I often write letters, pay bills, read books, hand-write articles and copy quotes by candlelight. I have four of the kind of candle holders that you can carry from room to room; one was a gift from dear, dear Esther Bronson, God rest her soul, rosemaled by her own hand; two I bought at the Fort Atkinson Rendezvous (two different years), and one at a garage sale.
Oh yes, I certainly use the electric overhead lights, especially if I’m baking (tough to see whether the recipe says ¼ or ½ teaspoon otherwise), but I love candlelight best, all fall and winter, not just for Advent and Christmas. There’s something so peaceful about it.
We lost something when we went to all electric, all the time. Moving slowly, for one thing. It’s difficult to run with a lit candle. The flame flickers so, as if crying out, “Slow down! You’re melting me too fast! I’ll go out!” Gentleness; a deepening of mellowness; respect for the dark: I associate all these things with candles.
When you gently puff out a taper, you should puff from your belly, quickly, shortly, and slightly open-mouthed, with one hand cupped behind the flame, because if you blast out like an air cannon, or like a trumpet player without a trumpet (as we do when we blow out our birthday cake candles), you’ll end up with wax all over.
Before learning how to blow out candles properly, I became expert at getting wax off things. Unfortunately, the top of my chest of drawers was a casualty in that learning process. (A word to the wise: the brown-paper-bag-and-hot-iron technique does not work on wood.) Beeswax candle wax is stickier and harder to remove. Puffing out a candle situated above you is almost impossible.
I love the little orange ember that glows on the tip of the wick for a moment or two after you puff out a candle; it’s like a gentle good-night kiss of light, or like a friend that lifts a hand in farewell one last time, far in the distance. If I turn on the electric lights before the ember fades to black, I love watching the slender streamlet of smoke that winds its way upward from the wick; a double-ribbon of visible air twining around, undulating and swaying up and up, like dye in water does, down and down. If I puff out all the candles on the table at once, the further up the smoke lines go toward the ceiling, the more closely they turn ‘round and fold in on themselves, until they look like a soft cloud of ghostly curls.
I never leave a taper burning where I can’t see it, and I turn the furnace down far enough so that it won’t kick on; otherwise, the forced air from the vents will blow the flames sideways. I never forget that, for all their beauty, candles are just tiny bits of fire, and fire, like many beautiful things of nature, is dangerous.
Strange how so many of the things we harness for our convenience are deadly: fire, wind, water, gas, nuclear energy. If we ever harness stupidity, the deadliest and most inexhaustible of all human resources, we’ll be set for the next several thousand years.
There are some great quotes about candles, but my favorite one is from Proverbs (20:27): “The soul of man is the candle of God.”
In an effort to placate the urgings of my conscience – OK, make that the dictates of my screaming compulsion - to eliminate flaws from my writing (and occasionally from other people’s too, I’m afraid), here is a correction of an error in my article of Feb. 2 (“Primer on small towns for big-city folk - continued”): Point nine should have referred to four manifestations of politeness, not three. I had changed my copy without changing the newspaper’s. Apologies.
I cannot fire the White House’s Temporary Occupant; I cannot stop climate change single-handedly; but there is a story of a little sparrow who, upon learning that the sky was about to fall, flopped on his back and stuck his feet straight up in the air. When someone stopped to ask the little sparrow why he was lying on the ground like that, the sparrow replied, “The sky is going to fall.” The person laughed and laughed, and said, “And you think your puny little legs can hold up the sky?” The sparrow replied, “One does what one can.”
Carelessness in writing leads to sloppiness in thinking, which in turn leads eventually to the existence of people who are capable of using the phrase “alternative facts” without choking to death. One does what one can.