Monday, August 30, 2010
For most of us, candles are reserved for romantic dinners, aromatherapy, or as part of an emergency supply. But for my cousin Peter, this is standard lighting, other than whatever sunrays shine through the windows at his home in Eugene, Oregon. Long before anyone even thought of the term "carbon footprint," Peter chose to reduce his electrical use to a bare minimum, using homemade beeswax candles for light, cooking on an open fire in a Weber grill, and eschewing all plug-in appliances except for a corded rotary phone. He also prefers to remain car free, walking wherever necessary, which means his lifestyle is concentrated in a five-mile radius of downtown Eugene.
We stayed with him one night on our way north this summer, ate grapes and enjoyed conversation in the flickering light. There are no LED lights blinking on the periphery of the room, no computer screen or TV begging for attention. Without all the plug-ins, the background hum that normally permeates modern buildings is absent. The house is distinctively quiet.
Peter is quite happy with candlelight, reading and writing prodigiously each day as he researches genealogy, translates foreign texts, and studies oncological reports, obsessions that eclipse even his Luddite eccentricities. Beeswax candles, he says, are preferable to paraffin, spewing fewer toxic chemicals into the air he breathes, and certainly more benign than kerosene lanterns. Even though he is still influenced by the lights of the city, he feels more attuned to natural diurnal and seasonal cycles, which he feels is important to overall health.
Writing in the blare and hum of digital light at my computer screen, I contemplate whether I could do without electric lights. What if I chose to abandon this machine, light a candle, use a pad of paper and a pen instead? Get up at sunrise and go to sleep at nightfall, abandon my insomniac bouts of reading and writing? I could even hone my own quills from goose feathers I've collected, make ink from mesquite sap, revive my cursive skills and burn some of the lamp oil still on reserve under my kitchen sink from Y2K. (True!)
Although I doubt I could sustain those practices by choice for very long, even when camping-for that I have a battery-powered headlamp-we do choose to light candles each night at the dinner table. The flames remind me of what is essential in life, to slow down, enjoy the meal, and share with family and friends. What more do we really need?