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Prometheus Unbound: Burning in the New Year


My family ended 2008 feeling powerless. No, not powerless about the financial crisis or global warming but, you know, without power. The high winds on Wednesday knocked out electricity to our Silver Spring neighborhood and so we spent the last day of the year tending candles and cranking the wind-up emergency radio.

And gathering firewood. Our furnace was off, too, so there was no heat in the house. But, really, the fire that we tended in the living room fireplace was more for psychological comfort than physical comfort, especially once the sun went down. We had only one tiny bundle of that plastic-wrapped wood you buy at the Giant or Whole Foods. I suppose the true fire starter finds these laughable. We knew we'd need more but by the time we'd fed the last dried and quartered log to the flames the stores were closed.

So, we gathered. My Lovely Wife started in our yard, scouring the front and back for twigs and branches. That windfall was good for a couple of hours. Then it was my turn. I decided to venture further afield, driving down the darkened streets in our minivan, hopping out to toss branches in the back. The houses I passed were dim, brightened only by the occasional ghostly flicker of a candle or the soft beam of a flashlight.

Back home, our living room looked like a campsite. Twigs, branches and bits of bark littered the floor. I'd cut larger pieces of woods right there with a saw and soon there were drifts of sawdust. Not wise in the ways of the forest, I wasn't sure what kind of wood I was putting on the fire, but each piece seemed to have a different reaction. Most was nice and dry--thank god it wasn't raining--and burned well. Some was green and full of some sort of oil, tiny sucker branches hissing and popping in the flames. As each piece was reduced to coals I noticed that the embers were different colors. Some were hellishly crimson, others were yellow or orange. I felt some satisfaction in thinking that I was perhaps burning a branch that had knocked out our power in the first place. Take that!

I will not wax rhapsodic about how lovely it was being without power, how we played charades and strummed the guitar and sang spirituals. We didn't. I read the New Yorker with the help of a forehead-mounted flashlight. But we did take the evening in stride. Eventually I dozed off, but only for 10 minutes at a time. I'd jolt awake, afraid I'd let the fire go out. Some ancient memory was triggered in our dog's brain and he joined us in the living room, curled up on the rug, a wolf lured to the humans' campfire.

Around 1:30 a.m. we heard the sound of beeping throughout our house: clocks and microwaves and coffeepots, the indication that the appliances had emerged from their comas. The electricity was back. We could let the fire burn itself out.

BritNews RoundUp
If you told me you'd seen a purple squirrel I'd worry about your alcohol intake. But teachers and students at a school in Stubbington, Hampshire, insist they've seen a purple squirrel on the grounds. It's even been photographed. What happened? People think it might have gotten into some copier or printer toner and spread the purple dye through its coat.

If you own a dog, please whatever you do, don't throw a stick for it to fetch. That's what "one of Britain's most eminent vets" warns. “When I see people throwing sticks for their dogs in the park I just get so frustrated,” Dan Brockman, professor of small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, told the Times of London. “I want to go and tell them to stop.” The danger? The dogs can stab themselves.

Let's move to a happier animal story, shall we? If you haven't had your daily serving of awwwwww-someness, check out these photos from the Daily Mail of "the adorable newborn animals that can sit in the palm of your hand."

Stuck on what to dress up as for your next costume party? An Edinburgh man might recommend the Norse god Thor, which is what he was wearing when he caught a burglar in his house on New Year's Eve. "Torvald Alexander, 38, was wearing a red cape and the thunder god's silver-winged helmet when he spotted the raider in his front room rifling through a desk," wrote the Telegraph. Said Alexander: "As soon as he saw me his eyes went wide with terror. He looked like he had had a few drinks and decided to do a late night break in, but he hadn't counted on the God of Thunder living here."

Alexander is quite proud of his costume but I'm sure you can do better. It looks like he made his with Reynolds Wrap and Scotch Tape.

No chat today. But a full helping of columns (and blogs) next week. Enjoy the weekend.

By John Kelly  |  January 2, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
 | Tags: Britnews roundup  
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Next: A Mighty Wind: Passing Gas in 18 Languages


John, I thought you were the Answer Man. The REAL Answer Man would have known that the 7-11 is open all night and they sell firewood. And the REAL Answer Man would have known not to burn green wood. Good grief!

Posted by: justhere | January 2, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

No offense to Torvald, but he appears to have a bit of a "butch WonderWoman" vibe going. That would have scared anybody.

Posted by: mfromalexva | January 2, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

@Justhere: You know, I never would have thought of buying wood at 7-11. That's like buying T-bone steaks at Bloomingdales. Or something. The green wood was fun. It was cheap entertainment.

@MfromAlexVa: Yes, Thor looked like he had a little much fun molding that foil to himself.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | January 2, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

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