So spring is, as I said last week, finally here. Except for the last four days when she went on a brief holiday. She has a lot of nerve, is all I can say, to take a holiday just when we were finally hopeful for warm weather. But nope. Spring is fickle and selfish like that. She wants to make very sure we appreciate her. Humph. So off she waltzes to god knows where and leaves us with plummeting temperatures, freezing rain, wind, and then of course, to top it off, a spring black-out. Same old story, freezing rain, ice-covered everything, then wind, followed by downed trees, and then downed power lines. And no power for us and for many, many others. Sigh.

View from our window during the ice storm, April 2023
Wednesday morning. Room without a view.

The day of the freezing rain was uneventful, except for the fact that we felt as if we were living inside a giant frosted root beer mug. The world was encased in ice. Trees sagged under the weight. The limbs of the big cedar tree next to our driveway drooped onto our hydro wires, and we watched and held our breath. But the wires held.

Then at midday, we lost our telephone landline, and the internet. Then cell phone coverage dwindled to a trickle. I made a pot of tea and decamped to the sun room to sit in front of the gas fire with a book. A real book. Made out of paper and everything. “We’re lucky we still have power,” we said as Hubby made dinner.

Ice storm scenery April 2023
Wednesday late afternoon. Ice everywhere.

I should mention for those who have never lived in the country where one has a septic system, a sump pump system to keep the ground water out of one’s basement, and a water well, the pumps for which are all run by electricity. That when the power goes out, we lose heat and lights like most people, but we also have no water. No water for drinking and showers, but also no water to flush the facilities, if you catch my drift. And when that happens we are just grateful we have a battery-powered, back-up sump pump. Because if we didn’t we’d have no water where we wanted water, and too much water where we didn’t want it. Ah, already you can tell where this is going, can’t you?

view from our window during the spring black-out, April 2023
Thursday morning fog.

Thursday morning we awakened to a surreal world. Ice-covered and fog-shrouded. Geese sailed out of the mist on the river and were glad that the freezing rain had stopped. Everything was still covered in ice. And when we ventured outside we could see plops of ice slipping off the trees into the water. Looking to fisherman Hubby like so many schools of fish jumping. The sound of shushing as trees divested themselves of their ice, and some of their branches, was everywhere. Hubby dug out the portable radio that we take camping and we listened to the news and the weather forecast and then went back to our respective books. Other than being bored, we felt lucky. We still had power when so many didn’t. The lights flickered off and on again a few times. I stopped resetting the clocks after the second time.

Fog on the river during the spring black-out. April 2023.
Thursday morning fog and shushing everywhere as ice fell from branches.

Then in the late afternoon, the lights flickered again and went out. This time for good. Shit. The furnace powered down. Everything was quiet. It’s uncanny how much noise a house makes. Noise that you don’t notice until the power goes out. Okay. No worries. We had the gas stove in the sunroom and Hubby could build a fire in our wood stove in the livingroom. It wasn’t cold out, although the temperature was supposed to drop considerably overnight. And since we had weathered the worst of the storm, we assumed that the power had been deliberately shut down to make repairs somewhere in the system and would be back in an hour or so.

“Oh, ye of too much faith,” she misquoted. Ha.

We could do nothing about any of this, though, so we returned to our books.

Until the alarm on the battery for the back-up sump pump began beeping. And beeping. Hubby ventured down to the basement with the flashlight and it was then that he noticed that the back-up sump pump was not doing its job. And the groundwater was almost at the level of the basement floor. The poor battery-operated pump was virtually kaput. Still pumping weakly, some might say valiantly, but not able to lower the level of water at all.

We commenced bailing. I lost count of the number of buckets we removed from the sump pump well, but we only succeeded in lowering the water by about an inch. And the well is not that huge, trust me. What with the melting snow and now all the rain, the water from the weeping tiles surrounding the house flowed in to replace whatever we removed. It seemed a futile task.

Only when it was getting dark did we realize that we’d need to do something about supper. I set off in the car to find a take-out restaurant that had power and hot food. And returned over an hour later…seems everyone in our end of Manotick and environs had the same idea. The lineups were huge.

And here’s the worst part.

The part of the city where I ended up going had not lost power all day. Not even a flicker. People had gone to work, and gone home, and stopped for a takeout supper, and they all looked normal. But I looked like hell. My hair was a mess, I wore no make-up, and I was wearing sweatpants and a fleece. In public. I know! But we were desperate. In our foolishness we’d not thought we’d lose power. We were hungry. And Hubby had to stay home and mind the sump pump. It had to be me that went. And so I went. I call that true sacrifice, my friends. You never know what you’ll be called upon to do in a spring black-out emergency.

