A small flame in a wide, dark night has magic in it. When the sun sets early, and the wind blows down from Canada, a candle flame feels small and human. We still light them. We still carve goblin faces into pumpkins, like the Celts, after all this time.
We still light candles. And in this season I’m wondering who the Berkshires still makes them.
So I’m looking for candles. Exploring Vermont on a fall day, I think of Grandma Moses saving her jam jars to hold paint brushes, and I remember that she grew up in a time when most families in the country made their own light, as they made their own cloth and saved every rag until it wore out, because they knew how long it took to make more.
Now, one night in a cabin reminds me how much light is worth. It’s easy to take for granted here and now. When I write this tonight at my desk under flouresence, I can forget what time it is. The light appears at a touch and seems as natural as air.
But right now, at 9 p.m. on a late October night, darkness is natural. This glare takes a lot of work to keep up. A candle reminds me of that.
Coming into a dark cabin and lighting the six kerosene lamps, one by one, reminds me of that. The room is pitch dark, groping into the table and knocking against the chairs dark. You have to light the first lamp by feel. You cup the fragile glass chimney and ease it from the base, and turn hold the match to the wick, and turn the knob to adjust it so the flame won’t flicker and smoke.
And when you have lighted five lamps, you will be able to see a foot or two of the table top. You may have enough light to read by. You have pushed the dark backward a few inches at a time, and it still holds the corners.
I remember then how hard it is to make light. I remember why for most of history families have gone to sleep with the sun — in many times and places, according to the historian A. Roger Ekirch, people often fell asleep soon after sunset, woke in the small hours for an hour or two, and then slept again until morning. In those waking hours they might interpret dreams, or write poetry, or hold someone.
Yo soy la candela
Shire Fire Candle Co. offers handmade soy candles with seasonal scents. (Fall brings pumpkin spice and apple cider doughnut and more …)
Soma’s Aromas in Pittsfield and Berkshire Candle create their own soy candles, Soma with a shop in Pittsfield, and Berkshire Candle by hand in small batches with scents of herbs and fruit and flowers, black current and jasmine, rosemary and sage … some resting in wooden bowls.
And up north I’ve often found beeswax votive and shaped candles at Cricket Creek Farm
An earlier version of this story first ran in the Eagle in October 2013, in my time as Berkshires Week editor, and I’ve updated it here as I’ve explored for new local makers. The original story ended with questions, and they’re alive for me today. Do the beeswax votives at Lakeview Orchards and Cricket Creek come from here? Does the candle maker who used to come to the Great Barrington Farmers Market still make hand-dipped tapers with herbs in the wax? Please tell me that brilliant idea still shines here somewhere. And does the Berkshire Candle Company still exist?