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

Scenes of Norway

In travel, there are always little tidbits to encounter.  Seemingly insignificant at the time, but memories none the less.  A carving above a doorway.  Cultural norms.  Wildlife.  Fun finds.  Here are some of mine.

Fireweed in abundance. We followed the blossoms throughout our cycling travels.

A long boat floating out in the lake. We were surprised how often this scene repeated itself.

Company on our route!

A sod roof, which was quite common.

Fish drying racks – seen throughout the Lofoten Islands. These are used in winter, and it’s the wind that dries the fish.

Dried fish

“Rorbu” – fishermen cabins, now used as tourist accomodations

Fishing village in the Lofoten Islands

Viking carving above a doorway.

Mailboxes always seem to congregate together.

Fanciful footwear on an Arctic front porch!

Norwegian banners flying everywhere. They can be left out night and day, unlike proper flags which must be taken in at night.

Funky artwork that reflects the mountain scenery, and the photographer.

This was creepy. A bathroom in a park that had a wall of one-way mirrors…

A home for old Volkswagen Bugs!

Farvel Norge

It was an alien feeling. Walking down the jetway in Copenhagen in 81 degrees of sunshine felt like a blast furnace. Just the day before it was 42 degrees when we awoke in the Norwegian Arctic.

Clearly my head was on bike touring when I made my packing list. I brought every layer of warm bike clothes I owned. I didn’t think very clearly about our post-bike adventures in the far north. I looked on with envy at the passengers on Hurtigruten, snug in their quilted jackets, hats and gloves. Thankfully, hunkering down in my layers of cycling clothes was nearly as good. I admit to feeling silly in my sandals. In fact, in four weeks in Norway, where sturdy hiking shoes are the norm, I only saw one other person in sandals besides the two of us. And he was wearing socks. Okay, so I resorted to the same measure of desperation.

Norway and especially its islands are reputed to be wet. After 16 days of cycling in near perfect sunshine and moderate temperatures, I could hardly argue with cloudy skies and a few showers once we were off the bicycles. Our timing was impeccable. I could easily deal with cold and damp from the protected environs of the ship. And after all, it wasn’t too far removed from a typical Duluth summer.

The remoteness and low population density of Norway also reminded me of Northern Minnesota. With one big exception – the mountains. They were everywhere, a constant backdrop to the coastal views, the picturesque fishing villages, the harbor scenes and even sandy beaches. Ranging from towering rocky peaks to softer tundra mounds and sheer cliffs, I never grew tired of them.

We just missed the last day of the midnight sun. But we still had 18 hours of sunlight each day accompanied by near light on each end. Sunsets lingered forever, as the sun reluctantly retreated toward the horizon. On the flip side, the length and quality of my sleep depended on the effectiveness of that night’s blackout curtains.

Breakfast was always included in our lodgings, and consistently meant a breakfast buffet that rarely varied in its offerings. Skipping over the cold fish, meats, cheeses and relishes that are Norwegian staples I’d head straight for the fresh loaves of hearty warm bread, wrapped in a cotton cloth just waiting for me to cut a thick slice or two. A bowl of muesli – not to be confused with granola – soaked with milk and topped with raisins and almonds would hold me long into the afternoon. Sweet options were noticeably absent.

At dinner time I was in my element. As a fish lover married to a solid meat eater, I relished the opportunity to indulge my tastes. I made it a point to order fish every evening, which wasn’t hard given the ubiquitous coastline and fishing industry of Norway. I’m rather proud of my record, eating meat only 4 times for dinner. And three of those were evenings when we had set menus.

If there’s anything I’m looking forward to eating at home, it’s fresh fruits and vegetables. We rarely had them beyond a few offerings at breakfast, and leafy salads as we know them did not exist. Beyond that, I admit to having a hankering for a thick chewy chocolate chip cookie.

