by Heather Rae
The term came up over lunch. A group of home energy evaluators convened at King Eider’s pub in Damariscotta. That morning, we had completed filming of an energy evaluation with the film crew from Maine Public Broadcasting Network. We were talking about the future of the country and the economy and our children; these topics, with this group, erupt out of discussions about energy and oil and staying warm in Maine. Curry Caputo, principal at Sustainable Structures, Inc. was one of the energy evaluators. He said his uncle, a therapist, uses a term to describe the end of cheap oil in America: Ontological Shock.
Everything as you know it and believe it to be true — will come into question. After an evening of “Googling” ontological shock, and watching the indie film, Crude Awakening/The Oil Crash, (a chillingly calm alarm) it occurred to me that we in Maine are getting a taste of what’s to come as the age of easily accessible and cheap oil comes to a close.
February’s storms put a stranglehold on mid-coast Maine. First, there were the power outages. Wide swathes of mid-Coast Maine remained without power for days. Which meant many were without heat. Which meant water pipes were a-freezin’ and a-crackin’. The toilets didn’t flush. Parents shuttled their broods to coffee shops and YMCAs and college gyms to find warmth and hot showers.
Generators rumbled throughout the neighborhood and town. The regulator on the propane tank froze somewhere around 5am. (For a minute, it appeared that the silencing of the generator’s roar meant the resumption of grid power, but no.) The 90-year old great-aunt in the apartment unit was out of power and heat and hot water. Schedules were scrambled; meetings were canceled and offices closed.
As if we were living in a third world — struggling to engage in a first world economy — we shoveled snow from roofs, walkways, driveways. And then we were hit with back-to-back storms. Construction workers removed the sky’s deluge before they began repairs. Snow plows plied the roads throughout the night long, their drivers appearing bleary eyed at the local Irving station to down coffee and donuts…or as the day became night, they joined the plumbers at the local bar, on emergency call for bursting pipes and flooded basements, smelling of oil in their insulated overalls, taking in a beer or two before the next call. The hair is greasy and the clothes aromatic. For all of us. A giant yellow DOT plow had stuck in a towering bank of snow, and the plow itself had cracked into threes. The tips of trees bowed into roads, cracking huge limbs, strewing twigs and draping power lines.
My drive to town was glistening and beautiful. We settled in to simply getting by.
And, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if there were no fuel for the furnaces and boilers and DOT trucks…or it were so expensive to operate snowplows and heat homes that we could only wait for the sun to melt us into recovery?
Spring is officially here, event if the snow lingers. Trees remain bent to the roads, and the memory of this winter will be forced upon us for a while.