Sharing the Light

The incessant wind drives tumbling waves onto the shore, cresting in white foaminess that contrasts the water’s deep blue. The morning chill on the beach is mitigated by the warm sun on my back. In my peripheral vision the tall tower stands guard over this sacred spot. Good morning, Lake Superior. Hello, Crisp Point Lighthouse. I’m back!

It’s been two years since I was last here. Our streak of 7 annual stints as lighthouse keepers was interrupted by Covid, like so many aspects of our lives. Even this year’s trip was a leap of faith as the virus continues to rage. But armed with vaccines, masking and distancing protocols in place, we felt willing to answer the call.

With the long slow drive down the infamous 18 miles of rough dirt road, the world began to recede. Shaded by towering pines and leaves rimmed with a touch of color, weaving through forest regrowth, I anxiously awaited that first sight of the lighthouse. The early morning calm and solitude of the site reminded me how much I love this place.

And yet it’s different this year. With extra duties imposed by Covid, we invited our friends Jon and Beth to join us. They were willing and eager participants, even knowing the rustic camping conditions – or perhaps even because of them. We erected our tents in unison before the onslaught of visitors – ours on the sand, theirs on the bed of their truck. A quick climb up the lighthouse clenched the sale as we gazed out over the miles of sand and rock beach stretching to the horizon in both directions, and took in the endless blue expanse of Lake Superior. Welcome, Jon and Beth, to our little slice of heaven.

The “Keeper’s Residence” below the lighthouse
View from the catwalk

The arrival of visitors plunged us into our duties, manning the Visitor Center, dispensing information about the lighthouse, selling souvenirs and cleaning jobs. Jon and Beth quickly became ambassadors, greeting folks, learning where they were from and how they found the lighthouse. It was a novel experience to be able to trade off and spell one another for bursts of freedom to walk the beach, climb the tower or read on a bench overlooking the beach. And the constant companionship was especially welcome in the evenings when we’d share dinner and linger by the bonfire. I knew the invitation had been a success when Jon and I manned the campstove cooking breakfast under an awning in the rain, and Jon leaned over to say, “Even this is fun!”

Jon restocking the bathrooms
Molly and Rich tending the shop
Ladies walking the beach
Dinner together
Campfire time

I admit it took a bit of adjusting. I had always equated our off-hours at the lighthouse with solitude. Morning walks and reflection, followed by time spent writing by the water. Evenings mesmerized by the flickering flames and glowing coals after Rich retreated to the tent. Reading while crunched down in the catwalk high above the lapping waves. Rare quite time I intentionally allowed myself in this retreat.

But after over a year of forced seclusion, having company was a treat. We ribbed Jon over his raging battle against the sand on the boardwalks and lighthouse steps. I relished Beth’s company on my morning beach walk, opening our hearts and sharing common woes. They taught me how to be an engaging host. We lent them our LED black light to find Yooperlites (which they did), and Rich gave them tips on seeing the Northern Lights (which failed to show). Laughter reigned. It felt so good.

I meant to consult Rich, but forged ahead without it. “Do you want to come again next year?” The answer came out in unison, “Yes!” It’s settled. We’ll be back next year, sharing the light with good company.


“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

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.


Opportunity Cruise

It's not a complete accident that we took that sunset cruise. But it took a lot of fortuitous coincidences to bring not about.

Returning to Crisp Point Lighthouse for our second stint as volunteer keepers, I knew we'd pass Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore en route. I was eager to see the shoreline from the water, but our extra day for exploring had been sacrificed to other commitments at home. Our son, Erik, had just returned from a backpacking and kayaking trip on the area, and his fresh enthusiasm and praise for the scenery unwittingly planted a seed.

With only 30 miles remaining to reach Munising, I gave in to a nascent idea. The weather was so perfect, might there still be a way to see Pictured Rocks after all? Eeking out a cell signal I managed to discover a sunset cruise and confirm that seats were still available. We would arrive in town with barely 40 minutes to spare, but it could work. I wasn't sure Rich shared my enthusiasm enough to jettison our plans for a relaxed salmon dinner in our kitchenette unit. But the photographer in him couldn't resist the late golden glow on a natural landscape. The race was on.

