Winds of change on a small island

So you realize just how isolated island life can be when the power goes out…

The winds have been very strong — 60-70 miles an hour (and fairly sustained… no wonder there are few / no trees) and they have been from the south. South winds are a problem because they mean that the ferries can’t run to take people to the next island over (Mull). It also means no “post” (mail) or food deliveries… and this week it meant no guests for an extra day or two. Besides that, we were without power for 26 hours on Friday and Saturday because the wind knocked down one of the transformers on Mull.

During that time, with no ferries running, no phones working, no e-mail or skype, no mail, I wondered how people lived on an island like this in weather like this without electricity… Incidentally, by the time the power outage was over we had burnt most of our candles and no ferries also meant no candle deliveries… And then I realized that people do it / did it by living in community — people really band together during those times because no one has any other choice.

And at the end of the power outage, when the lights came on in the middle of a candlelit dinner with friends huddled in coats against the cold, people immediately groaned in disappointment and rushed to the light switch to turn the lights back off… We were, however, quite thankful that the power outage didn’t last much longer than it did.

Today the winds have changed. We now have regular ferries and more guests arriving (a tad grumpy at first but glad to be here at long last). Today’s wind is from the north, which is the cold but dry wind. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll get the wet east wind… It certainly is another way of living close to the land — again, without much choice in the matter, but certainly with much blessing.

The saying “my rock of refuge, my stronghold in times of storm” has grown in meaning for me over the last couple of weeks. The temperature is not that cold — we are supposed to have snow tomorrow, but I think this is the first time in many many years that snow has been in the forecast. Generally the temperature is in the 40s. It’s the winds that make it feel cold. I haven’t been knocked completely over yet, though I came close once. And when the wind is from the south, on my way to the abbey to work, I come to a place where I can’t breathe when the wind is whipping around the side of the abbey. But five struggling steps later, there is no wind at all because of the shelter of the giant stone building. It’s an amazing feeling. Rock of refuge, indeed.

PS — Have you ever thought of what a strange word “outage” is? I never had until some Brits pointed it out… leave it to the Americans to make a noun out of an adverb by tacking on a suffix…

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