June 11, 2014
When last we visited, the power line outside my home office window had collapsed precipitously before my very eyes, the electricity was out, and a highly indignant squirrel was barking in the top of the magnolia tree in the front yard. I ventured outside and from a respectful distance ascertained the power line remained attached to the house in what appeared to be a normal manner. The story was the same at the other end of the line, where it connected to a transformer at the top of a pole. I even inspected that connection through my binoculars. Yet, the line hung barely head-high at its nadir. I had wired a few receptacles in my day, but this was way above my pay grade. I called the power company. About an hour later, a lone young man in a small bucket truck pulled in my driveway. He took one quick look at the power line, paying particular attention to where it passed through the magnolia tree, and said, “I’ll have you fixed up in no time.” That stupid squirrel had perched among the thick leaves and, at his leisure, gnawed through the 1/2-inch thick aluminum cable, enough that it broke during his morning commute. That bare cable serves two purposes: 1) it is attached at either end and supports the other two insulated and electrified wires, and 2) it is the “neutral” or “ground” wire that takes the alternating current back to wherever the heck it has to go. It was that latter one that was the dire issue. Using his bucket and a special tool, the lineman was able to pull the severed line taut and splice it. Indeed, he had me fixed up in no time. “Squirrels and snakes,” he told me, “give us the most trouble.” Fortunately, I already had switched off the power at the service panel, for he also told me, “When you lose your neutral like that, it can burn out everything in your house.” As it was, we lost all our LCD digital clocks and every LED floodlight in the kitchen and breakfast room, 12 in all. Everything else, including the regular LED bulbs, seemed to weather the crisis. As of this writing, the squirrel still lives, but I’ve been salivating over the Acme catalog.