Last week, a powerful windstorm knocked down trees and power lines across the State of Maine, cutting off electricity to nearly half a million customers (more than a third of the state’s population). Maine Coast Semester was among those affected; our campus on Chewonki Neck was off the grid from early Monday morning to Sunday morning–a full six days! Despite the lack of power, the semester pulled together without missing a beat. Classes met, meals were served, animals were tended to, and by the end of the week, our community had a learned a thing or two. How did we do it? Read on to learn how we kept our school going full speed ahead for a whole week without electricity.
Huge gusts of wind began blowing across the water and through the woods in the wee hours of Monday morning, roaring through crisp autumn leaves and bringing down branches and trees along the way. Students reported being awakened by howling gusts, bangs, and crashes. By the time dawn broke, seven trees had fallen across Chewonki Neck Road, taking multiple power lines with them. An initial assessment pointed quickly to a potentially extended powerless situation. Unfazed, our amazing staff and facilities team jumped into action, hooking up generators in the Wallace Center and the Center for Environmental Education, using the kitchen’s gas stove top to prepare hot breakfast, and making sure everyone had headlamps on hand (or head).
With humming generators powering essential resources (kitchen lights, refrigeration, water pump), students began their day. A few extra layers and cups of hot tea kept everyone warm in unlit classrooms, and laptops were traded in for pens and paper. Although the adjustment was not without difficulties–there was no access to printers or online study materials and homework had to be completed by flickering candlelight–students reported more room for focus and engagement with their studies and each other.
Farm chores and outdoor skills training also carried on as scheduled, and work program was adjusted to include cleaning up fallen branches, leaves, and brush. Students also worked on bucking up large branches into firewood and spoon blanks for later wood carving projects.
One of the major challenges over the course of the week was running the kitchen with limited electricity. Although the gas oven and stove top were functional, almost all other kitchen appliances were out of the question, including the dishwasher! Luckily, our resourceful kitchen staff and committed students overcame these challenges. They prepped meals and washed dishes, pots, and pans by hand, encouraging community members to use compostable plates and water bottles instead of glasses.
Students cited the complete lack of technology on campus as one of their favorite parts of the power outage. According to Lucy (The Chapin School, New York, New York), “For the first day and a half, it was annoying, because we were still adjusting. But after that, it was really fun. We did more things together as a semester. We played cards, we played lots of games, like Big Booty and Llama Llama–we played many rounds of that. People didn’t go on the internet or social media–there was no technology–so everyone wanted to be together. We had study hours by candlelight. The entire semester turned out for the Fall Festival on Saturday and everyone had a fantastic time. We had whittling on the Quad…and pumpkin carving…every cabin did a Haunted Cabin. Mine, Binnacle, was actually pretty scary. Afterwards we had bobbing for apples and a mini dance contest. It was nice to take a shower, but a lot of people were sad when the power came back on. We lost power the night after solos, so the week felt like a really extended ‘solo’ with other people.”
Tyler (Trevor Day School, New York, New York) agreed “It was actually great. Everyone was into it.” His cabin, Pete Gillies, put a lot into their Haunted Cabin. “We were trying to be creepy,” says Tyler. “We had one person in a bear suit playing a flute with his nose. While everyone was distracted by that, someone else jumped out and scared them.”
Aino (Dexter Regional High School, Exeter, Maine) added: “We all got a really good sleep every night. A lot of us were asleep by 9:30 at night. It was a really nice couple of days.”
Although the return of electricity on Sunday morning was a relief, the outage will be remembered as an important week in Semester 59. It tested the strength of our emergency practices and our community. Although few will miss cold showers or washing gigantic piles of dishes by hand and headlamp, we will miss the small circles of friends studying and enjoying each other’s company by flickering candlelight.
Scroll on for a few photos that characterized the week: