An unusually cold week here in Portland was capped by two days of strong winds coming down the Columbia Gorge, and the promise that freezing rain was on the way Sunday night. The wife and I had made our plans to go see a movie with the kids, do some shopping perhaps, when the snow started falling. It was a mean-spirited snow, unlike the big, wet, fluffy flakes I grew up with. This was wind-driven shards of ice that swirled around the house in spirals that reminded you of the Cold Miser.

As Portland drivers are simply unable to drive on any type of frozen water, we opted to stay home. Then, at around 2:00 in the afternoon, our lights went out, synchronous with the dull ‘BOOM’ of a transformer blowing nearby. We had joined an approximate 6,000 PGE customers that were without power due to the storm.

This is the first house I’ve ever lived in that didn’t even have a functioning fireplace. No alternative sources of heat whatsoever. The outside air temperature was hovering around 25 degrees, so it looked like it would get pretty grim if power didn’t get restored. The wife and I went and pulled on a couple of extra layers of clothing, long underwear and fleece mostly, and heavy socks. We got out a couple of sleeping bags and comforters that we could huddle under.

The gas range still worked, so we could eat warm food. And my Nintendo DS still had battery power, so I could still play Animal Crossing. Yes, I sat in a still, dark house, and played Animal Crossing. It was kind of surreal. After a while, the kids got invited down to a neighbor’s house to play in the snow. After they left, we started getting flashlights and candles together for the evening.

By this point, the house was well and truly chilly, and the cats were none too pleased. Seeker, the alpha kitty, stood on his cold heating pad for a few moments, then ambled over to the heating vent in the kitchen. He stuck his head into what is normally the most direct source of warm air in the house. Nothing. Then he climbed on top of the iMac. Still no warmth to be had. He began to look pretty pissed off, which was funny, but if the heat didn’t come back on soon, it would be a long night for the kitties, and I expected they would have to sleep in bed with us. Joy.

I fixed dinner (spaghetti), and adjusted the faucets in all the bathrooms to a trickle (the last thing we needed was frozen pipes). Then, we noticed a PGE truck creeping through our neighborhood. They were checking each transformer as they went with a spotlight. A bit of hope blossomed in our hearts, as we contemplated having warmth and light again.

At 6:30, with no fuss, our lights came back on. Shortly after that, I turned the heat back on, and the temperature in the house began to climb. After four and a half hours, the temperature in the house had dropped to 55 degrees, which wasn’t that bad, but I hate to think what it would have been the following morning.

I went to bed last night with the dire promise that the roads today would be sheets of ice, and no one would be able to go to work. Instead, a cold rain was melting yesterday’s snow into slush. I got to work barely a half-hour late, although I spent part of the day feverishly doing some of the Christmas shopping I had intended to do yesterday.

It’s easy to forget how inhospitable the environment can be without the benefits of modern conveniences. I’m sure the survivors of the 2005 tsunami, or even the survivors of Katrina on our own shores, would gladly trade our few hours of relative cool for their desperate situations. Perhaps this was a subtle wake-up call. A gentle reminder as Christmas approaches to remember how lucky we are.

Here’s hoping each and every one of you is well-fed, and surrounded by warmth, light and love this holiday season.