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A light in the wilderness

Yesterday after 5 p.m. it was still light enough to chop wood!I measure the ever-extending daylight hours by the decreased frequency with which our…

Yesterday after 5 p.m. it was still light enough to chop wood!

I measure the ever-extending daylight hours by the decreased frequency with which our kerosene lamps have to be refilled.

Although, admittedly, I cheat a bit, often sitting in the darkening cabin and looking out at the lake at dusk, thereby gaining an extra 20 minutes or so before lighting the lamps.

Off-grid people all have their own preferences for light sources in their cabins — propane lights, halogen spotlights and kerosene lamps probably being the most popular ones.

I guess it is a bit late in the season for neophyte cabin dwellers to take much advantage of my past mistakes. The main one in my first winter in the North was to purchase a couple of those rustic looking, railroad-type storm lanterns.

I found out pretty quickly, they produce more fumes than light — the faint glow that they emit being about on par with a lit match.

I still shudder at the memory of those interminable winter nights, crouched down right by the stinky lantern with a book, my eyes a myopic inch or two from the page in the largely wasted effort to read by lamplight.

The eyestrain combined with the strong fumes made for regular headaches, and even being the greenhorn that I was I realized there must be a better way.

A few weeks into the dark season, I bought a couple of oil lamps from somebody, judging them with my vast experience based on the dismal storm lamps to be promising products.

They did indeed produce less mind-numbing fumes and give off a bit more light. But to actually see anything, I still had to maintain almost body contact with them. The fact that the burner and wick-size of an oil lamp are the determining factors of its brightness did not occur to me.

The following winter found me renting a different secluded cabin, this one equipped with propane lights. Revelling in the luxury of being able to see things in the cabin that year, I almost turned into a propane convert.

But as the weeks and months passed, wrestling the propane bottle down the footpath by myself, endlessly replacing the fragile mantles and hearing the constant hissing noise in the background, I eventually thought better of it.

Not so our trapper neighbour out here, whose propane lights are in a slightly scary condition! Luckily we don’t visit him in the dark because whenever we do go over, as we sit and chat, our eyes are inevitably drawn to his globe-less lamps, where the tattered remains of ancient mantles tentatively cling to the light fixture.

 He maintains it is completely safe, and why change a mantle when there are still bits and pieces of it left?

After a short trial period with halogen lights, I decided I didn’t like that system either, since it saw me endlessly exchanging batteries in the truck to keep one charged up for the lights.

Someone then told me about the Aladdin oil lamps, which are ultra-bright thanks to spreading the flame over a mantle, and don’t smell at all while they are burning.

After buying an Aladdin lamp, I became a devotee and we now have a couple of them, plus some other fairly bright and non-smelling oil lamps.

They don’t make a sound, we can put them where we need light, and the not so bright ones still add to the overall light in the cabin (and their more yellow light complements the glare of the Aladdins nicely).

Over the last couple winter, we’ve found the Aladdins to be performing poorly though. Trimming the wick so that it doesn’t create flame spikes is an art in itself, but we had lamps overheat a couple of times and they tend to burn with much sputtering.

Maybe it’s caused by water in the kerosene, we’re not too sure. It has again sent me on the search for a different light source.

I don’t like the idea of running lights off our lone 12-volt battery, having a hate-relationship with the generator. Although, there are now some new 1-watt and- 2-watt LED lights on the market in Europe, which of course would not draw much power.

But they apparently don’t give off enough light to be relied on as the main light source. I hope that in these times of increasing energy efficiency better products will come on the market over the next years.

Until then, I’ll continue to measure out the daylight in lamp fillings.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.