Lighthouse Mornings

As a lighthouse keeper, it’s my favorite time of day.  Up with the sun, I relish the quiet mornings before visitors arrive.  Each day is different, entirely at the whim of the weather.  This year was a perfect example, as my journal proves.

Day 1
It wouldn’t be a Crisp Point morning without my perch on the beach, tower looming overhead, waves pulsing and wind stirring the damp air.  With coffee thermos mug at hand and charred camp-stove toast slathered in peanut butter, I’m ready to put pen to paper.

Just being out here is an unexpected treat.  With rain beating our tent all night and a dismal forecast this didn’t seem possible.  But the downpour ceased with our sleep and the south wind brought warm breezes. I’m wearing three layers of clothes on this September morning feeling grateful.

Crisp Point beach writing

Light wisps of clouds skitter by below the more stationery cloud cover.  Cracks in that shield reveal patches of blue sky, more than I thought I’d see all day.  Lake Superior makes her own weather.  I drink in the scene and write.  The old fashioned way.

Day 2
Waves crash against the shore just as they have done all night long.  The white pulses against the sand regenerate, again and again, changing the shoreline moment by moment.  The sandy beach I walked yesterday has been reclaimed by the water, reaching high on shore.  Lake Superior has claimed all but 3 of the 15 acres that surrounded the lighthouse 115 years ago.  And still it seeks to alter the landscape, to sculpt its border.  I turn my footsteps in the opposite direction for this morning’s outing.

On my return, I climb the tower, seeking shelter from the wind.  I know a tall stool stands inside the windows at the top, nestled against the modern LED lamp.  The air is damp, the view obscured by fog.  Unlatching the doors to the catwalk, I press them open.  Fresh breezes and the drumming of the waves sneak inside, gradually clearing the view and my thoughts.

Crisp Point tower view

Day 3
“Is there any sunlight?”

“I doubt it, the skies were cloudy at 5:15am.  Wait! There’s a break in the clouds and a ribbon of light.  We might get a sunrise after all!”

That’s all it takes to jettison us from our tent into the predawn hour.  Already orange hues stripe the horizon and the clouds’ underbellies blush in pink.  I rush for my camera – teeth unbrushed, haystack hair, my eyes thick with morning gunk.  There is not a moment to lose.  Rich, of course, is out well ahead of me, already poised behind his tripod.

Crisp Point is picturesque in all conditions, but sunrise and sunset are when it truly shines.  So far we have been denied these sublime moments by persistent clouds and fully anticipated being skunked this year.  But maybe not!

Single minded and on a mission, Rich doggedly pursues angles, hones his focus, searches – and finds – exquisite vantage points.  In contrast, I point and shoot.  Change a setting here, try an artsy shot there.  But really, I’m out there for the display.  To see it with my eyes, not a lens.

Crisp Point sunrise

The vivid colors are certainly a draw, and evade my amateur shots.  It’s the flip side of the show I find more captivating.  It’s not the sun that’s the star, it’s the light it paints.

The dim shadow of the tower comes to life as a warm glow travels up its majestic height.  Bathed in morning gold, it emits a warmth unmatched by its small beacon.  The ephemeral effect is all the more alluring for the shortness of its life.  I drink in the moment.

Crisp Point sunrise glow

Crisp Point through driftwood

It is a final gift.  A fond farewell on our last Crisp Point morning.  Until next year.

Yooperlites

“There’s one!”

“Oh, that’s a really good one.”

“Here, your turn.”

“Wait, shine that light back over here.”

“Yes! Look at it glow!”

“Yea! Yippee! We found one!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun in the dark. Giddy with our success, Rich and I press on, sweeping the flashlight over the rocks on the beach.

“Oh, another one!”

We would still be huddled by our evening campfire had it not been for a series of fortuitous coincidences.

Checking in with our contact for Crisp Point Lighthouse prior to our stint as Keepers, she alerted us to the fact that there had been frequent late night visitors this year. “They’re looking for Yooperlites,” she told us. It went right over our heads. We had no idea what she was talking about, but appreciated the heads-up.

