Lightkeeper’s Haven

Perched high above the shoreline I own the landscape. Lake Superior relinquished her pounding waves overnight leaving mere ripples on the surface and gentle pulses kissing the sand. Long shadows cross the beach and the neighboring trees are bathed in the glow of the low sun. The water’s sound competes only with the wind as it whistles through the open doors to the catwalk. Morning’s cool fresh air contrasts with the warmth of the sun on my back.
View from lighthouseIt is a rare privilege to claim a lighthouse for one’s own, even if only for five days. From 10am – 6pm we share this beauty with others seeking to explore her, acting as light keepers and welcoming visitors. But the early morning hours and evenings are ours.

My morning began while the stars still dominated the sky. Emerging from our tent, wet with an overnight ground fog, the intermittent beam from the lighthouse was the only source of illumination. I could barely make out the rocks on the beach as I picked my way down the waterfront while the eastern skies took on their first rosy glow. On my return the orange hues crept up around the lighthouse to meet the velvety dark blue above.
Lighthouse sunrise reflectionWalking the opposite side, I took in the handiwork of the lake, reconfiguring the shoreline even since last year. The high water level has eaten its way up into the dunes, carving off the front slope to reveal multi-colored sand strata in its new vertical edge.

Once more my return yielded new views of the lighthouse. The sun embraced its red cap and glass face, walking gently down its elongated white body. Soon only the shadows of the nearest trees remained and stubbornly lingered.
Sun on lighthouseThe morning’s light show complete, it is time for my final retreat. Ditching my usual spot on a driftwood seat on the beach, I climb the lighthouse, coffee mug in hand, writing tools at the ready. Here I sit, sheltered from the wind with the world at my feet. The moments are precious. I do not take my keeper’s privileges for granted. Soon I will relinquish my private haven – the public awaits.

Hello Again Crisp Point

The road is a test. On a good day its 18 miles of dirt merely dissuade the meek. The bumps and sand require patience and slow travel. No one reaches Crisp Point Lighthouse by happenstance. You have to really want to come here.

On this day the road challenges have been multiplied. Two days of heavy rain have transformed the sandy surface into mud and littered its length with water hazards. To call them puddles would be an injustice. Approaching each of these seas raises the same question, “How deep is it?” A certain technique evolves, starting with a prayer of thanks for all-wheel drive followed by a confident burst of speed through the most promising spot. With splashes and waves in our wake, another satisfied sigh, “Oh, pretty deep.”

It is our fourth time returning to Crisp Point Lighthouse on the far western end of Lake Superior as volunteer lighthouse keepers. Arriving early in the morning for our five days of duty, the lighthouse greets us bathed in early morning sunlight. It is like seeing an old friend. Rapidly, before visitor hours begin, we reacquaint ourselves with every inch of the site.Lighthouse on arrivalLighthouse close-upLake Superior churns against the sandy pebbly shore. Remnants of the recent winds, the waves curl in white foamy regularity, its thunderous noise filling my ears. Fall colors are peaking; yellows and reds pierce the more prevalent pine landscape against the shore. The sun lends a welcome warmth to the near freezing air.Waves from tower Boardwalk and beachOver it all towers the lighthouse. Freshly painted it stands determined against the shore, daring the waves that now crash at its base. Those waves have already eaten away 12 of the original 15 acres that once surrounded this light and buffered it from the greedy lake. A new layer of boulders has been added to the line of defense, a constant battle waged by the dedicated volunteers of the Crisp Point Light Historical Society.Lighthouse defensesOur campsite awaits, a single spot reserved for the keepers. Our home away from home with all the amenities – sandy soft tent site, fire ring, barbecue grill, picnic table and Lake Superior views.Campsite from lighthouseOnly the mud-caked car reminds us of our journey to get here. We aced that test and this is our reward.

The Many Moods of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Gallery

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.