Emulating the Amish

After several turbulent gusts of late afternoon wind, our electricity blinked out at our beach cabin for fourteen hours, moments after my husband had emptied a can of chili into a pan and turned on the stovetop. Soon an icy shroud descended on our outdated orange-carpeted cabin. Now what? The Amish came to mind!

My husband fed and stoked our airtight fireplace, producing some heat, (no fan) and I dove into layers of winter clothing, extra socks, and fleece-lined slippers. As the wind blustered, we’d snuggle up tonight, but I realized we owned only a few wool blankets and one thin quilt, made by my 95-year-old aunt for decoration more than warmth.

“I can’t believe we’re not better prepared,” I said, incredulous, since we’ve owned our cabin for twenty-five years. We fished through kitchen drawers hunting for candles and flashlights, extra batteries, and canned goods, but our well’s electric pump offered only meager drops of water and our non-functioning refrigerator turned into a cooling box. We’ve intentionally never kept a TV on the island. But no internet access? Eek!

Snowy Lancaster

Snowy Lancaster

As the sun dipped behind the towering fir trees, the wind whipping their limbs, the temperature plummeted to just above freezing. Reading by candlelight makes a soul sleepy so we turned in early. We speculated about the following morning. Rising in a frigid house sounded miserable. Our usual coffee would be non-existent: No hot water nor the means to grind our coffee beans. Fortunately our neighbors own a generator, but we hated to bother them first thing in the morning … yet it was a long drive to the nearest Starbucks. And our small road might be blocked by a downed tree and electrical wires.

In the shadows, we speculated about the next day. We had an outdoor gas BBQ grill and plenty of food to use up in a hurry before it went bad. But we’d be shivering. And no water.

Images of the self-sufficient Amish sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a sumptuous meal filled my mind. Life as usual, I thought. Their households would be purring along beautifully, using fireplaces, space heaters, and flashlights and lanterns and kitchen appliances generated by batteries, natural gas, and diesel generators. The local church district’s Ordnung dictates what type of lighting and heating is acceptable.

They store their cold food in gas-powered refrigerators or in some cases, old-fashioned iceboxes, and use machinery run with hydraulic (oil) and pneumatic (air) forms of “Amish electricity.” If low on fresh fruits and vegetables, down to the cellar. They choose not to use dishwashers; ours was useless, anyway. For more info, check out books by my favorite non-fiction authors, Professor Donald B Krabill and Stephen M Scott.

The next morning at 6:30, presto, the electric power popped back on and our minor ordeal was over. Okay, I admit we focused on the coffee maker, but agreed we’d enjoyed our adventure, while we turned up the electric furnace higher than needed.

Lessons learned? Keep bottled water on hand. Look into buying a gas-run generator; our well is too deep for a hand pump. Stock the house with more food and lanterns bright enough to read by. Emulate the Amish!