The Many Moods of Crisp Point Lighthouse

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This gallery contains 20 photos.

The lighthouse easily dominates our existence, well beyond our duties as light-keepers. We have the luxury of time to observe it under constantly changing conditions. Its personality varies as much from minute to minute as it does between days. Camping … Continue reading

A Crisp Morning

Perched at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse, I stand out on the catwalk before dawn. A golden glow stretches across the sky between the narrow bands of clouds that cling to the horizon. My hopes for a spectacular sunrise fade as the promise of glowing reds fails to materialize. I am unaware that the rising sun has yet to work its magic.

Descending the tower, I set out down the beach. The wind of the past two days has calmed and only residual waves lap the shore. It is only when I turn around away from the sunrise, that I see the first colors of the morning.

Crisp Point morning 1

By the time the pinks and blues fade in the distance, the sun begins to spin gold in the clouds directly overhead. A totally different light show is in progress. This sends me scurrying to the opposite side of the lighthouse. Such a brilliant contrast leaves me marveling at the wonders of a single sunrise.

Crisp morning 2

Next I wait for the sun to climb high enough to illuminate the lighthouse itself. Gradually it paints the tower, starting with its red top and slowly migrating downward. In the process it also throws shadows from the towering pines against the white structure. Mother Nature is such an artist!

Crisp morning 3

The morning is still young, and already I have witnessed so many reflections of the rising sun. As full daylight develops, I capture the classic blue sky photo. Compared to the earlier drama, it feels quite ordinary.

Crisp morning 4

At last the sun begins its other duty, warming the brisk 36-degree air. It's time to start the campstove and make my morning coffee. I'm ready to thaw my hands and inner self. This has been a crisp morning indeed.

 

Chilling out at Crisp Point

Keepers sign

Five layers of clothing. And a buff around my neck. Wool socks, a ski hat and winter gloves. All topped with a heavy down jacket. It’s my daily attire. Just enough to keep me warm.

I stand in the Crisp Point Lighthouse Visitor Center manning the gift shop. With temperatures in the 40s the cement walls are welcome shelter, but lacking any heat source the building does nothing to aid my cause. Gentle shivers involuntarily rack my frame as I strive to maintain body heat. I fear I’m losing the battle. But I am determined to muster on.

Visitors regard us with a mix of incredulity and awe. “That your tent out there?” they ask as they shiver in sympathy. They too are outfitted in winter gear. I answer with a grin and a touch of macho pride, “Yes, and it’s the warmest place around.” They are mighty grateful we are here, keeping the lighthouse open for them. And honestly, we are happy to do it.

Tent at Crisp Point

We quickly learn to manage. Nothing generates heat like exercise. So I escape for an energetic run each afternoon and relish shedding hat and gloves as I go. I return with enough residual heat to handle a cold sponge bath. Rich follows suit riding the sand on a fat tire bike.

Rich and fat tire bike

A hot meal goes a long way, warming our innards. Followed by a blazing campfire, evenings are quite comfortable. Crawling into my down sleeping bag at night I feel the warmth immediately radiating around my body. My little cocoon keeps me toasty all night long, nestled into the soft sand. I wasn’t kidding about the tent.

Cooking outside
Dinner outsid
CAMPFIRE

With fresh reserves of heat I’m primed for sunrise. I feel impervious to the wind and cool air as I search out the best vantage points for the morning light show, followed by a brisk walk down the beach. This is my favorite time of day here. Even in October.

Crisp Point sunrise

By the end of our five days we are coping well. More than that, really. Continue to love it here. I miss the warm days when I could sit on the beach and write, or nestle up on the lighthouse cat walk to read. But it’s still a privilege to claim this remote beauty as home for a spell. Good thing. We’ve signed up to return next October. To chill out.

 

Finding Crisp Fall Colors

Fall leaves have been a tease this year. Throughout September and the early part of October we cycled through upper and lower Michigan amid scattered fall colors. Leaves were just beginning to turn, surrounded by their green neighbors. Isolated pockets of color delighted us. But it was only a hint of what was yet to come.

That was actually a blessing for us. We deliberately planned to miss peak leaf season due to the tourists it attracts. We had no desire to cycle crowded roads or fight for motel rooms populated by leaf peepers. So we took pleasure in seeing the mild nascent display.

