To The Lighthouse

       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.

A misty morning at Peggy’s Cove

Peggy’s Cove is an idyllic fishing village in Nova Scotia – it’s like stepping back in time.

Old vacation photos

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.

Lake lighthouse

And this smaller one along the river.

River Lighthouse

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!

Safe Harbour

25 thoughts on “To The Lighthouse

  1. Anne says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Joni. Your mother’s paintings interspersed with photographs as well as the snippets of family history … all have contributed to a good start to my very chilly morning. Lighthouses are an attraction all over the world – we have a few around here too. If you enjoyed ‘The light between the oceans’ (I found it a fascinating read), I wonder if you would be able to source ‘The Keeper’ written by Marguerite Poland, who happens to be a friend of mine. It is based on a lighthouse off Port Elizabeth and is an interesting exploration of the loneliness, the intrigue and the relationships played out there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Anne. I just googled it and it is available on Amazon but for $57. I’ll see if the library can find a copy….sometimes they can get things through interlibrary loan from other areas. It sounds interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Eilene Lyon says:

    Wonderful read, Joni! I love the tales about your Uncle Leo and your mom’s paintings are so delightful. The sea is so mercurial and lighthouses are the perfect reminder. The book sounds like a must-read to me.

    Like

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Eilene! The book was an interesting read, and not too long, but when I googled I couldn’t find where the author ever wrote another one. A book takes so much work and effort maybe she thought one was enough!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ally Bean says:

    Lighthouses make me sigh. I like how they look, have never been in one, but feel like they are a symbol for hope. I’ve not read the book you mention and it sounds fascinating. Will add it to my list. Your mom’s paintings make me smile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Ally! I was in the one from P.E.I and you could climb to the top, with the living quarters in the bottom. Next week – sailboats….if the skies are blue and sunny. So far it’s been a bummer of a summer!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Linda Schaub says:

    [Reading this post and the rain is pelting down and it sounds the end of the world out there. If you get this same weather as me Joni – your gardens won’t need watering for weeks.]
    The bad weather from the Polar Vortex and then the Coast Guard ice cutter spewing massive chunks of ice, tore up the side of the light house I toured a few years ago – it was my first lighthouse and I was surprised to learn that people belong to a lighthouse society which gets a passport book and stamp for each lighthouse visited. That is fascinating you had a relative who was the lightkeeper. When I visited the lighthouse, they showed how far the keeper had to travel twice daily and he would go along the pier, with no railing when it was icy … how did he not end up in the River? The book you mentioned “The Light Between Oceans” sounds very interesting. The movie too – it is not a freebie movie on Prime video but they have the paperback which is about $10.00 – I would like to read it. I like your mom’s paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda, and yes we had the same rainy day yesterday, it poured in the morning and again in the evening, and so humid I haven’t been able to walk for a week, nor water at all. I got a new hose a month ago and haven’t even used it. The grass is so green like spring. Not liking this summer at all. If you have a library card you could get the book there as it was so popular, when you have more time to read. The movie was not good. I toured the lighthouse in the picture of PEI and it was interesting, there was a space below for the lighthouse keeper to sleep, and you could climb the inside stairs to the top, but it was set up as a tourist attraction. I remember you posting about the lighthouse you visited. I may not post this week if I can’t get any sailboat pictures before Thursday, as I need some new ones. Hope it’s nicer tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        PEI looked nice – I’ve not seen any of my homeland, just one province … Ontario. I have a high school friend I keep in touch with on Facebook. [I don’t know if I mentioned her to you, but she had a near-fatal stroke on April 15th, blood clot in her brain. She spent 55 days in the hospital, the last 10 days in a rehab wing. She is home now, on a walker and just learning to use a cane.] Anyway, this same friend and her husband traveled all over the globe and her husband was into lighthouses. They married about five years ago and used to take road trips for Cherie to see all the lighthouses that John had seen before he met her. [Hope she liked lighthouses. :)] Anyway, it was his dream to live in one, so they rented a lighthouse in Ireland a few years ago and spent a week there. They had fun and then traveled around Ireland the following week. The weather was downright scary yesterday – four tornadoes in SE Michigan and they’re still determining if the one in Detroit was a tornado or a bad storm. It flipped over two cars. It turned out nice today. I walked early, but just in the neighborhood as the area near the Park usually floods and I didn’t want to walk through it nor the dregs of the sewer water. I could have gone an alternate route, but didn’t know the water situation, though it likely receded by this morning. I saw some horrible photos of the flooding here in my City in the streets and basements, plus the damage from the tornadoes. Maybe you’ll find some sailboat pics tomorrow. Nice for a day or two, then storms. My grass is never this green after June … never remember so much rain in Summer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I don’t remember any lighthouses from my Ireland trip, but they must have some, but what a great place to stay. We had some rain Sat. but yesterday was so humid I couldn’t go out again. I did a short walk after supper and no one was out the air was so heavy. Not sure re sailboats today as no wind. Do you ever have any flooding in your area or basement?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Cherie and John had a great time and had a guide who was very nice as well. No flooding right here or in my basement which I would attribute to the new sewers we got in 1990. We had bad flooding in 1969 which went halfway up the basement wall, which was painted and not paneled at that time. It was hot today and we have more severe weather Wednesday into Thursday – sigh. The weather is very worrisome this year.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        It was a nice day for the beach, but no sailboat pics…..there were some far away, too far for my 3X zoom lens, but there was a lovely breeze off the water and it wasn’t too hot. Rain again in the forecast. I saw something depressing about the weather on a documentary that this might be the new normal and that the climate change is irreversible now….weather extremes all over the world from now on….

        Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yesterday was the better pick of the days for sure – today was very hot and humid. I don’t like hearing that about climate change Joni. I am looking forward when retired to be able to go out, have a leisurely walk in the morning but if that’s not doable in the a.m., then during the day.and now it looks like those plans all go down the drain then. I heard we will have another La Nina Winter which means plenty of precip. Hope they are wrong on all counts.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. J P says:

    I will join the chorus of lighthouse lovers. When we were younger, Marianne and I were involved in a faith-based marriage group, that promoted the lighthouse as the way our marriage was supposed to serve as a guide for those around us. I am not going to claim that our light hasn’t flickered from time to time, but I still find the imagery encouraging.

    I remember seeing the movie based on the book you cite. Too many stories about lighthouses involve loss and loneliness. An antidote is the 1924 silent film Captain January, that featured child star Baby Peggy. It has been awhile but I remember it as heartwarming.

    Like

    • Joni says:

      That’s a lovely description/analogy JP. Other commentators mentioned the lighthouse as metaphor, but I must confess I didn’t go that deep. That’s an old film – thanks for the recommend. I’ll look for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave says:

    I never really considered the fact lighthouses are past their prime. Especially on the east coast, I assumed some continue to serve a purpose, but you make a solid point, Joni. Technology far surpasses the assistance lighthouses were designed to offer. It reminds me of the tollway built around Denver in the last twenty years. The road was built with several tollbooths, but just a few years before technology allowed for “smart stickers” on cars. Now the empty tollbooths sit like ancient relics, more expensive to dismantle than to simply leave in place.

    Your Uncle Leo sounds like the typical member of his generation. He wore a lot of hats by necessity, maybe not so much by choice. I don’t think many of us today can claim to be jacks (or jills?) of all trades.

    Finally, I completely agree with your assessment of “The Light Between Oceans” (the book vs. the movie). The story created a fascinating dilemma (with a not-so-happy ending) but seemed more effective in print than on film. Alicia Vikander is a wonderful actress but this movie won’t pad her resume in a positive way. Some stories simply don’t translate well to the big screen. Perhaps this is one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Lighthouses seem to be decorative at best now. Agree re the book not translating well. I’ve yet to find anyone who liked the movie better than the book! You’re right – I think those Uncle Leo characters were multi-skilled as they had to be. After his brother drowned in the big storm I think he lost interest in working on boats anymore, and with little education, they worked at whatever they could find.

      Like

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