Crisp Point map

Crisp Point Lighthouse 2019

Arriving for duty, I scanned the updated layout of merchandise in the Visitor Center taking in the new inventory. Passing the table of scrapbooks and resource books, the words jumped out at me. Yooperlites were featured on the front of the Mineral News newsletter. And my education began.

Just last year a gentleman began selling unique rocks he collected from Lake Superior’s shore in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Looking perfectly ordinary in daylight, in the dark these stones emit a brilliant orange glow under UV light. He marketed them using the name Yooperlites, based on the slang for UP residents (Yoopers).

That explained the nocturnal visitors. And why it was a new phenomenon.

According to the Mineral News, these are examples of concretions – sedimentary rock with minerals embedded in them. In this case, the mineral is believed to be fluorescent sodalite.

Interesting enough. Until a late afternoon delivery of supplies for the lighthouse that also yielded a key disclosure. There was a UV flashlight and samples of Yooperlite in the Visitor Center. Suddenly, we had the means to make our own discoveries.

With the last light fading from the sky we scour the rock strewn beach. It is surprising how many pinpoints of yellow or blue light shine back at us from the rocks, and how white rocks reflect that light. (Not to mention Rich’s white socks and my neon yellow shoe laces, which are blinding.)

But we seek the real gems. The rocks permeated with an orange glow. The more pocked with light the better. And they are there. As soon as the UV rays passes over those rocks, they light up. Not just colorful, they radiate from within. There is no mistaking them, and with each discovery we cheer and laugh, triumphant.

Yooperlites glowing

It is a heck of a lot more fun than hunting for agates. And a lot more successful. With each new Yooperlite we find, we are spurred on to uncover another one. And another. Selecting only the five best to keep.  Sure enough, in the daylight their hidden glow is locked deep inside.

Yooperlites daylight

I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow night. Oh, and did you know? I was born a Yooper.

Yooperlite w Crisp Point Lighthouse

The Rest of the Story

This time it was Sarah who granted me permission to use an image.  Following our amazing cyber connection forged by my photo of Crisp Point Lighthouse, her parish magazine is ready for distribution.

Crosstalk parish magazine with Crisp Point LighthouseThis weekend, Crosstalk – and Crisp Point Lighthouse – will be making its way into three Church of England parishes near Durham, England.  In addition to the usual church news, promotions for upcoming events, schedule of services and useful contact information, it carries a wealth of stories, trivia and well researched facts centered on the theme of “Light.”  This is more than your weekly church bulletin – it makes for great reading and even includes a recipe!  No wonder this publication has won awards.  As a writer for regional magazines, I am impressed and even more pleased to be a part of this issue.

Sarah and I continue to discover mutual connections – bell ringing, her brother-in-law who may in fact have been my Economics professor, cyclists in Scotland and bad memories of old fashioned “stockings.”

A return to Durham to meet Sarah just moved up my travel wish list.  I hope that will be part of the rest of this story.

Cyber Magic

Urging my laptop to life, there were no inklings of the magic it would soon dispense. No hint of the hidden connections that lay within. Nothing to reveal the memories it would unleash.

The usual plethora of overnight emails swarmed my inbox, parading up the screen as they entered. Sifting through the usual jungle of unwanted solicitations, the day’s local news headlines, and legitimate email exchanges lay an unassuming subject from a sender I didn’t recognize. “Using an Image” it said. Once I had dispensed with the known correspondences, I opened it. And smiled. Then smiled even more.

A five year old photo of mine had caught the attention of a stranger. It was part of a blog post from our first year as lighthouse keepers for Crisp Point Lighthouse, when each day brought new perspectives for photographing that magnificent structure. In this image the day’s lingering light illuminated the lighthouse against a gloomy background, behind it the arc of a rainbow stretched skyward. It was the light that attracted Sarah’s attention.

Crisp Point Lighthouse with rainbowI have no idea how she found the photo. I dug through blog posts from six stints of light keeping before I spotted the picture she described. I was tickled that she wanted to use it and immediately granted permission.