We checked into our motel, dumped our gear and donned warm clothes in record time. We even had enough minutes to spare for Rich to grab a sandwich en route to the dock. As we stepped up to the end of the long line of waiting passengers the boat's doors opened and boarding began.

But we still had one final hurdle to clear. Our captain's first words were a warning. The day's windy conditions had generated 3-4 foot waves and the father out we went the more uncomfortable it would get. Rich looked at me for an answer, as I readily sicken in big swells. However this was my brilliant idea and I wasn't about to give up on it. I declined the offer of a full refund and with that we departed.

Molly on Pictured Rocks cruise

Although I could feel the growing swells and the edges of a familiar queasy sensation, stationing ourselves outside where I could stand and watch the shoreline helped me ignore the pitching of the boat. I was determined to make this work, but really it was Mother Nature who came to my rescue as the winds subsided and we had only rough chop for the remainder of the voyage. My system instantly sensed the change and I rejoiced in knowing I could enjoy the scenery and even take a few photos.

The rear deck turned out to the the ideal spot for viewing. Protected from the wind we staked out a front row position along the railing. It was chilly enough for me to be glad I had brought a hat and gloves and was not too vain to wear them. The outdoor air was refreshing and we could still hear the captain's spiel. Sprinkled with dry humor, he kept us informed as well as entertained with just enough commentary to educate us on what we were seeing.

Pictured Rocks 1
Pictured Rocks 2
Pictured Rocks 3
Pictured Rocks vertical stripes

The scenery did not dissapoint, from the dramatic colors to the uniquely shaped rocks. I was surprised to learn that it was the minerals leaching out of the rocks that “painted” them, as opposed to differing colors in the strata of the earth. That explained why the stripes were vertical not horizontal as I'd expected.

Cruising was all the sweeter for its opportune nature. Evening if we'd planned it, we could never have counted on the perfect evening sunlight. And with each passing moment on our return trip the light became more golden. Those were the best views of all.

Pictured Rocks 5
Pictured Rocks 6
Pictured Rocks 7

Sometimes things just work out for the best. I not only got to see Pictured Rocks and in ththe finest light. That cruise was the perfect opportunity.


Crisp Point’s Many Faces

In the four days we've been at Crisp Point Lighthouse so far, this coastline of Lake Superior has served up a varied selection of weather. While tent camping here we are naturally tied to the elements, and all that Mother Nature brings our way. So far, she continues to entertain us with her many moods.

We arrived on a foggy, misty and brooding morning. The wind was howling, blowing off the lake and seemed to strip away every ounce of warmth I could muster. I spent that day shivering, piling on layers of clothes I'd packed for just such circumstances, including my winter jacket. But I did wonder how I'd survive five days huddled in those same layers.

Despite the conditions, the lighthouse grounds fascinated us. The tower stood tall against the elements, claiming its place as safeguard for the coast. Even when the skies cleared, the waves continued to crash furiously against the shore providing an angry display of power, and a constant sound that lulled us to sleep that night.

The wind abated on our second day, and left mosquitoes in swarming its wake. Not everything can be perfect here, and these pests let us know it. I'm usually fairly tolerant, but I've never seen such hungry hoards before. It was enough to drive me to wear a dorky hat smothered in bug spray or seek refuge in the visitors center. At night they swarmed between our inner screen tent and rain fly in noisy frustration at being unable to reach us for their next meal. Only then did we feel we had won the battle, temporarily.

Yesterday afternoon a storm appeared to be brewing. Fortunately, it didn't materialize but it did bring huge gusts of wind that persisted for the remainder of the day. Our tent blew over three times before we finally gave up and collapsed it, anchoring it with rocks. And our screen tent pulled up its stakes and blew right off Rich who was sitting in it at the time. Sleep was hard to come by that night as the tent pulsated in the wind, the sides alternately collapsing in toward us and flapping away. I'm sure it was only our bodies that anchored it to the ground.

