Firelight Time

Article by Tim Matson, author of The Book of Non-Electric Lighting,

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Here it comes: heavy fall rain, the lights are flickering, and there7240012’s a tree on the power line a mile up the road  the utility company hasn’t fixed in over a month. Put ‘em together and what have you got? Firelight time. Check the lamp fuel supply, trim the wicks, clean the chimneys, restock the candles.

But aside from the practical value of having a reliable stash of emergency lamps and candles at hand, I like firelight whether the power works or not. Evenings, it’s a pleasant way to dial down the go-go pace of the workday and relax. Turning out the electric lights and lighting a few candles is like meditation. Or maybe it’s nostalgia. Walking into a room lit by lanterns or candles is a way to step into the past, perhaps a distant century you can use your imagination to conjur up, or a past you may have lived, in a cabin or a house off the grid.

Maybe you’ve noticed how many recent movies and tv shows and books hark back to the old days, good or bad, but on the whole a bit simpler and, may we say, more hopeful?

A couple of friends recently spent a year in New York City, and being native Vermonters, they found themselves culture shocked by the pace of activity, the noise, and – the lights. Always on, inside and out. So they tried an

Book of Non-Electric Lighting

Book of Non-Electric Lighting

experiment. After dark, home from work, they cut the lights and started burning candles. They found it a great way to retreat from the general city frenzy and kindle a hometown Vermont mood in the middle of Manhattan.

Now we’re heading into winter with the economy in the dumpster and who knows what on the horizon. How about a little firelight therapy for these long dark nights?

Maybe I should also mention an offbeat lighting strategy I read about recently. It seems that in Germany and other EU countries, incandescent light bulbs are being phased out. The idea is to encourage, mandate really, the use of compact florescent bulbs, and in the process save the power costs associated with energy hogging incandescents. And reduce carbon output.

The problem is that some folks simply don’t like  compact florescents. Here’s why: break one and you have a toxic cleanup to attend to in order to clean up the mercury in the bulb. They’re also more expensive, and longevity may not be as great as advertized. Along with a difficult breakage cleanup, you even have the disposal problem of an intact bulb requiring careful transportation and location of proper recycling or trash destination.

As far as the light quality goes, many folks don’t like the cold hue of these bulbs. (Museums don’t like them because art works look bad in such light.) In fact, these bulbs are also literally cold compared to the incandescents, which give off a bit of heat, often appreciated during the winter heating season. I read about one fellow in Germany who was so upset about the incandescent prohibition, that he bought 3000 of the old bulbs to insure a lifetime supply of his preferred lights.

We haven’t got a prohibition on incandescents – yet. But  problems with CFLs are real, despite the fact that they cut power consumption. I suggest that if you like warm light, in both color and temperature, and a mercury free product, consider burning a few candles and/or fuel lamps.

Oh, and that flickering light? It turned into a three hour late night outage. Even if I’d had a generator, which I don’t,  I wouldn’t have bothered starting it up. A couple of candles filled in just fine.