE days! We were very lucky to be randomly spared. Im still not buying any more meat than we need for a few days at a time out of fear of losing a freezer’s worth a food.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I am SO happy to hear you’re falling in love with fiction again. I may need to add your picks to my list!

    Lucky you to have avoided the Minneapolis outage. You probably have a giant chest freezer like us; that was my biggest concern – losing hundreds of dollars worth of meat, cheeses, etc. – since we stock up living here in the country.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    I love reading your posts because your surroundings are so different from mine. I get to take a little trip to your world, even if it is without electricity. Click to enlarge that spider? I don’t think so. 🙂

    I’m impressed that you continued the book club in the dark without air conditioning or even fans. That’s dedication!

    Right now I’d be happy with a monsoon. We’ve been weeks without any measurable rain and today it’s 98 degrees.

    Stay cool!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love that you feel transported to my desert world, Jackie! It is so different from my native Pennsylvania, but I’ve obviously fallen hopelessly in love! Are you guys cooling down yet? (We hadn’t had ANY measurable rain since February… so when we finally got some in July – four MONTHS later – we were QUITE happy. And so were all the critters of the desert).

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    It’s hard to imagine not having any rain since February! If we go more than a couple of weeks it feels strange. The heat wave has finally broken, but today we have about 80% humidity. 😛

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes – we’ve had those droughts/spells without rain, and I get really fidgety because it makes it prime season for wild fires during monsoon when the lightning strikes.

    We had 76% humidity this a.m., thanks to monsoons, and I feel like I could SWIM through the air, it is so thick.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I confess that growing up in Miami, I always loved PARTS of hurricane season. Not the storm and devastation part of it, but the times we got a harmless storm that mostly just took our power for a few days and forced us to stay home…those were much-needed breaks from the stress and fast pace of modern life. And they were a wonderful reminder that what we really need are the simple things like shelter, food, each other’s company, health and yes, a good book to snuggle up to 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    I agree. There really is a great ‘reminder’ about the “important things in life” when the power goes out for extended periods. And, being a creative-type, it always takes my minds down the passageways of time, wondering how folks handled daily life before the Industrial Revolution… Sometimes I think the simplicity AND difficulty might have led to more purposeful and enriching living.

    So, in some ways, I am a little sad that we now have Ginny the Generator. Except when I think of spoiled food and all the wasted $$.

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  • avatar Christine M Grote Says:

    That’s finding the silver lining.
    This was a fascinating post. The video was awesome. Something I’ll likely never see or expect to see in the desert.
    You’re lucky to have such a talented man in your life. Next time he’ll have things up and running right away.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, when it DOES rain, the ground is so hard and unaccepting, we get flash floods very easily, then the earth literally starts to move about. Yes – I think I’ll keep my hubby :-). Any luck with attracting hummingbirds this summer?

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    Christine Grote Reply:

    I haven’t really tried. I hung a feeder on a hook from the deck railing and found it empty, lying on the deck a few days later. I think a raccoon or something got into it. I’ve been meaning to try again, but haven’t gotten around to it. We had oppressive weather here for a while. I know I won’t get any sympathy from you on that one.

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  • avatar Yearbook Layout Tips Says:

    Oh I love the spidey! I hope you didn’t squash it with a shoe. I bet it’s a hundoran curly hair tarantula.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Nope. No shoe-squashing of spider. I LOVE tarantulas and spare them at all costs. This is a desert tarantula; this time of year, we see them all over the place.

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    David Clar Reply:

    Thank God! It’s good to know that you are not like most of the women I knew when it comes to dealing with spiders. I’m a inverts lover including scorpions and other invertebrates. I have several kinds of tarantulas and scorpions in my keeping.

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