MY OWN PLEASANT slide back into the past started with a gurgle, then a whoosh, expanded by a spark, resulting in a bright glow and subtle roar. Followed by a distinct warm/fuzzy feeling all over.

The lighting of the first Coleman white gas lantern I’d renovated myself, top to bottom, was a thrill in terms of doing something right, restoring a 50-year-old item to its former glory — and not blowing myself up in the process.

During the pandemic, many people are finding comfort in nostalgia. Being cooped up at home, many have turned to hobbies and interests from years ago.
Pinball, muscle cars and playing guitar. We’re looking for pre-pandemic hobbies to make us feel better.

But the comforting sight, sound and smell of a burning lantern mantle, I realized later, was a lot more than that: It took me back to my youth, camping with family members around the Northwest. It qualifies as a classic engagement in nostalgia — looking back and re-exploring emotions from a past time.

For me, it’s also a link: I’m still a camper, and on outings these days, I bring along three or four good old friends to make light, and cast memories, about our campsites.

Lantern fiddling quickly turned into one of my most-enjoyable hobbies. I now collect, restore and often light up a fleet of many dozen old lanterns (precise numbers of which I am sort of afraid to tally, for marital-maintenance reasons). In my case, the hobby started long before the pandemic days — five or six years ago. It probably was, at least partly, a response to wistful feelings about the breakneck pace of change in lifestyle in the Northwest.

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That feeling seems to be shared by many longtime local residents, and it seems to have created ample nostalgic energy around the Sound even before the pandemic hit. But stay-at-home orders added an additional, powerful layer of nostalgia temptation.

Over the past year, our preexisting local nostalgia waves seem to have been supercharged, and countless new ones launched. In my case, the effects are tangible — and not welcome: a surge in demand for old lanterns and their parts, reflected in skyrocketing prices for unique, suddenly valued older objects.

Others have reported the same in their own fields of interest. Traffic on online discussion boards and swap sites for vintage goods, activities and hobbies has leapt during the past year, and shows few signs of slowing.

We decided to scrape beneath the rust of that topic, exploring the psychological switches operated in good and bad ways by engaging in nostalgia, and cataloging some of the ways it has been manifesting itself with readers. Our invitation for submissions about nostalgic hobbies was rewarded with a flood of enthusiastic responses, for which we are grateful.

Those initial submissions led to a number of conversations with readers about what they’re up to, where they’ve been, and where the two things meet up in new or renewed hobbies. Most of these demonstrate the urge — and, yes, value, experts say — of looking back, through the rear-facing lens of what psychologists say is a longstanding human bittersweet coping tool: nostalgic thought.

It was a pleasure discussing those subjects with readers, and the conversations formed the basis for this week’s cover story.

So take a look at what your friends and neighbors are doing to keep in touch with past people, places, proclivities and, most important, communities of like-minded individuals.

And please, don’t Bogart all those nice old Coleman Silk-Lite lantern mantles — the good ones, that are (slightly) radioactive. They don’t make them like that anymore, and every lighting of one is a small sacrifice, in every sense. Here’s hoping our poking around in the art of looking back brings a bit of sunshine into your night.