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I Am My Brother’s (Lighthouse) Keeper – Part 1

October 13, 2012

As I mentioned last, my dad has long expressed his fondness for all manners of things nautical.  We visited a lighthouse up in Door County, WI this past summer.  During the visit, he reiterated a unique desire—to become a lighthouse keeper.  And, although he had heard of different lighthouse keeper “programs”, he knew them only with fuzzy, roundabout specifics.

That’s about where I picked up the baton.  Given my Pops is about as computer literate as a caveman without fingers, I did the searching for a lighthouse reasonably close that we could experience “keeping” together.

I love hearing my dad’s passions.  His love of travel, architecture, big band music, golfing, wine, Chicago Bears football and more are well known by my Mom, my brothers and I.  Christmastime is pretty simple when it comes to buying a gift for him—a tasty bottle of vino, Bears tickets, a good CD box set.  To commemorate his 75th birthday, my brothers were thoughtful enough to plan a visit to the cradle of the game of golf—St. Andrews, Scotland.  This was back in 2008 when my brothers were flush with cash and I, unfortunately, was not.

So here was my opportunity to help him realize a dream of his.  After a remarkably simple search online, I came up with what looked like an ideal lighthouse for us to babysit for a while.  I found out how to apply for us both, mailed along our resumes’ and we were accepted.  We chose the dates because, frankly, it looked like a perfect time of the year to be hanging around a lighthouse.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse is located about 35 miles NNW of Traverse City, Michigan.  It’s also described as the tip of the pinky finger in the Lower Peninsula “mitten”.  Really, hold up your right hand to your face with your thumb pointing right and you’ll find the lighthouse at the tip of the sliver of your pinky finger fingernail.  Got it?  Find it on Google Maps if you don’t.

We arrived here this morning (Friday), one of those crisp autumn mornings where your breath clouds your face for a second or so against the backdrop of foliage in every earthy shade from deep royal purple to dark forest green.  Reds so red, they look bloody.  Yellows so bright, they make you look jaundiced when the light reflects off your skin.  All framed by a cerulean sky.  Just a Technicolor kind of a day.

And there was the lighthouse, actually a stately white two-story square box with green windows and doors topped with a steeply pitched cherry red metal roof.  And perched atop that is a small, 9-sided glass cupola.  From 1858 to when it was decommissioned in 1972, this building helped keep Lake Michigan mariners away from this northernmost tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and the rocky shores that girdle its’ coast.

This lighthouse is actually a museum.  Half of the building is just that, and the other half would be our dwelling for the next week.  The museum manager warmly met us at the door with a smile and handshake.  She sat us down in the comfy living room, gave us keys to the place (really, keys to the whole place!) and gave us our work assignments.

In a nutshell, we’d be greeting folks at the museum, collecting the entrance fee (it’s only 4 bucks apiece) and helping keep everything clean and tidy.  The odd jobs of refilling the bird feeder or taking down the American flag every day at dusk are ours, too.  As I said last time, we’ll actually be working.  Some vacation, right?

To us it is.  We had such fun learning about the history behind the lighthouse, how different lightkeepers had lived and worked at the lighthouse over the years with their entire families—generations of them, too.  And all the visitors we saw today…that inquisitive type—cameras in hand, asking questions about anything and everything associated with the building and its’ purpose.   And of course, each wishing to scurry up the many steps to that 9-sided glass cupola atop the roof so they may peek back into the past from the perch 48 feet above the choppy, silvery surface of Lake Michigan.  Just as the old lightkeepers did for well over 113 continuous years.

Soon enough sunset approached, well after the museum had closed and all the visitors had climbed into their vehicles and headed back south.  My dad and I headed back up to the lighthouse cupola.  As lighthouse keepers, we are allowed to step out on the catwalk that surrounds the lighthouse itself, so that’s where we stood.  The view was magnificent.  We could clearly see Beaver Island 22 miles north.  And gliding over the surface, we watched a distant freighter silently pass in front of the sun like so many vessels had done so before.

Pinks and purples and blues again—then it was dark.  Tomorrow and Sunday the forecast is for rain—lots of it.  In fact, the next week’s forecast calls for either rain or at least thick clouds on each of the days until we leave.  We might not get to see another sunset all week.  That’s okay, though, because the one that we saw tonight was memorable enough to last us a while.

From → Family Stuff

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