We had a brief electricity blackout (called "teiden" in Japanese) on our street tonight. I came home from work and the entire street was pitch black. The adjacent neighbourhoods had power. Only our street was in the dark. People were out on the street walking around with flashlights. It felt like Halloween. I don’t know when it started, because it was already like that when I came home shortly before 8:00 p.m. We have candles and flashlights and lots of extra batteries in the apartment that came in handy. Police cruisers and other emergency vehicles quickly appeared and the police drove up and down the street announcing over their loudspeakers that it would take about an hour to restore electricity. For that hour it was really, really black and we couldn’t do anything. Some people were milling around the street with flashlights of various sizes and intensity. They looked like shades and specters wandering without direction. I found my wife among them but even when I was standing directly beside her I could not see her face. The phones didn’t work; we couldn’t run the water heater for hot water; so we mostly loitered around outside talking in quiet voices to other local people, watching the emergency personnel do their thing. If it had gone on for a long time then the food in the refrigerator/freezer would have been in peril. I don’t think anyone was trapped in our building’s elevator because we didn’t hear any knocking or calls for help. But in other, larger buildings on the street people could very easily have been trapped. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in an elevator. It’s an absolutely pitch black box. I found it uncomfortable enough just walking in the apartment, then up and down the stairs and on the street outside only by the light of an electric torch. Just think, before electricity humans depended on wood fires and our lives were mostly limited to the hours of sunlight. When night fell it really fell. Coal, whale oil, kerosene and finally electricity are each exponential leaps in the evolution of quality of life. Campfires, torches and lanterns. When you live without artificial light then the light-dark duality really defines existence in practically unimaginable ways. Experiencing that kind of relentless, ubiquitous darkness is profound. Darkness seems so much more powerful than light. Darkness is death, light is life. Thank God we live in an age of electricity (antibiotics and anaesthetics, too). A blackout during the daylight hours would be a very different experience than a blackout at night. I can appreciate the motivation among early societies to worship the sun as a god. Or Prometheus, the giver of fire, and hence light.
By total coincindence I learned a full week later that the cause of the blackout was crows building a nest on an electrcity transformer atop one of the utility poles. The nest was removed. This is not the first time we have had trouble on our street from crows. (Not the small blackbirds I grew up with in Canada calling "crows," but full-blown jungle crows. Horrible, but remarkably clever creatures.) A few years ago pedestrians on the street were being attacked by dive-bombimg crows protecting the territory in proximity to their nest build in a nearby tree bordering the local high school sports field. At that time city workers came and removed the nest. The crows remained, but without a nest to mark their territory they lost their agression.