I have come to know darkness as a fact of rural life. When the sun sets over the Green Mountains, ceasing to bathe the lush Vermont landscape in its golden evening light, the darkness of night makes itself abundantly known.
There are no lampposts, porch lights, or headlights here. There are only the fireflies and—on a clear night—the moon and the stars.
As vision succumbs to the limitations of light, the other senses grow mightier. The symphony of coyotes howling, cowbells ringing, and crickets chirping fills your head; the cold, dewy touch of the grass tickles your toes; and the friendly scent of a fire crackling in the distance makes its way into your nose. The nighttime rural landscape in its plentiful darkness is nothing short of magic; and yet I still find myself seeking the familiar comfort of light before going to bed each night. However magnificent the incandescent glow of the Milky Way may be (and magnificent may be too weak a word), it is nice to have some lighting that is more intimate than existential.
A simple olive oil lamp has become a true — in fact, the true — beacon of light in our humble little home this summer. My wife and I (and our cat) live in a seventeen-foot camper, tucked away behind an old barn at Consider Bardwell Farm in southwestern Vermont. Our creature comforts are few, and we live a life in close communion with the land that we farm. When the day is done, and the herd of goats has been milked and put out to pasture, the sunset is not long in arriving. We make the hundred-yard walk from the milk parlor to our camper and get on with our evening ritual, which always involves lighting the only lamp in our home, usually midway through supper.
When we were deciding on a lamp for our camper, we had a few basic needs to be met. It needed to be safe, environmentally friendly, and effective to boot. So, a few days before making our move from Ohio to Vermont, we stopped in at Lehman’s store in Kidron and walked out with a kit for making our own olive oil lamp. We of Greek heritage — who already use olive oil for cooking, baking, and skin care — simply could not resist another use for the crown jewel of oils. And much to our delight, we have since come to know olive oil as a smoke- and odor-free, slow-burning, hypoallergenic and green alternative to petroleum-based lamp fuels. Even better yet, an olive oil lamp self-douses if tipped over: a particular source of comfort when you count a mischievous cat as a member of your family. Fire safety, important in any living space, is particularly of the essence in a camper fueled by propane tanks and surrounded by thick woods.
Among the myriad of DIY projects in our life these days, this one has delivered the most immediate satisfaction and utility for the least amount of effort. It has quickly become a fixture of our rustic little home on wheels: a half-gallon Ball jar with a steel coil dipped inside, a flat inch-thick wick peeking up from the bottom. The steady flame licks away atop a shallow basin of halcyon olive oil. Its radiance fills our dining area each night, offering warmth and intimacy to our surroundings. It is a modest haven in the all-encompassing night; perhaps best suited for a bit of mood lighting or ambiance. For us, though, it is perfect. It is enough. It is a tool that helps us to embrace our new relationship with the rural darkness. For with each passing day, we are learning to truly love the night.