As December got underway, bizarre occurrences began taking place in and around Boomerang Creek. It was as if a boggart—a malevolent spirit from English folklore and Harry Potter tales—had taken over our household and fields.  According to English lore, such household fairies were thought to cause mischief, things to disappear, milk to go sour, and dogs to go lame. We have no dogs, our cat and milk are still fine, but our internet service did in fact disappear.  For the next week, we found ourselves living off-the-grid in virtually unknown territory.

by Cathy Salter

Few things in life are as discombobulating as technology when it fails to work its usual magic.  Checking emails one morning I discovered an unwanted symbol next to my primary email account—a triangle with a lightning bolt in the center—indicating that the account was temporarily offline.  Until remedied, there would be no outgoing or incoming emails.  And so began a series of efforts to solve the problem.  Over the course of that unanticipated detour, I learned a few things along the way.

Before calling your email provider to report a problem, arm yourself with a strong cup of coffee and all manner of security information—your account number or the last four digits of the social security number of the  primary person on the account, the city of your mother’s birth, your first pet’s name, and the passwords for all of the accounts with your provider.  Patience is essential.  

For those of us who grew up in the mid-20th century when turning a nob was all that was necessary to access music, news, and dramas on a radio, navigating the labyrinth of computer technology can be a nightmare. Today, when an invisible malevolent fairy decides to ruin your day, what’s to be done?  Were I living in Northern England, I might hang a horseshoe on the door of our house or leave a pile of salt outside of my writing studio door to keep it out.  But it was too late.  Clearly, a boggart had entered the house and was up to no good. Here’s how I know.

Coincident with our computer issues, we experienced a problem with the wireless router in the house.  Normally a green light on the router box indicates all systems are a go.  A blinking yellow light signals “Houston, we have a problem.”  Suddenly, the router light inexplicably began blinking yellow.  And in the kitchen, and a heat indicator light on our Maytag glass-top stove stubbornly remained on for days, erroneously indicating that the back-left burner was hot when it was not.  

Feeling my patience tested beyond my technology limits, I put on a warm barn jacket and headed outdoors to regain my balance by reconnecting with nature.  Walking the pathway through the shade garden, I passed dark green hellebore plants amidst fallen maple and oak leaves that otherwise hide the garden’s dormant footprint in winter.  Birds flocked at feeders and finches fed at mesh bags filled with thistle seeds.  Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers clung upside down like acrobats to a wire feeder while pecking at a block of suet. 

While off-the-grid that week, I focused my energy on decorating the outdoor porch for Christmas.  With my Fiskars pruners in hand, I marched in my green muck boots across the open meadow to a dense grove of evergreen trees.  There I cut branches with clusters of juniper and cedar berries.  Before the afternoon sun had set, I’d filled five large urns around the porch with the evergreen branches from our woods and hung festive Christmas wreaths on the outside porch doors and posts.  

That unanticipated December week, I took time to make contributions to some of the many non-profits participating in Columbia’s 2019 annual COMOGIVES campaign.  There was also time to begin reading author Tracy K. Smith’s memoir, “Ordinary Light.”  [Smith—the 2017-2019 U.S. Poet Laureate—will be the keynote speaker at the 2020 Unbound Book Festival next April.]  And one particularly chilly night, Kit built the first fire of the season in our Buck Stove.  

Off-the-grid but cozy by the fire, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in Southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.