So after our Big Macs, and after Hubby lit the fire in the wood stove, and I lit some candles, we donned our camping headlamps and went back to our books. Hubby said we couldn’t bail all night, so we gave up except for checking every once in a while, and hoping that the valiant, but increasingly weak back-up pump could at least stop the water from rising any more and spilling out onto the floor.

Then it got colder. Hubby put more wood on the fire and we pulled on our ski underwear. Then Hubby announced that the falling temperatures had seemed to slow the flow of water giving our hapless sump-pump a fighting chance. Yah. That crisis had been averted, for the time being anyway.

Spring black-out reading attire.
Black-out chic.

I read late into the night on Thursday. I could not put my book down. Somehow after I purchased it months and months ago, I had set it aside and never read it. What was I thinking? Eventually I decamped to the bedroom, getting a crick in my neck trying to angle my headlamp onto the page, and earning a telling off from Hubby at about 2:00 A.M. to turn my light out.

The next morning we boiled water for tea on our one-burner gas camp stove. I made toast over the flame using the little round rack for the roasting pan and a pair of tongs, and scrambled eggs in the cast iron frying pan. We ate in front of the fire. And then, guess what we did. Yep. Back to our books.

I made numerous pots of tea on the camp stove, and sat in front of the gas fire in the sunroom immersed in my book all morning. That darned book. I was obsessed. I finished it around midday just after the power came on.

Hubby had come out to tell me the sump pump was working well and the water level was way down. That we needed to reset the timer for the water softener before the system regenerated when we didn’t want it to do so. And now that the wind had died down he was heading out to check the fallen tree limbs in the backyard. I don’t think I even heard what he said. I was sobbing into a tissue and tossing in onto the pile already on the table beside me. I put my glasses back on and finished the last chapter.

So. Here’s my point in telling this story. How does one survive a spring black-out?

Well. A nice wood fire helps. And warm ski underwear, worn under everything. A camp stove is essential. And when the sump pump well gets too full, bail the water into a bucket and use it to flush the facilities. Ha. Silver lining there.

And, and… this is the important one… you absolutely need a great book to read.

The book that got me through the great spring black-out of 2023 (bit of hyperbole there, friends) is by Frances Liardet. Think of Me is set during World War II in Alexandria, Egypt, and in England in the seventies. Parts of the book relate how James Acton an English RAF pilot and Yvette Haddad meet in 1943 in Alexandria, fall in love, eventually marry and move to England where James takes up his post as an Anglican vicar. Parts of the book relate James’ life ten years after the death of Yvette, in the England of the seventies. The rest is told through Yvette’s diaries, their story and her story from her perspective, which she writes in the months leading up to her death. And that’s all I’m going to tell you. You have to read it for yourself.

Frances Liardet is a wonderful writer. Her prose is beautiful. Hilltop views, primroses, ocean scenes, silk scarves, kitchen chairs, little wooden boxes, manky woodworm-riddled roof beams, pain and joy, kindness and anger, friendship, faith, love, loss, redemption. Seriously I can’t even begin to tell you how much this book moved me. Her description of everything from the smallest detail to the most monumental events moved me.

Liardet’s plot, like all my favourite books, is not linear. It starts, progresses, then stops and loops back upon itself. The truth is eked out, eventually. And eventually all is well. I’m glad the plot did not move forward in a straight chronological line. I wouldn’t have been able to stand the suspense of reading about Yvette’s illness. Or whether James would survive his war and his eventual internment in a concentration camp. I much preferred the looking back narrative style. Not that there wasn’t plenty left unsaid, that we had to find out gradually. There was.

This is a ten or fifteen hankie book, people. But it is ultimately a joyous book even in its sadness. Have numerous soothing cups of tea and a box of tissues ready to hand. Cancel all your engagements for two days at least. That’s how long it took me to read this book.

And I have to tell you that if you have also read Liardet’s earlier book, We Must Be Brave you are in for a treat. She brings back several characters from that book. I was thrilled. It felt like kismet.

I wrote about Frances Liardet’s earlier book We Must Be Brave in a post a couple of years ago. That post was all about what makes a good book good. You can read it here if you’re interested.

In my earlier post I said that Frances Liardet’s first book met all my criteria for a good book. This one does too. And the fact that they are loosely tied together makes them ever greater in my eyes.

So if you haven’t read either of them, you should. Don’t wait for a spring black-out, for the power to go out and the sump pump to back up to get started. Start now.

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.

P.P.S. Please don’t take my hyperbole for true whining. If you don’t know me yet, that’s just my weird humour. I don’t mean to say that I think we are hard done by. Not at all.

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42 thoughts on “Surviving a Spring Black-Out”

  1. Condolences on the blackout! A few hundred kilometres away from you, we had a few flickers during the recent storm, but no one in our immediate area lost power. And this will be the first year that we are well positioned in the event of a power outage since we now have a backup generator installed. I balked at the expense of this, but my husband is convinced that it is a good idea, and I’m sure I’ll agree with him next time we experience an extended power interruption.

    My most vivid blackout memory was the big one that hit the NE U.S. and Canada in 2003. Our teenage exchange student from France had just arrived, and I broke my rule of not speaking French to her in order to reassure her that there had not been a terrorist attack (I had overheard speculation amongst the group of exchange students). I also figured it was worth breaking the “no French” rule to explain the logistics of life without electricity in our house, which, like yours, was served by a community well. She had quite the introduction to life in Canada!

    1. We discussed getting a generator last summer when we had a similar outage. We may finally move on that this time. We had one installed for my mum a few years ago, and they are pricey. But maybe worth it in the long run.

  2. So pleased the blackout has ended and spring is back on track, at least I hope it is. Your photos are strikingly beautiful. You were well prepared for the ordeal and I’m glad you had a great book to read.
    Tens of thousands of homes lost power here in mid-spring of 2019 after a short but savage storm tore through Sydney’s northern suburbs and brought down many trees and powerlines. We were without power for nearly 3 days. The power company had “streamlined” its workforce to the point where it didn’t have enough staff to attend to the extensive damage in a timely manner. But our spring is much milder than yours. The water supply was mercifully unaffected and we have a gas stove, so we could cook. Cold showers were ghastly, and losing the contents of our freezer was unpleasant, but we had fun reading and playing board games at night by battery operated lamps and candles. And we were able to go out during the day to unaffected areas to shop etc. so we were much luckier than you.

    1. The lack of water and the worry about the sump pump is the worst part. In our area a basement pump is a necessity… and when the back-up emergency pump goes… that’s not good. Ha.

  3. That was beautifully written Sue . I read it out loud to Max over our morning coffee & he found it very interesting too . He enjoyed all the info on pumps etc 😁 It’s got me wondering about previous generations & how they coped with such severe weather conditions . I have an old photo of a great , great aunt , Lizzy , almost up to her neck in Canadian snow . Bet your mum has some stories .
    Let’s hope that’s it & you’re coasting into spring now .

    1. I’m sorry I didn’t go into more pump detail for him. When I was making breakfast on the one burner stove Stu and I were talking about the same thing. Imagine getting a wood stove heated up enough to bake pies and cook dinner, and I don’t even want to talk about the washing machine. Those wringers were deadly. My grandmother had her arm caught in one when she was washing sheets. Mum says she just wheeled around so she could reach the thing with her other arm and slapped it to open the wringers. I think you guys call that a mangle? Sounds like a more appropriate name. Grammy’s arm was fine, but it was a near thing.

  4. We had well and septic in our last house, and I know EXACTLY what you’re describing. We each had to “pick our toilet” when this hit…sorry for the graphic description. We also tried to have water jugs on hand for that purpose. And we were fortunate to have a fireplace that heated the great room. But there is nothing quite like the sound of the power coming back on after a few days.

    P.S. We lost power once while I was in the middle of a great book (can’t remember which it was now) and I remember reading by flashlight to finish it. I had to laugh at your DH telling you to turn it out at 2AM.

  5. That was a great read. You made the best of hopefully, winters last hurrah. Your camping skills certainly came in handy. The photos are beautiful and you captured the silence after the storm. We’re in Peterborough so we experience lots of fickle weather too. You left me with 2 new books to read and nice thoughts of spring peeking through.

  6. Oh gosh that was a good read! Glad to hear you are coping well. It was a compelling account!

    I’m in Italy now so I got lucky and missed this storm (narrowly missed the big storm at Christmas, too, having left on the 20th!). I hope my luck holds out in the future. My little pocket of the Glebe is usually the first to lose power in a storm, but oddly enough we seemed to have not lost power this time. Am wondering if they finally adjusted the transformer the last time the power went out. There is an advantage to being in the dense part of the city, in that in any case they usually get those areas with lots of customers up and running first. Have done lots of rural living via my mother and her husband so know what you were up against.

    In any case, take care! Hoping this the last of the spring messes for this year (perhaps wishful thinking, but we can try).

    1. We keep thinking after every outage that they will make changes so it doesn’t happen again. And then it does. It sure made the sunny days that followed much more welcome. Enjoy Italy. But how could you not?!

  7. Margaretanne Clinton

    Sue ,
    This post left me laugh crying ….
    The photo plus ,” room without a view “….outrageously funny.
    This brings back vividly any personal memories of “this can’t possibly get worse “ events … that always did.!
    Thanks a million.
    Margaretanne

  8. One lesson I learned from your description of the blackout experience that you didn’t even touch on (although it was apparent through the article) was to hold on to your sense of humor. None of us lives a complete life of luxury and when we cross paths with something we can’t control, it’s good to remember that lesson. Thank you for the enjoyable pictures, the lighthearted narrative and the book recommendations.

  9. Well, that was an interesting read. My suggestion–move somewhere warmer! That is way too cold. I am glad you got through it and glad you had a good book to get lost in. Thanks for sharing the experience and I hope you have a lovely Spring. I am in West Texas and we had a very cold Christmas but not what you experienced.

    1. Oh, I don’t think that will happen, Linda. Ha. Maybe a generator in case it happens again, though. Although I do love the sense of quiet and suspended reality… for one day anyway.

  10. Although I have never been in a storm/blackout situation quite like yours, through your words and pictures, I could imagine myself there. One January, at least ten years ago, our power was out for a few days. But it coincided with me being sick and I spent the days in bed, under layers of covers.
    I have been in a reading slump lately, not really loving the books that I have read. But, in the last two days, I re-read Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing and it may have put me back on track. Thanks for the suggestions; I have added both books to my list.

    1. One good book can put us back on track. I was feeling the same reading slump this winter. And after reading “Marple”… I went back and started reading old Agatha Christie to tide me over.

  11. Dear Sue, love, love, love your post. When are you going to write your book, I promise to pre order. I will also promise to order your book recommendations, though my tbr pile is going to take years to read. Also…tear jerkers go to the bottom of the pile…have to wait until I need a good cry. Happy Spring all.

    1. I think you will love this book. Even the sad parts are enjoyable. Plus an English vicar who lives in a tumbledown old vicarage in a village… perfect.

  12. Completely understand. So many blackouts took place when we moved to our rural home 30 years ago that I bought two oil lamps so the children could do their homework each night (power invariably went out at dinner time most evenings). I told them to think of Abe Lincoln doing the same. They were not amused. Eventually a new substation was installed down the road; power hasn’t been quite so fickled since, but we still lose power frequently enough that I keep multiple gallon jars of water set aside for emergencies (forget drinking, I mean for the toilet). Luckily, we also have a wood stove and camping supplies. The worst times are in summer when temps are in the 90s (30c+) and the overwhelming humidity makes it unbearable to be inside after a few hours. Such is the joy of power outages. Glad you survived with a good book for company…oh, and Stu the Bailer, too. 🙂

    1. We have purchased bottled water for camping that we rely on now if there is an outage. I remember one really hot summer there was an extended power outage in Ottawa and we were away camping at the time. Much better place to weather a summer power outage.

  13. Oh,Sue! This must have been terrible! Luckily,you both were utterly prepared for all the troubles. Real Canada pioneeres!
    Long time ago,I’ve had all the things you’ve mentioned (due to camping,our war,many gas shortage,presents from Camel Trophy Rally to survive in the wilderness.,earthquake….. etc). Now,I have only water and wood (just in case) for the fireplace (ok,and food as well) ,so,I hope we will live happily ever after
    I’ve read F. Liardet’s We Must Be Brave and liked it very much. Think Of Me is on my list for a long time-so,now is the time to read it!
    Happy Easter, full of joy,gas,electricity and internet to you,Stu and the community
    Dottoressa

    1. I hoped when I was writing this that people didn’t think I was really whining. I mean those poor people who have to survive an earthquake or a tornado! We drove through some of the areas hit hard by an earthquake when we were in Italy in 2018. So much devastation. Happy Easter to you too, my friend.

