In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter solstice

Soon will come the moment when the earth, like a spinning top, leans as far away from the sun as it can. But then, in that deepest of darkness, the world will begin again to wobble toward the light. It will be nothing but the tiniest of shifts. We won’t be able to observe its effects right away, except for an incremental lengthening of the days, each one by a minute or two. But already, at the very beginning of winter, the subtle mechanics of spring will have been laid down.

When we lived in the city the solstice passed without our notice. Light was everywhere, not just at home, but on the streets and in the buildings, and the lights of Christmas added color and sparkle to the ordinary nightly light – houses and streets and trees and shop windows glowing. But here we feel it when the light begins to fade at mid-afternoon. At night we look out the windows into a darkness broken only by scattered lights of solitary houses across the harbour, and the red gleam of a cell tower out on Route 103. When a late lobster boat comes in from the ocean, heading toward Gunning Cove, its strong floodlight cuts across the darkness, and we watch it go by.  

There were old kerosene lamps all over the house when we first arrived, the only source of light in those pre-electricity days. There were dozens of them, hanging on the walls and sitting on doilies on the tables and on top of the old pump organ. We cleaned up the best of them and ordered paraffin-based lamp oil from the hardware store, not wanting the soot and smell of kerosene.

Oil lamps come with intricate parts, but I have had a wonderful guide to them. When Greg was a little boy he collected old ones, and ordered necessary replacement parts from Old Sturbridge Village, one of his favourite boyhood haunts. He grew up in Northern California among the moderns but both sides of his family were New Englanders, and his heart was in another age, even then. So I have been in excellent hands when it comes to learning about the clever internal mechanism for drawing up the wick.  

We have electric lamps now, thanks to the mysterious conversion of wind and sun into energy. But oil lamps have provided light to this old house since it was built. So taking care of them has become a part of our lives, like chopping wood or baking bread or washing dishes or hanging clothes on the line. We are grateful that the oil lamps are not essential. Living here through the winter without electricity must have been one urgent chore after another, and uncomfortable, too. But they are a connection with the past, and they are beautiful. And so this first winter evening, as darkness falls, we will set the oil lamps aglow, and remember that we are wobbling toward light.

No comments: