Dispatches

Weekend with Dorian

Lorna MacKinnon

On the first Friday in October, two days before Hurricane Dorian was set to unleash 130-kilometre-an-hour wind on Atlantic Canada, I began to prepare my home—a small bungalow on a treed lot facing the Bras d’Or Lakes on Cape Breton Island—for the incoming storm, category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Deciding where to put the deck furniture was my first task. It seemed a bit of a shame to put it all in the garage since I was still hopeful that once Dorian passed it would be used for a few more weeks of nice fall deck coffee. I stacked the eight chairs in the middle of the deck, where they would be protected by a heavy handmade wooden bench. The barbecue sandwiched the chairs and fit snugly against the house. I slid the glass-topped metal table over and tied it to the barbeque. I gathered the small empty planters and deposited them inside the lawn trailer. I took down the wicker swing hanging by chain under the deck so that the clanging would not keep me awake (every little noise keeps me awake). I tipped over the swing and placed it upside down against the house. Once back inside I noticed that the yellow bucket used to carry branches from the woodpile in the backyard was not secured. Oh well, it can wait, I thought.

Living outside the city has a few drawbacks, one of which is not being on a main water or sewer line. In the city, when people lose their power they can still have a shower, albeit a cold one, and they can still flush—not where I live. I drew two five-gallon buckets of water for flushing, enough for a few days if the power went out. Some people fill their tubs but if the power does not go out then the water is wasted, and you have to wait for it to drain before taking a shower. In the kitchen I filled a camping bladder, three larger pots and a kettle with water for washing and tea. I added a few water-filled two-litre bottles to the freezer that I could put in the fridge if the power went out to help keep food from spoiling. My stove is gas, so I’d be able to cook no matter what.

I had purchased battery-powered LED lights that could be stuck on metal, so I stuck one on the fridge, one under the medicine cabinet and one on a metal candle holder in my living room. In my bedroom I hung an Energizer headlamp on the lamp by my bed. I placed two tea lights on the windowsill in the kitchen and another on the coffee table, to diffuse essential oil in my favourite tiny turtle-shaped burner. Lastly, I picked up shoes and my backpack, moved brooms and mops, so as not to trip over them if the lights went out.

Dorian hit my neck of the woods around noon on Saturday, first with gentle but steady wind coming from the back of the house. The lake seemed oddly calm at first; then the sky darkened, the birds were silent. By three o’clock whitecaps appeared on the lake. The trees surrounding the house began to bow to the winds and a couple of pears dropped off the tree.

While the wind was picking up intensity, I cooked a meal of fried haddock and oven-roasted vegetables. The electricity flickered four or five times during the course of cooking. The stove can be lit by match during a power outage, but the oven is rendered cold and useless. The power went out just as I was plating the food around 6 p.m. I ate dinner and listened to the gale tossing large raindrops and pieces of rain-soaked debris at the windows.

My cell phone was charged to 100% and after dinner I thought it was a good time to call my sister Diane, who lives close by, to see what plans she had for the dark evening ahead. It turned out that Diane’s place did not lose power. I texted my daughter for a while, but the phone battery was draining quickly so I switched on the LED lights and curled up on the couch with a fuzzy blanket, my book and a cup of mint tea. By now it rained so hard that a couple of cars pulled over until the deluge passed.

Around 10 p.m. I turned in for the night. The house shook in the wind. I got up several times to check my dark surroundings with my flashlight in hand. All night there was an annoying glug, glug sound from the heat pump, produced by the fierce wind blowing rain into it.

On Sunday I woke around 6 a.m. and snuggled deeper in bed, reading for a couple of hours, which is a rare treat. Beyond the window in the morning light the branches of the smaller trees lay on the lawn. Most of the pears had detached themselves from the two trees and a good many leaves had been blown off. The lake had taken on a muddy brown hue instead of its normal blue gray. Nothing on the deck had moved. A lone shingle had been blown from the roof.

I found out the batteries in my smoke detector were working very well while making toast for breakfast using a cake rack set on the burner of the gas stove. It was easily silenced by opening a couple of windows for a few moments.

By 11 a.m. I was bored and decided to take a drive to Diane’s to have a coffee and charge my phone. The roads were littered with debris and there were trees down all along my route. The wind continued for most of Sunday, strong enough that power crews could not begin to safely restore power until late in the afternoon. Several trucks patrolled the road. When lineworkers assessed the area, they identified thirteen separate causes from downed trees to tripped connections keeping our houses in darkness. According to the Nova Scotia Power outage map, the estimate for having power restored was Tuesday. Some 400,000 people in Nova Scotia had lost power.

Reading kept me reasonably occupied, along with a few phone chats along the way. I retired early that evening, the wind by that time gentle; it would be an early morning rise to have a shower at Diane’s before heading to work for nine.

Ten minutes before my 6 a.m. alarm was set to go off on Monday morning, the power was restored. You are never quite sure what was left on when the electricity stops suddenly. And now, all at once, the pump cut in, the TV and lights came on, the fan above my head whirred into action.

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Dorian there was still no sign of the yellow bucket from the woodpile.

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Lorna MacKinnon

Lorna MacKinnon was born and raised on Cape Breton Island. This is her first publication.


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