Our travels often reveal a favorite drink of the day. This trip we discovered pear cider. Already fans of hard cider, we quickly adapted to this local variation. The cold slightly fizzy brew went down easily after a long day of cycling.  Or just sightseeing.

We certainly never had to worry about being connected. No matter how remote the town or how modest our lodgings, we nearly always had free WiFi. Even on board the ship, it came with our passage.  You won’t find that on any cruise ship!

Norwegians do love their bicycles. City centers were full of them. Kids all ride them to school, just as their parents cycle to work. Bike trails are the norm, both in town where they are shared with pedestrians, and out in the countryside. And colorful bikes posing as flower pots adorn many front yards.

Three flights down and two to go before we reach home. Flicking through my photos I’m already feeling nostalgic. Savoring the memories.  Here’s a favorite.

Farewell Norway!

Geography Lessons

It seems I got it all wrong. Here I thought that by steaming to the end of the line on the Hurtigruten ferry, we would be way up north. Right up at the top of the continent.  As it turns out, in Kirkenes we are at the same latitude as Tromsø. Heck, we got up that far last time we were in Norway. It hadn’t occurred to me that we were going over the top and then back down again.

While I’m confessing my geography misconceptions, I might as well point out that we are now as far east as Cairo. And almost all of Finland is west of us. I had to check the map. Sure enough.

But I do know that we are nearly on the Russian border. And our excursion to see King Oscar II Chapel brought us as close as you can get without crossing. The first clue was the road signs. Below the place names we recognized were Cyrillic characters. Turning just short of border control, we followed a small road for the final 20k. The further we went, the narrower and bumpier the road. We followed a river. Signs informed us that the boundary went down the middle. The also listed a whole lot of things we must NOT do. Including point our camera toward the other side. I knew we were harmless Americans, but it felt onerous. We were being watched.

The chapel was built in 1869, in hopes of resolving the disputes over the fishing border with Russia. Instead of the gunboat that was requested to patrol the waters, it was deemed that a church would serve to peaceably mark the Norwegian territory. Whether it succeeded is unknown, but it seems a good example of diplomacy.

Having paid our respects to the church, we continued to the end of the road. Norwegian military personnel were in evidence, but gave us a friendly wave. A watch tower stood on the top of the nearest rise. Despite the fact that the temperature hadn’t reached 50 degrees and dark clouds portended rain, we lingered on the long sandy beach nearby. While Rich patiently waited for birds to draw nearer, I walked the beach from end to end, taking care not to venture past the yellow border obelisk.

Our AirBnB in Kirkenes turned out to be a lovely Scandinavian modern cottage behind our hosts’ home. We took advantage of the cozy environs to hang out for our final morning, knowing it was a long day until our 9pm flight. We were awakened by sunlight streaming in at an absurd hour, but delighted by its surprise reappearance.  Setting out for an early morning walk that took me up to the rocky hilltop, not only did I find great vistas, but a little lake and the eerie call of red throated loons.  The whole aura of the city was transformed by the change in weather.

We made use of the car to go on another field trip, this time to see a stave church and a fishing village. But our favorite attractions were along the route. In the midst of the barren, scrubby, rocky land we saw several herds of reindeer and two moose!

And now we start the long process to get home. I get this geography. Going from one small town in Norway to another small town in Minnesota requires five flights. And a lot of waiting. I’m already looking forward to being on home territory again, and sleeping in my own bed. I don’t need any lessons to tell me how good that will feel.

Arctic Adventures

My heart sank as the man uttered the words I feared I might hear. “It’s out in the open sea. The boat has no stabilizers, so it is likely to be rough.” He was talking about the Birding Safari that Rich had signed up for near the North Cape. I wasn’t interested in birding, but the prospect of seeing puffins, sea lions and maybe even whales was alluring. Just not under those conditions. The judge had ruled against me. I would have to pass.

We were above the tree line now, as a member of the Expedition Team explained to the gathering out on deck. The only vegetation on the rocky slopes were low tundra grasses, mosses and lichens. Many faces were shear rock. These mountain ranges were lower, smoother, devoid of the sharp peaks and pockets of snow I was used to seeing. But impressive in their own way.

