Monday, February 11, 2008

Stepping back in time

I went with Laura to Robin's to work the youngsters yesterday. The day was extremely windy--to the point where they had "red flag" warnings out (which means, don't even throw a cigarette out the car window for fear of starting a fire). I was sad to see as we crossed over Falls Lake that despite the rain we've gotten in the past month or two that the lakebed was still mostly dry. That doesn't bode well for the coming growing season....

But back to the wind. I got home around 4:30 to find that we had no electricity. So I hurried to get all the chores--inside and outside--done before dark. Then I got out one of my antique kerosene lambs (now with lamp oil instead of kerosene) and lit it as the sun went down. I sat on the couch for a while, reading by the light of that lamp, and it brought back memories of my childhood.

We were on a farm in the country, and our electric lines were a spur off the main line, serving just our property and the farm behind us. Whenever the lights went out, we were always among the last to have service restored since our line only "fed" two families. Kerosene lamps were a mainstay during thunderstorm season, and also for the occasional winter storm that would knock the power out. I can remember doing homework by kerosene lamplight on many occasions. It's not easy to see in such low light, but it's better than no light at all, and has more charm and lasting power than any flashlight.

But reading by kerosene lamp does tend to make me sleepy. I don't know if it's the warmth that comes off the glass chimney, the soft quality of light that casts shadows on the page, or the strain of trying to read small print in low light, but last night it happened to me again. I kept checking my watch and thinking "It's way too early to think about bed." But eventually I couldn't resist any longer, so I picked up my lamp and headed for the bedroom. It was just 8 o'clock, but really there isn't much one can do in the dark, and I was running low on lamp oil anyway, so I decided to take the "early to bed" option and crawl beneath the covers.

I did set the alarm for midnight, though, because I figured there was no way the dogs were going to adjust to such an abrupt change in their routine (normal bedtime is 2-3 hours later). The "early to rise" part just comes naturally when you're early to bed, and so I was up bright and early this morning, back in the electric world (the power had returned around midnight). I have to admit, though, that it's something of an adventure to be without power (as long as you're not in the middle of a raging hurricane or blizzard), and spending some time that way can be a good reminder of what life was like in the past, before electricity in every house--back when days on the farm really were tied to the actual length of the day. It's sort of a cozy and insulated-from-the-world feeling, and even out here in the country, the stars seem even more glorious without the light pollution from the inevitable street light in every barnyard.

Oh, and the book I was reading? Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. It's the story of the love affair between Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright (both of whom were married to someone else) in the early 1900s after Wright had built a home for Mamah and her husband Edwin. It's fiction, a historical novel, but the author has tried to stay as close to the facts as she can. Obviously one can't know the whole story since the main characters are long dead, and of course that's where the fiction part of historical fiction comes in. This is Horan's first work, and so far I am quite taken with it.

1 comment:

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

It seems like every time the wind blows, the power goes off at our house! And living in northern Nevada, that is a lot :) We have two oil lamps that hang in sconces on the wall; the sconce has a reflective disk on the back to increase the light from the lamp. We are glad of them and use them often. I keep telling everyone in the house they all need to learn how to spin, sooo easy by lamp light :)