LIghtMar 20, 2024–Man’s fascination with light arcs back to that time he first rubbed two sticks together and created fire.

First, this had to be one amazing guy. Who was that caveman, hulking about in a tiger-skin toga, who looked at a fallen dead limb and thought, I wonder what will happen if I just scrape them together until I get blisters? Before inventing fire, he was probably shunned by his tribe for creating paste as a condiment.

Whoever he was, he sparked the long tradition of man’s quest to discover how to make inert objects explode, hence cherry bombs, gunpowder, propane tanks, and innocent comments to girlfriends.

To this day, mankind is obsessed with coming up with new ways to turn off the dark. We don’t like dark. Sure, it is dangerous. But when it is dark, it is impossible to work on the truck, see how the meat is grilling, or find your way back from the porta-potty.

I become aware of our fascination with light during one of those interminable white elephant gift exchanges, a method of getting through a large family gathering only having to buy one gift, which through a complex set of rules turns what would have been a five-minute exercise into a three-hour excursion into greed, graft, and boredom, especially for adult males. I noticed that while the ladies ooh and aah over window treatments, potpourri, and the fiber arts, guys drool over tools and sharp objects.

But the first gift to be snapped up and fought over every time is any gizmo that lights up. If it has magnets, that’s a bonus.

Light standI once sent my brothers a reversible ratchet screwdriver with a complete set of bits in the handle and a telescoping magnet. They sent their obligatory thanks. But several weeks later, one brother emailed, “YOU MEAN IT HAS A LIGHT, TOO!?” He had just discovered the button on the end of the handle.

Point made.

With the advent of LEDs and portable batteries, “man lights” now come in an astounding array of styles. I most recently picked up a model that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter (another fire-inducing device, now sadly obsolete), and sports a USB port, phone charger, and a flashing white light that will blind a rabid raccoon or summon rescuers.

My son brought home several motion-activated solar-powered LED lights that he hung between our back porch and the barn. Now when I walk out to feed the chickens, the lights follow me as if I was strolling through the spinning space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But my favorite light combines LEDs, magnets, and remote control. I was helping stow equipment in an unlit storage unit one dark night, when I announced, “I have a better way.”

I went to my truck and slapped a portable spotlight on the roof. It could be remotely maneuvered 360 degrees horizontally and 90 degrees vertically. Voila! We lit up the night like a Queen concert in 1985. Holding so many lumens in your fingertips is like playing a Bach cantata on a Tracker organ.

Light stickWhere will this focus on light lead?

The secret of useful illumination is in directing it to the right spot. No one needs aircraft landing lights shining through their bedroom window, or a misaligned sign spotlight blinding drivers on Hwy 16 south of Fredericksburg (this is a real thing). While mankind will never totally defeat darkness, thanks to LEDs, rechargeable batteries, and strategically placed magnets, he is no longer limited to just cursing it.