The harbor in the tiny town of Honningsvåg was surrounded by colorful houses and a dramatic backdrop of mountains. As Rich eagerly rushed to his tour, I headed straight to the Tourist Info office. Soon afterwards, I emerged. Map in hand, with a plan.

So far, our weather on the ship had been far from stellar. Low clouds and dreary skies dampened the impact of the passing scenery. But as I made a circuit around the harbor filled with fishing boats, the sun staged a comeback. Reaching the far side, I consulted my map and headed uphill.

The Info lady had recommended two hiking trails. They started together then one branched off to an overlook. Indeed, it provided a bird’s eye view of the harbor, and even our Hurtigruten ferry shrank down to toy size. A nearby trail map showed where I was, as well as the trail she suggested I take. It followed a mountain pass and continued on to a lake. In theory that sounded good, but I found the wide gravel path unappealing.

In contrast, a narrow wiggly foot-worn path continued up the mountainside. In groups of two or three and representing all ages and abilities, walkers passed by and headed up the trail. None hesitated as they passed the sign. They just marched forward, conquering that hill. Soon a whole line of colorful dots squiggled up the mountainside, illustrating exactly where the path led.

I tried to want to hike to the lake. It was the sensible thing to do. But that little trail called to me. I checked the map again. Even on there, it was all switchbacks. But the other way way so ugly. “I’ll just go a little higher,” I rationalized.

The going was easier than I expected. The rise was steep, but I navigated the dirt and rocks despite my woeful footwear. Having packed for a bike tour, I brought only my Keene sandals. They served me well post bike ride each day, but were hardly ideal for the cold weather and hiking on this segment of our trip. I wasn’t about to let my lack of foresight prevent me from this adventure. One foot in front of the other, I continued.

Getting a grip going up was one thing. It was going back down that had me concerned. So far I hadn’t seen a soul come back this way. But I kept going. By then I was committed.

Nearly to the ridge line I was feeling triumphant. Scrambling up the final bit, the harbor on the opposite side came into view. That was my definition of success, even though I discovered another ridge just beyond. With the departure time for the ship weighing on my mind, I called it a summit. And celebrated with selfies.

The journey down started with crab crawling, using three and four point contact to stay on the hillside. I took pains not to look down, but when I jiggled a rock free I noted how far it tumbled before stopping. I took heart in knowing that the trail would get easier as I went.

In truth, the hike was barely three kilometers. But the path to the lake looked just as ugly on the way back down. Surely a mountaintop view was a superior choice. And I finished in plenty of time to seek out ice cream and consume it in a sunny sheltered spot by the harbor.

Rich returned triumphant. He glowingly expounded on the hundreds of puffins, the sea eagles and reindeer that he saw. I was envious. Almost. “It was really wavy out there,” he reported. “At times I couldn’t even stand up.” Just like me up there on that mountain. Only I didn’t risk getting seasick.

The Final Phase

Goodbye bikes. So long Audi. Farewell land touring. We about to set sail!

Three years ago we spent five days on a Hurtigruten ferry. That time we only went as far north as Tromsø. This time we intend to complete the journey up to Kirkenes.

The advantage of Hurtigruten is that it’s primary purpose is to serve the communities along the coast, delivering mail and foot passengers along the way. So the ships never stray far from land, delivering up close views of the dramatic shoreline. Once a day it stops for a few hours in a town of interest, where cars can get on and off and cruise passengers like us can have a look around.

As a frame of reference, we started this trip in Tromsø. The green dots are the places we stayed while bike touring. Today we depart from Bodø, stopping at all the red dots to the end of the line at Kirkenes.

We are curious to see what it’s like at the Nordkapp (North Cape), the northernmost point in Europe. View the landscape above the tree line. Imagine life in these extremes.

Bring on the finale.

Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten