Little Tricks and Wooden Matches

Little Tricks and Wooden Matches

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.

Today I heard on the radio that the people in Point Barrow have seen their last sunrise and sunset for the year. Not until late next January will they see real daylight again. For them, it must be a sobering way of marking time – kind of a tough fact of life in their arctic winter. Yet, knowing how people are, I’m sure those folks up there must find some pretense or other to mark this day with some sort of celebration.

I would bet, however, that the day the sun returns will find them filled with a far more genuine spirit of optimism; if there is anything to cheer a warm-blooded body, it is warmth and light. Until that time, their dark struggles with cold-soaked machinery and fossil fuels and life in general will surely require a lot of jumping up and down and blowing on the hands. Of course, in these modern times of prefabricated houses and diesel generators, personal comfort is pretty much guaranteed so long as the engineers keep the machines running. What a different reality from not so long ago when the only heat, aside from body heat, and the only light, emanated from a soapstone lamp filled with seal oil, and those who huddled around it did so in houses built of snow and ice! I can well imagine that people faced with such circumstances would grasp at any excuse for celebration and must have devised all kinds of optimistic ways of viewing their circumstances.

We, in Maine, have it much better, but still there are some who have a bit of trouble with the shortening days, who turn on all their lights, who early on in winter immerse themselves in the solstice celebration. And why not? Seekers of warmth and light, we are by nature bound to those happy signs of life. We play our music, gather greens and light candles in the windows. So what if they are but little tricks to help us deal with winter? They certainly work, and cheer us up, and that is the point of all such things.

In this same vein is a recollection I have of an old man I knew who lived by himself in a small cabin. On one occasion, he launched into a great discourse on how he felt he had everything a man could need or should ever want. As he did so, he waved his hands toward the shelves of canned goods, the sacks of potatoes, the door to the woodshed (which I knew was full to the rafters), and even the cat curled up on his lap where he sat by the woodstove.

“But you know?” He said. “The one thing that really pleases me – and it may sound silly – is that big box full of matches hanging there on the chimney. I know that every spark of fire I need to get me through is right there in that box. Every fire I light, every evening’s lamp, every pipe of tobacco – they’re all right there in that box. Now there’s a happy thought. I keep it chock right full.”

fire in a stone fireplace

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.