Today, in contrast, it's hot and sunny. The light wind is out of the south and the lake calmly laps the beach. We can see out into the water, with it's varying colors. It's a perfect day for walking the beach, which seems to be a bigger attraction to our visitors than the lighthouse today. I'm happy to sit by the water's edge and read in between the slow flow of guests.

My favorite times of the day are morning and evening. We have the place to ourselves then, a powerful feeling of good fortune to be surrounded by this natural beauty. Mornings are magical. Emerging from the tent in time to catch the sunrise leaves hours to enjoy the golden colors of the low sun as the shoreline awakens. It's peaceful, quiet and different every day.

Sunset comes late here. And we've had some beauties. By the time the light fades, I'm already thinking about a campfire – a camping requirement, in my opinion. Once the fire is established and roaring, I love watching the glow of the red-hot coals underneath. To add to the allure, the crackling of the fire is accompanied by the rhythmic flow of the waves on the beach in close proximity. The other night I could see a distinct line of red in the distance marking the sun's departure over the horizon, and the rhythmic repetition of the lighthouse's signal light. A pleasing combination.

Tomorrow is guaranteed to be different from today. I'm looking forward to what Crisp Point will deliver for us.



Finding Real Winter

My usual routine on our ski trips is to get up early and ski before breakfast.  I love being outdoors early and “earning” the big feast always served at a B&B.  But with the winds howling, snow covering the roads and temperatures dipping below zero, it seemed prudent to modify that plan!  The acres of woods surrounding the B&B presented the optimal alternative – snowshoeing.  Susan and I bundled up in our warmest clothes, strapped on our snowshoes and trundled off through the deep soft snow.  The conditions were perfect.  Untouched fluffy snow blanketed our path and clung to the tree branches all around us.  No IMG_9494matter that we lost the trail after while and meandered in a crooked route around bushes and over logs.  We were protected from the wind and enjoyed soaking up our surroundings.  Only our noses got cold, and by the time we returned to the warmth of the B&B, we were good and ready for that hearty breakfast.

By the time afternoon rolled around, the wind had moderated and temperatures rose to a balmy 4 degrees above zero.  For our final ski of the weekend, we headed back toward Bayfield and stopped at Mt. Ashwabay Ski Area.  Because it was so cold, we chose to ski separately so we could each chose our own pace and not have to linger in the cold waiting for each other.  I eagerly chose my skate skis while Susan stuck to classic skiing for this outing, but I soon regretted my decision.  Once again, the grooming reports were on the optimistic side.  We were told that the trails were all groomed, but we neglected to ask “when?”  It soon became apparent that the answer was “before the last snowfall.”  While the classic tracks were nicely packed by earlier skiers, the skate deck was marginally used and full of fresh cold (read slow) snow.  As Susan glided along the smooth tracks, I forced my skies through the deep snow, chagrined that I was barely keeping ahead of her.

IMG_9506I can’t really hold the conditions against the ski area.  After all, we’d been praying for new snow, and boy did we get it!  And they were doing their best with limited resources.  Putting that aside, the trails were very pretty and the scenery improved even more when the sun peeked out mid-afternoon.  It was the first we’d seen of the sun all weekend, and it was a welcome addition.  As we were once again skiing around a downhill ski area, it was no surprise to encounter hills – steep ones this time.  I labored up those hills, and had to skate down them to keep my momentum going.  At one point, I reached the top of the chairlift and had no choice but to snowplow down a ski hill to reach the next section of trail – an interesting twist to the route.  Nearing the end of the day, my mind must have been as numb as my body was tired when I read the sign that said “Chalet 12k.”  I knew I didn’t have it in me to go that much farther, much less beat the impending dark.  So it was with great relief that upon closer inspection I realized it actually read “Chalet 1.2k” – whew!  Enough skiing for one weekend.

Lake Effect Snow

Come on, Lake Superior, do your stuff! Tonight I head out for my 21st annual cross-country ski trip with my friend Susan. And we’re counting on lake effect snow to resurrect the ski trails after the abysmal winter conditions of late.

Over the years, we have covered all the trails on the North Shore, taking pride in checking them off and highlighting our maps to see our progress. We have made repeat trips up the Gunflint Trail, enjoying the large trail systems there that usually have good snow coverage. We’ve skied the Birkie trails near Hayward, and ventured East, to try Maplelag and its many kilometers of skiing right outside the door.

Map of US lake effect areas around the Great Lakes – from Wikipedia

This year we chose a different destination, thinking that we had a sure bet for snow by going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After all, for the last 30 years Ironwood has had an average of 188″ of snow a year, with snowfall on 79 days of the winter.  And most of that is lake effect snow. The westerly winds blowing cold air over Lake Superior gather and retain moisture over the relative warmth of the lake. But once the saturated clouds hit land, they dump that moisture and voila – snow! Lots of it. Hence the area’s reputation as a snow-belt. When Minnesota and the North Shore are short on snow, the UP normally delivers.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been snow challenged on our trip. A few years back we brought along our hiking boots, and used them more than our skis. Another year, the temperatures rose so high on our first day skiing that the trails turned to sheer ice for the remainder of the weekend.  We switched to snowshoeing in the woods.  Once we encountered yellow, slushy ice crossing while crossing a lake, even in mid-winter – we were glad to reach the other shore safely. And everyone remembers last year, the winter that wasn’t.

No matter what the snow conditions, the temperatures or the accommodations, we always manage to have a good time. I’m sure this year will be no exception. But having ample snow and well groomed trails sure goes a long way toward that end. No pressure, Lake Superior.  We have faith in you.

Best cycling yet – Coastal Bliss

We both agree. This was our best day of cycling yet. Instead of being another long ride to complete the next leg of our journey, it felt more like a pleasure ride. And we loved every minute of it.

So what made it so special? Hugging the coastline. It was infinitely relaxing to cycle along with beautiful views of Lake Superior. We relished the small local roads that were devoid of traffic. And the weather gods favored us today. With forecasts of zero percent chance of rain, westerly winds to help push us along our way, and sunshine for most of the day, we had it made. It doesn’t get much better than that for cycling.

We first followed the waterway that leads from Houghton out to Lake Superior on the western side of the peninsula. The final vestiges of the morning’s fog burned off as we rode and revealed calm waters and sun soaked dwellings and boat houses on the opposite shore. Everything was bathed in the golden sun of morning, leaving a feeling of peacefulness.

The western shoreline offered plenty of scenery. We enjoyed seeing the wide variety of lake homes, cottages and mansions that lined the shore. Parks seemed to be frequently interspersed with the private lands, offering us opportunities to explore the beach, watch waves come crashing in, and take dozens of pictures. We found several lighthouse to check out along the way. And there was an historic bridge to see, although we were more fascinated with the arched wooden architecture of the newer replacement bridge. Waterfalls cascaded down the hillside and under the road. And there was always the big lake. As we neared Copper Harbor, the sandy beaches gave way to rockier shores, more like home.

Our route had just one minor flaw. It forced us inland for a short distance, and that could only mean UP. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know how bad it would be. When we rounded that corner, we could see the road rising in front of us. Not traversing the incline on an angle, not meandering, straight up. And I’m convinced that the sun chose just that time to beat down particularly fiercely. It took our lowest gears and a lot of pedal rotations, but we made it! Two and a half miles. However, on the flip side, we seemed to get a lot of mileage out of that rise in elevation. On our return to the shore, we got the longest drawn out downhill coast back to the water.

Now anyone who has read any of my previous posts about this cycling tour knows that treats are a required element of each day’s travels. While we normally favor ice cream or smoothies, today when faced with a cute little bakery in the curve of the road we just had to stop. But little did we know that The Jampot was more than just an ordinary bakery. It was the outlet for the labors of the Society of St. John Monastery, which was founded on the nearby shore by a small group of monks in 1983. Their initial penchant for picking wild berries and baking soon turned into a venture able to support their little community. We were served by a pleasant monk who happily described the plethora of decadent flavors of muffins, and left with a heavy bag of goodies. Only half of them made it into my panniers…

Our little motel in Copper Harbor was ideally situated right on the water, with a picturesque view of the harbor. What a great choice! We even had a back deck in a garden setting where we could relax and enjoy the view. Rich chose to use that spot for a different purpose… repairing a flat. In keeping with today’s theme of perfection, his back tire chose to deflate at the entrance to our motel. Even the first equipment failure did not blemish our cycling.

It’s a good thing that tomorrow is our “day off” from cycling. It would be difficult to top today’s ride.

Cycling with Mother Nature

We operate by our body clocks. We were up at the usual early hour, but lost an hour to the Michigan time change. It seemed strange that the sunrise was just after 7am, but we enjoyed watching it from our beach just the same.

Today we cycled coast-to-coast across the Keweenaw Peninsula and then up the eastern shore to Houghton. There is not a lot of population on the peninsula, so I decided to focus my camera on the beauty of the nature we encountered along the way.

Sunrise over the western shore of the peninsula at Ontonagon.

We have been enamored with the windflowers blooming along the roadside throughout our trip. My favorite are the purple blossoms.

Fall colors are definitely beginning to show in the maple trees.

Fantastic clouds formulate over pastoral farmland in the interior of the peninsula.

Tall pine trees line the road going north from Baraga to Houghton.

The eastern shore, cycling along Keweenaw Bay.

We experienced another aspect of Mother Nature as well today. After having been blessed with sunshine throughout our trip so far, our luck ran out less than 20 miles short of our final destination. We thought we had out-biked the rain, leaving a few thin showers behind us, but that was nothing in comparison to the squall that slammed into our path. Within a matter of minutes, the temperature plummeted, sheets of rain came pouring down and gusts of wind blew right into us. Fortunately, Rich spotted a thick grove of pine trees across the road. We dashed over there and huddled in the relative protection of the trees waiting for the rain to subside. I was amazed at how well sheltered we were in comparison to the torrents falling on the road. The rain did indeed abate allowing us to resume our ride, although it was wet and chilly cycling (Rich called it “miserable”) and semis showered us with roadspray. Then just as suddenly the sun returned. The amazing warming power of the sun was such that when an ice cream stand materialized on the side of the road, we didn’t hesitate to stop. Two huge blackberry smoothies were happily consumed as we parked ourselves on a picnic bench and basked in the sunshine. Mother Nature wooed us back into her good graces that easily.

Wilderness Cycling

I have to compliment my tour planner and co-cyclist, Rich, on today’s route. It was stunning! If you like wilderness and quiet scenery, this is the itinerary for you. And I think even Rich was awed by the perfection of today’s ride. In fact I know so – he said as much!

After a necessary 10 miles on Highway 2, we turned away from traffic and civilization and headed into the wilderness. The first 15 miles were on a road leading to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It could have been a bike path. We shared the road with only a few passing cars and traveled undisturbed down the tree-lined lane as mile after mile of smooth pavement uncurled in front of us. We were prepared to find hills, which we did, but most were reasonable grades alternating between up and down.

We then turned onto South Boundary Road, which traverses the perimeter of the park. Our near-solitude continued as did our appreciation of the sun, the trees, the rivers and the wilderness. Having hiked in the area, we had vivid memories of clambering down and up the steep sides of the ravines in our path. We were relieved to find that road construction techniques alleviated such dips. Nevertheless, the road began to climb steadily, and looking into the distance we could see the high ridge of trees defining the summit – a sobering sight. It was a solid 10 miles uphill, mostly a gentle grade, but a challenging pitch at times. It gave us great pleasure to top the hill and begin our descent, which lasted 15 miles. We faced a strong headwind as we neared Lake Superior, but had no complaints mixing that with our downhill rush.

We rejoiced to see Lake Superior in the distance, and the view upon arrival was impressive. The pristine sand beach was enhanced by trees and white crested waves rolling into shore. What a difference from the rocky coastline we are accustomed to on the North Shore, yet beautiful in its uniqueness. Our final 15 miles closely followed the shore. Our view of the lake disappeared when private land intervened, but the water was close enough that we could get a glimpse of it down the driveways and periodically between properties. For us it was enough to know the great lake was there. Traveling lakeside also had the advantage of being blessedly flat. This time at the end of the day we left the hard work behind us and glided up to our motel near Ontonagon.

This trip just keeps getting better.