Returning home to the Northland, it was no surprise that the leaves were past peak. Color remained, but many trees were already bare. So we expected nothing more when we drove through the UP to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Nature had a gift for us this time, and we traveled a shoreline of brilliance. Trees at their finest blanketed the countryside and adorned the lakefront. Stopping at the overlook in Munising provided a fine view in the late afternoon sunlight.

Molly and Rich fall leaves
View at Munising 1
View at Munising 2
Leaves in Munising

The road into Crisp Point Lighthouse is notorious for being rough. Its 18 miles of dirt road is susceptible to potholes, washouts and bumps. You have to really want to see the lighthouse to make the trip. This fall the area saw unending rainfall, resulting in flooding on the road. We encountered numerous puddles that stretched the full width of the road, daring us to cross. Navigating them tentatively at first, we gained confidence with each one and ultimately plowed right through.

For everything that road delivered in adventure it compensated with beauty. By the time I went for a run in the afternoon, the pools had become reflecting ponds and the colors popped against a deep blue sky.

Fall leaves Crisp Point road
Leaf reflection Crisp Point 1
Lead reflection Crisp Point 2

Catching the colors against the lighthouse required patience and the right angle. But the chase was half the fun.

Crisp Point colors 1
Crisp Point colors 2

My autumn is now complete. I found fall colors after all. Where I least expected them.

 

A Brush with Civilization

Spending days on end on a bicycle has a way of holding the outside world at bay. For five weeks, on our Liberation Cycling Tour, our possessions consisted of the limited clothing and a couple of electronic devices in our panniers. Food choices were constrained by what was on the menu at local diners. We didn’t ride in a car, watch TV or listen to the radio. We remained blissfully out of range of the antics of the upcoming Presidential election.

Returning home has reopened a wealth of choice. A closet full of clothes present themselves each morning, requiring a decision on what to wear. I can smother my home made toast with natural peanut butter as I savor my favorite morning coffee. My car easily transports an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I have all the tools I need for preparing them to my liking. I still don’t watch TV and only dial in to MPR on my car radio.

 

My body is most grateful to rest in the same familiar bed each night. Sleep patterns begin to resettle into normal again. My feet relish the expansiveness of ordinary shoes. I get the haircut I have been craving. The eyebrows I have ignored are waxed into submission once again.

First on my priority list for re-entry is seeing family. Hugging those I love. Then connecting with friends. Coffees, dinners and conversations follow. I re-engage with writing and begin a new story assignment.

Apple orchard

Oh, it does feel good to return to civilization. But it is an ephemeral phase. A tease. A fleeting moment. We are off again.

This time it’s the car we pack. It is stuffed to the gills with camping gear, food and warm clothes. Feeling flush with space, we bring a larger tent, thicker sleep mats and our own pillows. Car camping brings unfettered luxury.

It’s time for our annual 5-day stint as lightkeepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For the third year in a row, we are returning to man the visitor center and welcome all who come to see this remote light and walk its pristine beach.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Our keeper’s campsite for one comes with no electricity, drinking water, cell service or internet access. If we felt removed from normal life while on our bikes, this is truly off the grid. We are able to enjoy the solar power in the visitor center by day, and the flash of the lighthouse by night. Beyond that, silence reigns. Our only connection with the world beyond our 18 mile rustic dirt road will be the visitors who make their way here.

It was nice while it lasted. That brief brush with civilization was enough of a taste to want more. For now that will have to wait, for a worthy purpose. It will be all the sweeter in a week, when I expect to indulge in a good healthy dose of home life. With all its comforts.

 

A Keeper’s Life

Crisp Point Lighthouse“Do you travel around to other lighthouses to do this?” a visitor asks. “No, this is the only place we serve as lighthouse keepers,” I reply readily. Crisp Point Lighthouse is unique, and that’s what continues to draw us here.

We are clearly off the beaten path. 36 miles from the nearest town. 18 miles of that on rugged dirt road. Folks don’t find their way here by accident. We learn that they fall into three categories: 1) Lighthouse aficionados who want to add Crisp Point Lighthouse to their list of visits. We happily stamp their lighthouse “passports.” 2) Agate hunters who know these shores harbor some real beauties and are less visited than sites with easier access. We welcome them to the beach. 3) Travelers who happen to hear about the lighthouse while in the area. We congratulate them for surviving the rough drive. (We even sell them stickers proclaiming the same.)