But the magic still lay within. Sarah’s email began, “Good morning from a rather gloomy north east England.” That was the first smile. She went on to describe her interest in the photograph, to use for a monthly parish magazine she produces called Crosstalk. The theme of the next issue was “Light,” and she felt it would make a fitting cover image. She described the magazine’s circulation as “around 300 copies across three parishes in and around the City of Durham.” That was the second, bigger smile.

I spent my junior year in college studying at the University of Durham. As one of only 40 Americans immersed in a university population of over 4,000, I relished the opportunity to live the life of a British student, embraced the unique college system and relished the beauty and culture of that historic city. The best feature of my dorm room was the prominent view of the majestic cathedral through its single window. I made lasting friendships and developed a love affair with Britain that I have sustained through frequent return visits, including another stint to do a master’s degree at the University of Bath. Fond memories came flooding back.Durham Cathedral

What are the chances? That Sarah would find my photo. That she would be from my favorite city in Britain. And that she could so easily reach out to me directly.

A rapid-fire email exchange ensued, in which we uncovered more connections and interests in common.  The warmth of the new bond filled my soul.

The internet often gets a bad wrap. But in this case it made my day. Through cyber magic.

Farewell my lighthouse

The last sunrise. A final morning walk on the beach. A concluding entry in my journal. It is the last of five days that I will repeat this early routine. I will miss this place.

As if to mark the occasion, sunrise is the most colorful of the week. I scamper to my favorite views to try and capture the image. Clouds light up from below as the sun advances up from the horizon.Crisp Point sunrise

My walk takes the pace of a stroll across nature’s canvas. Tottering over mounds of Lake Superior rocks, I leave no trace. When the charcoal, gray, pink and white mosaic gives way to sandy beach I smile. Here I can walk more steadily, stop concentrating on where I place my feet and look around. I could pick up my pace, but there is too much to see.

Molly walking beach at CPL

My footsteps from yesterday are still visible in places – a surprise on this windblown expanse. The afternoon’s visitors have also left their mark – bare feet, dog paws, a rock message composed on the sand. I wonder about the huge paw prints that walk alone, appear very recent. They could belong to a bear.

It’s nature’s traces that are the real attraction. My favorite are the fine lines that curve and intersect on the firm sand. They mark the perimeter of the waves’ advances. they tell the story of the water’s movement. A few days ago big waves drove high up the beach. Today they merely lap the edge. Black sand stretches add to the design, mingling colors.

Bird and critter tracks wind hither and yon though the sand. Drunken wanderings leave a fanciful path. Tiny feet press distinct prints. Animal friends join and leave. Explosions occasionally occur in the intersections of a crowd.

The wind too participates in this artwork. Symmetrical ripples linger across the sand. A lazy stream creates similar patterns under water, on its journey to the lake. It is all there for the visual taking.

The lake is quiet as my coffee and I settle down on my “writer’s log” on the beach. A light wind blows. Weak sunlight flows over my shoulders, tempered by broken clouds and remnants of wildfire smoke. The beach exudes calm.

My writing log

I don’t mind that it is not a sparkling blue day. This feels more relaxed. The air is that temperature that I don’t feel – it’s just there, comfortable. The day does not demand attention. It just is.

Soon the first visitors will arrive and I will resume my station in the Visitor Center for Crisp Point Lighthouse. During lulls in the day we will pack up our gear. Roll up the sleeping bags. Take down the tent. We will prepare to say our goodbyes to Crisp Point. For one more year.

Lighthouse Life

Living in the moment. It’s what I crave most as we approach our stint as lighthouse keepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For five days, my daily life will revolved around my duties tending the lighthouse and its visitors. The rest of the world will live at a distance.

The process begins as we drive down the rough 18 miles of dirt road. I leave civilization behind. The woods close in around the car. My cell signal dies out. I shut down my electronic devices for good. I abandon my to do lists, my deadlines, my schedules. Anything I don’t have in the car, I don’t need. Tent, sleeping bag, a duffle of clothes, cook stove, food supplies and water comprise my worldly goods.

This is not new territory. Rich and I are in our fifth year as keepers, so we know the drill. Our duties revolve around hosting the visitors who come, eager to see the lighthouse. We have already established camp in our keeper’s site before the first arrive.

Our tent under Crisp Point Lighthouse

This is the first time we have been keepers in the peak of the summer season. Warm weather is a welcome change from our chilly October visits, and visitor numbers swell accordingly. We see close to 100 people a day, keeping us busy greeting, informing, helping and chatting with these visitors. I love seeing the eager faces, thrilled to know they can climb the tower, go out on the catwalk. From my post in the Visitor Center I meet people who have been coming here for years, decades some of them. They know more about the early days than I do, recount first hand stories of the decay followed by brilliant restoration. Despite being busy, it is restorative work. I have no need to plan my day. It develops with each person who arrives to see the lighthouse. It feels good. Serving others.

There are always cleaning and maintenance jobs to be done and we fill in with those around our visitor duties. Rick Brockway, president of the Crisp Point Light Historical Society, comes daily and pitches in non-stop on chores.  His tireless efforts make this lighthouse site worth the long arduous drive.  Rich helps out with replacing a segment of the boardwalk.  I sort, fold and put away the new shipment of t-shirts that Rick brought.  Our efforts pale in comparison to Rick’s dedication.

Rick and Rich building boardwalkMolly putting away CPL tshirts

It’s the edges of the day that I relish. Fringes of time to drink in the surroundings, revel in owning that remote space for a brief stint. Nestled against the shore of Lake Superior, camping on the soft sand, hearing the repetitive lap or roar of the waves against the shore. Sunrise and sunset, that red orb rising and falling into the lake. The wood crackling as the campfire battles against the wind that whips away its flames as well as its heat.

Molly and CPL sunset

Post sunrise the sun paints the lighthouse with its magical morning glow. inching up the tower. The structure is illuminated rather than being the illuminator.Crisp Point at sunrise

Five days, living under the shadow of this lighthouse.  It’s quite the life.

October Lightkeeping

What a difference a year makes. Last October we occupied this same spot, performed the same lightkeeping duties and camped in the same tent. But the similarities end there.

Last year five days of mostly cloudy skies, a fair amount of rain and temperatures in the 40s left us shivering despite our winter jackets and long underwear. Our down sleeping bags were our saviors at night. Dark skies challenged the solar power system, which drained away from lack of sun and struggled to regain any power from dim bursts of sun. The challenges did not diminish our love for this gig, nor did it deter us from signing on for another year. But we felt rather foolish for choosing another stint in October.

Fortunately, history did not repeat itself. Far from it. We have enjoyed five days of sunshine, moderate temperatures on the 50s-60s and Lake Superior in her finest blue. I happily resumed my early morning writing sessions on the beach.Molly writing on beach Rich raising the flag Crisp Point wavesOur visitor count is up considerably over last year. We welcomed over 200 guests. All who come lend a new perspective. They hail from as far away as Wyoming and Beijing. Others have local ties and have been coming since before any restoration began in 1998. They know more of the lighthouse’s history than we do, and we love hearing their first-hand experiences. They especially appreciate all the work that the Crisp Point Light Historical Society has put into preserving and enhancing this site. Newcomers never fail to be impressed.
Lighthouse in setting sunWe marvel at the folks who come merely at the suggestion of a lighthouse on a new highway sign. Little do they know the conditions of the dirt road approach, but all agree it was worth the journey. They buy our best selling sticker, “I survived the drive to Crisp Point Lighthouse.”

Thinking that the week could not be more ideal, we are treated to a grand finale. We witness a deep pink sunset from the beach. We have the biggest blazing bonfire yet. Two classic ore boats parade by, illuminated stem to stern with white lights. We watch a glowing sunrise from the lighthouse tower. And the day is balmy and warm.
Lighthouse pink sunset Crisp Point bonfire Sunrise from lighthouseSuddenly October doesn’t feel like such a crazy choice. But just for kicks we signed up for August next year.
Lightkeepers