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Friday, December 19, 2008

Just enough willpower

A chill has settled upon our landscape

[risa] I thought I would be going to work today, but during the morning hours it didn't look like the few drivers were all that comfy with what they were doing, so, bearing in mind the five-car pileup and assorted crashes all week, I called in to work and self-declared a snow day. I live the farthest away of any of us, and higher elevation, too, so this was not unexpected.

But now what? The next thing on my chore list was to dig elephant garlic bulbs and spread them around in the new beds, but -- unh unh.

Beloved didn't have work today, either, except to go and help Last Son with his shopping, which would be safer to do in the afternoon -- so we did our favorite thing, which is to sit by the fire, drink coffee, and "solve the world's problems."

As this had started around 5:30 a.m., however, there was only so much more we could do of that. So she dressed for barnyard and went to take care of her poultry, and I dressed for crawling and took on the attic, something I'd left off the list for a couple of months.

My insulation supplies, Arrow tacker, and trouble lamp were already there, so it was simply a matter of finding my mask, gloves, hoodie, ladder, and just enough willpower. It's a tiny space, about eighteen inches high mostly, rising to a ridgeline of about thirty inches in the center, and dark as sin. The trick is to inch along between the joists, drag a bunch of stuff as far as you can reach, rest, inch along some more, and then flop over a joist without getting your feet tangled up in the knee braces of all the trusses, which come along every four feet or so, then repeat, till you get where you're going. You can't easily get the trouble lamp to where it's wanted, so you do all this with a LED flashlight tucked into a headband under the side of your hoodie hood. Also a long pole for shoving things into corners you can't otherwise easily reach.

It's cold up there (a good sign), yet when you rest the next time a bead of sweat comes skiing down your nose, hesitates for an itchy moment, and drips down onto the insulation. Every now and then something decides to roll away just out of reach -- you preach at it --

"No. Hey, now, NO. There was NO NEED to do that -- rggghhh -- fehhh -- "

"You okay up there?"

"-- Meh? Mmh-hmm, don't mind me -- " inch along, grab the item, swear at it once more for good measure, inch along.

Actually, when I'm up, we can't often or easily communicate directly. I've taken to carrying the cell phone and we call each other up if I need checking on, or want something, or there's some other emergency down there in the world of life and light.

I'm putting in three ninety minute shifts of that today -- one to go. I'm home alone at the moment, so am doing other chores in the interim. We've agreed I won't do crawl spaces with no one else home.

Chore number one is to paint gallon jugs black, for stashing near tomatoes and the like, filled with water, next summer. The idea is that they will soak up sunlight by day and rebroadcast the heat by night, to give the plants a leg up on the season.

Chore number two is to clean kerosene lamps and chimneys, trim wicks, and refill the reservoirs.

When we homesteaded in the Coast Range, back in the distantly receding Seventies, light was an issue. Our place was more than a quarter of a mile from the valley's main road, and the utility company would have charged us a fortune to line in to us. The telephone co-op did not have this policy, so we had a phone in very short order, but the house we built never had electric service.

We had a wood cook stove, a propane refrigerator, and a propane stove and two propane lamps cannibalized from an old travel trailer, one Aladdin lamp, assorted candles, about ten 15-watt twelve-volt lamps, and four kerosene lamps.

Of all of these, we were fondest of the kerosene lamps -- still are. They have been handed down in my mom's family for several generations, and they don't look like the ones you see in the stores now -- each one's base is a heavy, yet graceful, blown-glass bell, rising to the reservoir at about six inches, and the brass collar, stouter than those now available, lifts the lit wick up to a height of twelve inches above the table surface.

These are the lamps you see in movie Westerns, being lit by the actress just as the studio lights brighten to many thousands of times the candlepower of the actual lamp.

The things certainly don't throw much light to sew by, but, if you've avoided the colored and scented oil sold in housewares at Wal-Mart, and trimmed the wick cleanly on a gentle, balanced curve, like trimming a fingernail, and washed the chimney, and, after lighting, replaced the chimney promptly and then set the wick high enough to burn brightly, but not so high as to soot up the chimney, you can read by it. (More on maintenance here.)

If, as we do nowadays, you have utility power, well, you have enough lighting options not to need such lamps very often. But we get power outages here, sometimes up to twelve hours. I once went through three weeks without power during a particularly vicious ice storm in north Georgia. So we keep the old lamps clean, filled and handy, along with several newer ones.

Mind you, the air gets pretty unhealthy if you run these lamps a lot. Think of them as a way to get through the necessary bits of the evening, then get into your nightgowns, reach around behind each lamp, cup your hand, and blow it out -- then go snuggle in bed together like any self-respecting winter-bound critters.

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