Grounds of Crisp Point LighthouseRegardless of purpose, the lighthouse and shoreline delight our visitors. We never tire of answering questions (as best we can) and showing the maps and photos of how the area once looked – before Lake Superior claimed nearly all the original buildings except the lighthouse. Those who have visited before marvel at the extensive work done by the Crisp Point Light Historical Society, not only to restore the lighthouse but to landscape and protect the surrounding sand dunes.

The remote nature of Crisp Point is one of its best features. At least in our book. There is no cell phone coverage of any kind, so the urgency of internet access, email, phone calls and other technology laden gadgets is nil. The only telephone makes emergency calls only. All we know and all that matters is what’s happening right here. We take each moment as it comes, which is a peaceful way to live. When not engaged in our keepers’ duties we thrive on life’s simple pleasures.

Blogging becomes a hand written affair. Perched on the beach, mornings are spent scratching out my thoughts – inspiration as near as the waves lapping just beyond my feet.Blogging on the beach
Rich has a wealth of photographic material, both day and night. His camera accompanies him everywhere. I fool around with a bit of photography of my own.

Rich photographing Crisp Point LighthouseSunrise and driftwoodWe spend a lot of time reading. And what better spot than on top of the world? Not even the pesky flies are able to bother me up there.

Reading on the lighthouse catwalkSunrise and sunset become our daily clock. We make sure to be up before the sun in order to watch it make its dramatic entrance. One morning I stumble on a “double sunrise” courtesy of the lighthouse windows. Sunset marks the transition to nighttime, with its bonfires and stars.

Double sunrise atop Crisp Point LighthouseThe beach begs for us to walk it. The rocks ask for us to collect them. The tower invites us to climb it. And we do it all.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point LighthouseThe world continues to turn despite our ignorance of news and current affairs. We are probably as removed as the early lighthouse keepers in this remote spot. And we love it. It’s the keeper’s life for us – at least for five days a year.

An Enchanted Evening

The latch engages with a satisfying click as we close the Visitor Center for the day. The grounds of Crisp Point Lighthouse are always open and a few visitors remain to enjoy the setting sun. They require little of us as volunteer keepers, and we’re ready to enjoy another glorious evening on the shore of Lake Superior.

Rich in our dinner spot at Crisp PointOur plein air dining room awaits as we prepare our dinner on the grill and camp stove. It’s a challenge to plan meals with food that will last for five days without fresh ice for our cooler, but nevertheless we eat well. Perhaps it’s the ambiance that makes everything taste so good.

By the time we’ve finished our meal sunset is approaching. Living in Duluth we never see the sun set over Lake Superior, so we appreciate the treat. This trip we have been blessed with clear skies and just enough clouds at the horizon to create that special red glow. We have our choice of venues for this spectacle. A bench above the beach, a log in the sand and even the top of the lighthouse are all at our disposal. We linger, knowing that the greatest brilliance develops well after the sun has disappeared below the horizon. And we are rewarded.
Sunset at Crisp Point 1Sunset at Crisp Point 2
Molly at the campfire Crisp PointThe night is still young and I’m ready for the next glow. A stack of firewood awaits and our fire ring is at the ready. The dry wood roars to life and flames soon dance at the whim of the wind. The sky darkens as we stare into the blaze and the array of stars overhead intensifies with each passing moment. Looking up away from the fire we can already see the Milky Way and the Big and Little Dippers – the full extent of our astronomy knowledge. But it’s enough.

Before calling it a night, I attempt a few star pictures with the lighthouse. As my shots flash briefly on the camera display, I see it. That unmistakable glow, there on the left at the base of the lighthouse. Before my eyes can detect them, the Northern Lights show up in my photos. Abandoning my star project, I alert Rich and move to the shore to watch. A green band appears in the sky, arching up and over the lake.
Crisp Point Lighthouse at night
The show is brief but still a thrill. Rich is ecstatic – this is what he most wanted to see and photograph here. Although the lights have dissipated, Rich sets up shop under a blanket in a lawn chair overlooking the lake to wait. Lacking his fortitude and conviction, I head for the tent.

Over an hour passes with no action and still Rich waits. Even he’s nearly ready to call it quits, but hangs in there just long enough. The Northern Lights reappear and present a real display. Rich is in his element, capturing the Aurora and the lighthouse together.Crisp Point Northern Lights

Apparently the display was too ephemeral for Rich to wake me up in time to see it, so I missed that highlight. But I don’t feel cheated. I still had an enchanted evening.