  14. Sue, this reminds me of the blackout of winter 1998. We were living on the other side of the river in Osgoode. Two weeks, yes two weeks. The horrible ice storm that brought a lot of the power lines and poles down. I could write a book on those two weeks, but won’t. I spent the first few days by myself with the cat. The trees crashing down, with the weight of the ice. The alarm system going ballistic , because the battery was slowly going dead, because, you know, no power. Yes, the whole septic system dance…
    The army going around checking to make sure people and animals on farms were coping.The bizarre, and funny stories, that followed. Some, no one would believe!

    In actual fact, I’m glad that I experienced it. It puts so much into perspective. We new that eventually the power would be restored, all the power poles on our road would be replaced, and the ice would melt.
    Some countries are not so fortunate.

    Now living On the West Coast, we only have to worry about Earth Quakes, Tsunamis, and really huge trees falling on the house…sigh…

    Ali

    1. I remember that blackout well. We lost power for nine days, and Hubby kept both of our wood stove pumping 24 hours a day to hopefully prevent the pipes from bursting. Our cat thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing especially when we hauled the mattress into the livingroom in front of the fire when we couldn’t keep the bedrooms warn enough.

      1. Yup! The mattress in front of the fire. Did you have the army check on your house?
        We’re tough….ha.
        A

  15. Well, there’s another book to add to my must read list! So glad you had a good one to help you weather the storm and hope the damage around you wasn’t too bad. Friends who live not too far from you had a tree come down on their deck.

    We also depend on electricity for water as well as for heat, but we don’t have a septic system or need a sump pump, so that’s something to be thankful for, I guess.

    1. We had a few branches down in our back yard, one punctured the roof of the tent trailer, but that’s all. Nothing compared to some of the streets in Montreal from what I see on the news.

  16. Cosette Pathak

    The joys of country life. We escaped this round, but spent much of Christmas without power, huddled around the wood stove which also serves as our cooktop in our totally electric home. I agree that the pump/flushing situation is the worst of it, but darn, those little miner light headlamps are a treat.

    I hope you enjoyed some lovely bright sunshine today, and kudos to you for getting your weekly blog post written under such trying circumstances.

  17. What a nightmare! It did make for beautiful photos though. Hopefully all is back to normal now.
    I’ve suffered the frozen pipes, no running water for days, no power for days and a flooded downstairs but they have all been at different times, in different houses in different countries. To have all at once could be a bit disconcerting but it sounds as if you both coped well. Camping equipment can be a life saver.

  18. Gosh Sue, this is definitely up there with my favourite posts of yours. I feel as though I was there with you!
    My childlike, Pollyanna attitude to days like this, tends to keep me smiling and looking for the good … eg a great book, torch, wood stove and relatively accessible hot food. 😊
    Although my experiences are not as severe as yours, I still get excited when we have a power cut. Looking back on those that we had in the 1970’s at the time of the Miners’ strikes.
    Huddling up under blankets and doing homework by torchlight, surrounded by flickering candles. Great memories. ( for me anyway)
    Thanks for sharing this and for the beautiful pictures… I’m off to read it again lol
    Here’s hoping Spring returns from her indulgent trip soon, bringing sunshine, flowers and gentle breezes.
    I hope you have a good week.
    Rosie xx

    1. I’m with you, Rosie. I love that feeling of suspended time when the power goes out. As long as we have lots of wood for the fire and something to boil water for tea. 🙂

  19. Sue..that was certainly your best blog with great description on how you and Hubby managed during Black out! The photos are superb, I can feel the ‘chill’! I am definitely going to order those recommended books, I am not at all familiar with the Author.
    Now, I’ve just got one question …how did you manage to stay warm in bed….did you fill a hot water bottle? Maybe I am been too personal but as I read through the story I kept thinking ‘Sue and Hubby must have been frozen in bed with no electric blanket’!!

  20. I’ve only experienced one cold weather blackout and luckily our autumn, winter and spring temperatures are no way near as harsh as a Canadian one !

    I was at staying with my mother when the power went off just after we finished supper. Unfortunately, no fireplace or wood stove was available. We were dressed warmly enough and sat in the living room with blankets and winter quilts wrapped around our shoulders and over our laps and when it eventually got too cold we retired to bed. No biggie.

  21. Oh, goodness, you’ve had a tough winter, it seems! Here’s hoping that was the last storm for the season, and that it’s daffodils and tulips from here on out!

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