The cozy yellow lamp light in our cabin has become supplemented with the cold white glow (can’t really call it a glare) of LED bulbs. Earlier this summer, I had bought a set of three LED “puck lights” that are designed to be installed under kitchen cabinets and meant to provide a fairly diffuse, soft light.
It was the tiny amount of power these lights use that attracted my attention: just under one watt per puck. Each puck sports 12 little LED bulbs. With our meagre power supply, especially in the winter through the solar panel, it seemed perfect for our needs. Since our eyes are long used to rather dim kerosene lamps and candle light, I thought the LED lamps would be quite bright in comparison and would make dandy reading lights.
Over the past few weeks, it finally got dark early enough to find out if I had bought a dud or not. The trouble with living without road access is that exchanging things that don’t work is often hard because town trips are so infrequent. But the first test was very promising: each little round lamp cast a bright white light. And so I set to work to cobble together a reading lamp out of one of the LED pucks: a driftwood stick to which I wired the light with one of those little garbage bag ties. The stick wedged in between the back cushions of our couch directs the light right onto the page of a book, the laptop keyboard or into the room. What more can a person ask for?
Many more things, according to Sam, who just laughed when he saw my high-tech, low-tech reading lamp contraption. Admittedly, the stick does keep leaning forward gently until it suddenly surrenders to gravity and falls onto my shoulder or the couch, but that happens only when I wiggle around too much. With another stick mounted at an angle behind the couch and my lamp-stick screwed to it, the backwoods LED puck reading lamp system should work beautifully, I think.
We are real misers when it comes to power consumption and always keep a critical eye on the charge controller that displays the battery voltage. So it fills my heart with incredible glee to now sit in the evenings and read a book without suffering any eyestrain, and seeing the battery charge drop by only 0.1V while one light is plugged in, and then rebound to pretty much where it had been before when the light is turned off.
So far, we’ve been plugging in only one of the three lights, with Sam still using his headlamp for reading as in the good old days of dim lighting. We still light one oil lamp or candle to be able to actually see something in other parts of the cabin, since the one little LED puck light doesn’t provide enough illumination for the entire place, but I expect our kerosene consumption to drop dramatically this winter.
I do like the yellow light of oil lamps for nostalgic reasons. It makes for such a cozy atmosphere and seems so fitting for a log cabin tucked away in the woods. There is something special about staring into a flame that no light bulb will evoke. And, until a couple of years ago, the much brighter Aladdin lamps provided us with ample light for reading. But for still undiscovered reasons, they developed a habit of nasty flame spikes and temperamental overheating, so we’ve hardly been using them now. And as much as I like kerosene lamps, I am glad we are able to now cut down on this product of the petroleum industry.
It’s not the price of kerosene that concerns me but the environmental degradation involved in oil drilling and refining. The old ways of backwoods living aren’t necessarily all that easy on the planet and while constantly upgrading to the newest shiny gadget makes no sense, a closer look at some of the good technological innovations can be a big step forward.
And so, slowly but surely, we’ve modernized our home a bit more. First, there was the solar panel and battery, the satellite internet and laptop, and now we’ve embraced high-tech lighting, even if the fixture needs a bit more work.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon
River south of Whitehorse.