Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Shelter from the storm

We were fortunate last week when Tropical Storm Isaias hit the Island. Damage was not overwhelming and power was restored in a matter of hours.

I started a charcoal fire in the grill at about 7 p.m. and the power came on shortly after that. I didn’t realize how lucky we were until I heard reports of power outages the next day. Residents of Long island and parts of Connecticut had to get used to no power for five to six days.

That’s all O.K. in the warm weather, particularly if you have municipal water. But like most Islanders, I rely on a well that is driven by electric power. And I do not have a generator. I guess I should think about getting one. Although I remember investigating generators just before Super Storm Sandy and was told that a regular one would not be enough to run the house and the pump. The whole thing became too complicated, so I forgot about it.

When I hear about an impending storm now, I fill the tub with water for flushing. I also make sure I have plenty of bottled water to drink.

I remember a hurricane that hit in late August in 1991, I believe, and I drove with containers to the beach and filled them with water. I didn’t care if I used saltwater in the toilets or other drains. I just wanted to feel clean. I also remember having some kind of soap that would lather in saltwater. Good for bathing and shaving.

When power goes out, we are reminded of more primitive times.

Many years ago I discovered an invoice attached to a piece of armored cable that indicated that my original house was wired sometime in the 1920’s. There was a pitcher pump at the kitchen sink and an outhouse in the yard. After dark, one would light a lantern that hung in the kitchen and walk to the outhouse. Not much fun, I imagine.

Some 15 years ago, Jean Lawless put together a poster consisting of 16 photographs of Shelter Island outhouses. It was entitled “Sweet Houses of Shelter Island.” I first saw it at Becky’s florist and was so flattered to see my outhouse in one of the photos. I purchased one of the posters and had it framed. It hangs in a downstairs bathroom.

But it’s frustrating to see just how fragile our comfort and way of life can be. And I know many who say, “If you think this is bad, it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.”

When I first moved here some 50 years ago, it seemed like the slightest breeze would cause a power outage. It’s nothing like that now. But we still can lose power. And I don’t want to recommission the outhouse. I’d have to move all the garden tools outside. I’d also have to consider all the critters who now call it home. I’d hate to disturb them.

So why can’t technology come up with “wireless” electricity, or homes that run on solar powered batteries?