Thor and Griselda's First Winter on the Mountain, or How to Update a Will by Candlelight
Marriage Peril

by Thor (aka Douglas Page) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

As some of you know, something came over Terry and me eight years ago and we broke camp at the beach and moved to the mountains. It wasn’t a mid-life crisis, because we both had those some time earlier. Remember the red Corvette? But whatever it was caused the sand to shift in our shoes and we went house hunting along Los Angeles' north exit routes and ended up moving to Pine Mountain, a splendid little secret 100 miles north of LAX in the middle of Los Padres National Forest, 20 miles west of Frazier Park, off the I-5 on the Grapevine. We got there just in time for winter.

The house sits on a ledge in the San Emigdio Mountains, 5600 feet up the north face of 8900-ft Mt. Pinos, looking southeast through the pinion pines. The ledge is actually a pressure ridge formed by the San Andreas Fault, which is essentially right below us.

This year will be our ninth winter on the mountain. Eight years ago we weren't sure we would live this long. For a while there, we didn't expect to make it to Christmas. That December, first everything was white. Then, suddenly, at 3 pm on a Thursday six days before Christmas, everything went black. The power went off, and with it the lights, the heater, and the hot water. Thor and Griselda's First Winter.

We ate dinner early that day because, of course, most of the light disappeared once the sun went behind a frightening dark cloud bigger than the mountain . Then it started snowing and sleeting like someone left a snow blower on in heaven. With faux cheer, a determined Griselda prepared a hearty meal of broccoli soup and BLT sandwiches - on non-toast, because, of course, the toaster wasn't working since there was no power. We had warm soup and cooked bacon because the kitchen stove works off a strange smelly gas called propane that comes from a huge white bomb-shaped tank in the side yard.

We ate in silence and watched the snow accumulate on the bird feeder out on the deck. At least six inches piled on the deck rails by morning, not counting the parts that were blown away by the rogue winds that howled up the bank and drove the sleet against the rear windows so hard it sounded like the house was being sandblasted.

After dinner we lit all six tea lights and placed them in a ceremonial circle we've seen on survival shows meant to invoke mercy from the storm gods, then huddled by the fireplace, waiting for the power to return. The heat from the fireplace doesn’t do much to warm the house but if you stand close enough to the fire it's better than sitting out in the yard in the storm without a jacket. Still, Griselda kept hoping for the wall heater to ignite, yearning for the drone of its obnoxious fan. But the wall heater just stood there, as mute and cold as the small plaster statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the back deck, because, you know, the heater is electric. At 7 pm there is still no power.

There were flickers of encouragement. Through the driving snow we could see a few lights on in some of the homes up the valley on Glacier Drive, a half a mile across the ravine from us, some even with Christmas lights aglow. It was heartening. The grid was coming back online and our side of the valley would be next. Right?

Wrong. It didn't occur to us that those homes are inhabited by intelligent people who own gasoline-powered generators that kick in automatically seconds after a power outage happens. When the power fails they simply make their own electricity. Probably, right now, they were enjoying toasted BLTs, not doing calisthenics dressed like a Cossack in a bleak attempt to stave off residential hypothermia. Thor and Griselda have no gas generator, of course. They're new to the mountain, direct from 30 years in the South Bay of Los Angeles County. Their last abode was across the street from the wide warm sands of Redondo Beach. They have plenty of beach chairs, sandals, and sun block, but not one power generator.

Still, for a second or two the soft lights across the way, flickering in the storm, made us feel grateful to be alive, to share the cheer of the season with a loved one. The half-life of gratitude in a black-out blizzard, however, is measured in nano-seconds. When you realize you are standing three feet in front of the fireplace watching your own breath crystallize in the ambient living room air you are moved to think more in terms of survival than joy.

It was 22 degrees F on the back deck when Thor turned on the Pine Mountain community emergency radio channel, only to learn that, while the power company had been notified, it had no intention of sending crews out on a night like this and the soonest they planned to respond was sometime the next day, weather permitting. Ergo, it could be days before power was restored to the entire village. Thor and Griselda grimaced, then shrugged, tossed three large oak logs on the fireplace coals, and went upstairs to bed. The evening shower was dispensed with because, you guessed it, the water heater is electric.

By 7:30 pm Thor and Griselda were installed in their bed, wrapped in every small lap blanket to be found in the house because, you know, there are no quilts here. Griselda makes wonderful quilts, two or three a year, sometimes more - alas, for gifts not utility. Relatives in Redondo Beach, Torrance, El Segundo, Pasadena, San Diego, South Dakota, and Kona have quilts. They have so many quilts they're stacked in unused piles on garage shelves, but there are no quilts on the mountain, where they might conceivably be used by flatlanders trapped in the woods in a killer storm to prevent death from freezing.

So, with the wind shrieking through the walls and door seams and sleet pelting the windows, Thor and Griselda, in long underwear, wool socks, sweat clothes, watch caps, gloves, and scarves, took to bed with flash-lamps, pencils, and tablets - hurrying to update their wills while they still had feeling in their fingers.