Jessie Raymond: Bright lights ruining restful nights


Our recent kitchen renovation included installing a double set of glass doors that allow us to sit at the table and look out over the backyard. But now that it’s getting dark earlier, we can’t see anything in the evenings.

So I thought for the holidays I’d get us a 30-foot strand of solar-powered lights — the kind with golf-ball-sized clear bulbs set a foot apart, like you might see strung across barn rafters at a country wedding reception or illuminating a Christmas tree lot in a Hallmark movie. I’d run the lights from the porch across part of the yard, and they’d give the snow-covered trees a romantic glow.

Then I remembered that, at least here in the northern hemisphere, solar batteries aren’t at their best in December. Around the solstice, when we could most use the lights, the sun rarely shines long enough, or strong enough, to generate much power.

I decided I’d better hang the lights now.

I was so close to having a Pinterest-worthy scene. (If you don’t know, Pinterest is a sort of online mood board where you can “pin” internet photos of elegant homes yours will never measure up to.)

The lights arrived a couple of days ago, and I was just unpacking them when Mark walked in and saw them. His timing was perfect.

While he had no interest in my backyard Pinterest fantasy, he cannot stand my improvised, haphazard approach to projects, or what he calls, in Vermont-speak, “cobbing things together.”

“What are you doing with those?” he asked, more out of suspicion than curiosity.

Twirling a hammer, I explained that I was going to stand on a kitchen chair, or maybe the gas grill, strap the solar panel to a corner of the back porch and run the attached lights diagonally back to the house. I’d secure the end by nailing it to the siding, or something.

His jaw tightened, and I cheered silently; this was his job now. Striding toward the shop, muttering something about people who won’t do things the proper way, he retrieved a ladder and various power tools and began putting up the lights.

He hadn’t seen my inspiration photos, but his execution came a lot closer to them than mine would have. (I had been planning to rely heavily on duct tape, which is not Pinterest-approved.)

Once he got the lights up, however, we couldn’t tell whether they would automatically come on at dark. The panel had two buttons: On/Off and Mode. The website said the lights had seven modes, but I only wanted one: lit. And with just a push button, how could we tell “on” from “off”?

I consulted the instructions, which were printed in 3-point type on a trifold flier the size of a dollar bill. Opposite a long list of cryptic electrical specs, the text advised only to install the lights, and I quote, “in an environment that has long sunshine time” and to periodically “clean sundries and dirt on the solar panel.”

So when, like magic, the bulbs lit up at nightfall, I gasped in surprise. I half-expected to see a father-daughter dance break out underneath them. They were beautiful.

I changed my opinion at 2 a.m., however, when we were awoken by lights flashing outside our bedroom window.

At first, I thought they might belong to a police car at a traffic stop. But these lights were coming from behind the house, so unless the cops had pulled over a speeder in our backyard, it was unlikely.

And then we remembered the new lights. I figured their homey glow would gradually fade out by dawn. Instead, they had begun flickering with migraine-inducing rapidity.

It was still dark when I got up a few hours later, and the lights hadn’t quit. I sat with my coffee and looked out the glass doors. The bulbs blinked irregularly, but in unison, like a line of synchronized fireflies practicing Morse code.

My right eye twitched.

After two nights of this, I can say I love how the lights look in the evening, but when they go haywire after midnight, my nerves get jangled. And I’m worried the strobe effect will make roosting songbirds in our yard have seizures.

The last thing I want is to wake up and see stunned sparrows scattered all over the lawn.

The birds will be fine, I assume. But it’s not a good Pinterest look.

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