Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting…
Holiday cooks across the nation froze in disbelief and dismay as the electrical grid audibly groaned to a halt.
It was 9:30 pm, the night before Thanksgiving.
That’s me trying to compose a killer opener for a new novel.
No, wait, it really happened. At least it did in Topanga Canyon.
I had just pulled the turkey from its brine to dry and prep it for the oven.
The water was coming to a boil for the potatoes. The six pounds of leaf spinach were cooked and draining in the colander. And the power was out.
I knew there had been a red flag warning; but there was no wind. I couldn’t wrap my brain around this. They wouldn’t do this NOW! There are fifteen people coming to dinner!
Yes, the last few weeks have been dry and warm with occasional warnings of high winds and red flag warnings. Completely typical for the season. We all follow Twitter feeds and email chains and PulsePoint notifications. We mountain and canyon dwellers are accustomed to these routines during the fire season months. So far every red flag warning this season—based on the Santa Ana dry desert winds that whip through the trees up here sometimes at frightening speeds—has been mild in our area.
Perhaps my fight or flight response was getting tamed down. Perhaps it was all worn out.
Our Thanksgiving issue of Topanga New Times was a dream come true! We were so happy to be able to give the community, something positive, especially in these days of never-ending bad news. We had a cover photo of a firefighter and a wonderful article about the new firefighting helicopters and the hi-tech operations at 69 Bravo helistop! Every year about this time we are usually thanking the firemen for saving our hides from the latest near miss; this time we could thank them without a fire!
There was no fire, but in time there were hellish winds. And with that in the forecast, Edison had exercised its right to shut down the grid in what is euphemistically called a Public Safety Power Shutoff. This time, it put its customers in the dark without cell or Wi-Fi coverage, so no one knows anything about what is happening.
While I was in my total mind/body Thanksgiving prep mode and feeling especially reassured by what our issue had covered, I was also unplugged from email and Twitter for the entire day and did not see the warnings of the impending PSPS event. Normally I would celebrate a no-phone day, but not during a power outage.
Still without answers, but still clinging to hope in the morning on Thursday, we kept thinking it was some temporary disruption in our neighborhood until we drove out of the canyon to fetch the necessities of coffee, and blocks of ice to keep the turkey cold and safe. We also found we needed a regular can opener to open the prescription cans of food for our little diabetic terrier, Roux. That nice new electric opener wasn’t going to do the trick.
The entire canyon was in the “dark,” meaning no lights at intersections; our offices at Rosewood, dead as doornails. At Ventura Blvd., where life was a bustling, normal Thanksgiving Day, we felt like refugees from a strange land. As we entered an active Verizon zone our phones started pinging with messages and texts and notifications. I quickly read and reread the story of what had happened to us.
It was then we knew there was no way to move forward with our planned family event. We made our calls of regret, then armed with a traditional can opener and blocks of ice, we trudged up the canyon to do our penance for what I’m not sure.
Forty-eight hours later we were back on the grid and full of joy. Never knew I loved electricity so much! Our Saturday Thanksgiving was warm and full of love and family. We had been apart for so long.
The lesson? Probably my complacency needed a chair pulled out from under (no can opener?) It’s not like our seasons of high winds and wildfire threat are going to go away. It looks like solar panels and storage batteries are a lot higher on our list of necessities.
I’m sure those Santa Monica Mountain cooks are taking note.