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Illumination

A personal essay included in the inspirational anthology entitled Sacred Fire, edited by Maril Crabtree, published by Adams Media (2005).

      Have you ever found the ideal setting in which you can become completely introspective, in which to concentrate and create? Now, as I consciously call forth the image of fire, I remember all the times of reading and learning by the light of flaming logs and burning wicks.

      I recall studying for college courses and exams more deeply and fruitfully while sitting by a fire, when regular light and electronic distractions of television or radio might have tormented me to give up. Of couse, studying at my university's library was practical and I made use of it while I was on campus, hunching over mounds of books and occasionally greeting friends. On the days when I was home, two hours north and nestled in the woods, I studied in far different surroundings.

      My parents and I lived in our cabin in upstate New York. What this small home offered in beauty and solitude, it also lacked in amenities. An older generator ran our power and we did not want to tax it into collapse. With this in mind, our evening light often came from burning mantles of Coleman lanterns or blazing logs on the hearth.

      Since the only fireplace was in the living room, the stillness of those academic evenings was enhanced by my parents' stillness as they shared the same light. While the practicality of sitting close to the fire for the best light is obvious, this closeness also caused my family to remain in each other's presence longer and more often than when we lived in our other homes with easy access to electric lights in different rooms. This circumstance enabled me to ask my father for help with his expertise, history. It allowed my mother to find out what I was studying and borrow my books.

      As I sat with my books in front of the fire, I wanted nothing more. The light was not all around me incidentally like lamplight affected by a careless flip of a switch; it was a concentrated light whose wood fuel I had laid and nurtured over the hours. Its glow varied, but never wavered. It yielded a soft, pulsing light that did not distort the words on my pages, but lay across them like a blanket. I felt the warmth of the flames brush against me and was aware of the darkness at the edge of my small place on the couch.

      In this cocoon of light, I read and studied, focusing on nothing but the moment and the subject at hand. The flames danced and drew me only far enough away to rest my eyes or analyze a thought. The smoke settled in my clothes and smelled better to me than any perfume. The chimney stones were arranged in a careful order and fit togtether like numbered journals in open stacks. The colors of the flames replaced the muted tones of the books' dust jackets

      Undergraduate subjects like Roman history or Greek mythology, which did not usually hold my interest and caused me to figet, were easier to grasp somehow in this setting. A kind of letting go of self and an embrace of intuitive understanding let the words flow to my eyes and around my head, unanalyzed and accepted. then they settled into a practical, intellectual whole in such a way that dates, terms and names affixed themselves accordingly

      Lengthy reads such as works by Chaucer, in Middle English with no modern translations, consumed nights that had no other obligations. There was no late movie to catch or video to watch before its due date. If someone were to sit me down and review my range of knoweldge, they would find that I could recall most easily those things that I questioned, confronted, and learned in the light of this meager cabin's hearth.

      It has been a number of years since we lived Upstate full time. My family and I have since moved into "normal" houses with all the amenities, using traditional lamps, overhead lighting, and all things electric. I've completed my school work and hold a master's degree, officially in Irish literative, unofficially in the art of alternative light sources and study environments, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. We have kept the cabin, though, and I still visit it often for a strong dose of what I call the "pioneer spirit."

      I spend evenings by the fire in a meditative state, sitting for hours. Sometimes I enjoy the peaceful productivity of devouring the longest, most intense read I can get my hands on. Had I not enjoyed the comfort of firelight in my scholarly pursuits, I would never have been so enriched.

 

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