It never grows old. This was our eighth stint as keepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse, and the experience was as unique as the first.
The first indication that this year would be different were the cables and floating platforms halfway up the lighthouse. On closer inspection we could see the hundreds of bricks that had been replaced, the painstaking work taking place to restore this magnificent tower to its strength and beauty. Restoration professionals who specialize in historic structures were plying their skills, high up in the air.
Over the course of our stay we got to know Bob and Josh, who stayed in a trailer at the edge of the parking lot, sharing our retreat on the edge of Lake Superior. From them we learned about the care and upkeep necessary for a lighthouse built in 1904 and managed by a non-profit historical society. We, as members, are responsible for its good health, and watched as they hung from the tower to ensure it endured for future generations to visit.
While they worked on the tower, our duties continued as usual. We still tended the busy Visitor Center where we sold souvenirs, chatted with visitors and answered their questions. We kept the place clean and well stocked, and directed them to the beach to find agates, Yooperlites and pretty rocks, or just go for a long walk on the sandy beach.
We also had to deliver the bad news. “The tower is currently closed, due to the restoration work.” I’ve always been amazed that visiting this lighthouse is completely free (although the 18-mile rough dirt road to reach it might be considered the price of admission). And visitors are normally allowed to go up inside the tower and out onto the catwalk at the top unaccompanied. There they may linger as long as they like, enjoying the view, taking in the long beaches and huge expanse of Lake Superior. I worried that visitors might be angry, denied the pleasure after that long drive. But mostly we met with good humor. People were just happy to be there, to see the lighthouse, to spend time on the beach, to soak it all in.
It also meant that the lighthouse was off limits to us as keepers. No reading out on the catwalk in the early morning sunshine before visitors arrive. No fancy photos through the windows, across the lens. No feeling the wind in my face as it whipped around the curved structure. No need to sweep out the circular staircase to remove the collection of sand from all the feet either. But I know it will be all the sweeter next year when we can do it again.
The restoration didn’t prevent me from admiring the lighthouse from all angles, lifting my eyes to take in its full height. And at sunrise and sunset, it was as majestic as ever. Silhouetted against the red, orange and pink colors in the sky, the cables, platform and unpainted new bricks on its face faded.
During our evening campfires, the beacon still pulsed above our heads while intense stars filled the sky.
Some things don’t change from year to year. We still had our private campsite on the beach, slept on the sand in our pup-tent, listened to the waves crash, cooked out and scoured the shore for Yooperlites at night. Beth spoiled me with French press coffee each morning, and I took restorative beach walks after sunrise. Rich found birds to photograph and Jon delighted in blowing sand off the boardwalk.
Next year we will return to a gleaming whitewashed lighthouse, and dash up the stairs to admire the view from the catwalk. No longer grounded.