A lighthouse is a tower or building emitting a beacon of light on a dark and stormy night. Originally designed as navigational aids for warning of dangerous coastlines, reefs and rocks, or for marking safe harbors, they are largely ornamental now. Expensive to operate and maintain they have been mostly replaced by other electronic navigational devices and any remaining ones have been automated and no longer require a lighthouse keeper. Still, they have a certain romance about them – who doesn’t love a picture of a lighthouse?
As an important part of marine history, they make great tourist attractions. Canada’s most famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove attracts thousands of tourists a year. (link) You can explore on the boulders around the structure but despite the warning signs, a few people are swept into the dangerous surf every year.
Peggy’s Cove is an idyllic fishing village in Nova Scotia – it’s like stepping back in time.
Here’s another lighthouse from Prince Edward Island, as you can note from the red soil.
Although I live in the Great Lakes region, there aren’t many lighthouses around here anymore. There’s this one at the entrance to the lake on the American side.
And this smaller one along the river.
The odd shaped structure above, was moved to a local pioneer village/museum after it was decommissioned. While researching its history I was surprised to discover that my great Uncle Leo, was at one time (1948) the light-keeper there. I only knew Uncle Leo as an old man, bald and as deaf as a door-knob. When he came for a visit, the conversation would be a shouting match, music to a seven year old eavesdropping on adult conversation. He was also a house painter, and the official ringer of the church bell, so a bit of a jack of all trades. The maternal side of my dad’s family were known as river rats. Uncle Leo’s brother owned a cargo boat which made regular runs to Detroit, although not rum-running during Prohibition as they were strict religious folks. Another brother went down on one of the freighters in the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, which I’ve blogged about before in The Witch of November, a gale so furious that even the lighthouses were not of much help to the many ships which floundered and sank.
Maintaining the light and the log books was a meticulous business and the light-keeper sometimes lived adjacent to or on site in the larger lighthouses, with snug kitchen and sleeping accommodations on the bottom floor.
Here are a few more of my mother’s folk-art paintings, with variations in color scheme.
I’ve borrowed the title to this blog from the famous novel by Virginia Wolfe, (link) although I have not read it, or any of her other works, but I suppose I should some day, as it was rated one of the top classic novels of all time.
A more modern novel referencing light-houses is the best-seller The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This was an interesting read if you missed it when it was first published in 2012. The setting is 1926 post WW1 Australia where a returning soldier takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a small island off the coast, and later brings his new bride there. They are the sole inhabitants, with no visitors other than a supply boat which comes once a season to replenish their stores. After several years of isolation the grieving wife has suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth. One day, a small rowboat washes up on shore with a dead man inside and a crying baby. Instead of reporting it to the authorities, the lighthouse keeper buries the dead man and is persuaded by his wife to keep the baby and pass it off as their own. Two years later when they visit the mainland on shore leave, and see the posters for the missing child, the morale dilemma ensues. The plot made for perfect book club discussion material. The author is an Australian lawyer, and this was her first published book. The 2016 movie did not do it justice due to miscasting and despite being filmed in Australia/New Zealand it failed to capture the descriptions and desolation of the windswept island so vivid in the book.
I can’t imagine being stuck in a lighthouse on an island for two years with no other souls around. Oh wait, after a rather solitary 17 months, maybe I can….but a safe harbor is now in sight!