Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What a Few Can Do

Advancing technology is not always a good thing.  At least not for the keepers of the light at Big Sable Point Lighthouse.  Built in 1867, the lighthouse needed a keeper to maintain the three wick float burner that glowed from the fuel of lard oil.  It was a tough job to work in the 112 foot tower during the brutal winter, a job made more difficult and isolating as the light house was only accessible by water.  The light beamed  20 miles out into the water, saving ships from potential disaster, and comforting those returning home.  The lighthouse and the keeper's quarters later became a life saving station.  From 1867 until 1968, keepers and their families lived and worked at the lighthouse, separated from the world by a vast body of water and miles of dunes.  As technology advanced, the shoreline diminished, setting into motion a series of disasters.  Over time, the fog signal building, an oil house, a generator building, a barn, a boat house and a storage building were all lost.  Once the light became fully automated, the Coast Guard periodically staffed the station until it was closed in the early 1970's.

Once closed, the vandals arrived.  The interior of the house was severely damaged, letting in drifts of snow.  The sea wall collapsed soon after, endangering the tower.

A few people thought these accumulating events were a tragic ending to a significant and valuable asset to the community.  In 1987, thirteen people formed the Big Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association and began the first of many restoration projects over many years, including the repair of the steel sea wall to save the tower.

In the hands of a few people who care, Big Sable is now listed on the state and national registers of historic places, and is maintained entirely by volunteers.  After commenting on the fantastic opportunity it must be to live and work at the lighthouse, I was invited to apply to be a lighthouse keeper.  In fact, people from all over can apply to be a keeper, and reside on the upper level of the keeper's quarters for two weeks.  I was given information to begin the application process, and it is something I hope to be able to do.  There is no fee to be a resident keeper.  Contributions of time, effort and passion for the history and preservation of the lighthouse is now the fuel that keeps the light alive and shining.

The keeper's quarters once were home to three families and their children.  It's not easy to convey the feeling of refreshment that one experiences upon arrival.  Because of the remote location, I deeply felt the sense of time standing still.  Keepers are allowed to drive to the site by car, but visitors must walk or bike the 1.5 mile sand road.  Without the sound of traffic, I immediately felt a sense of peace.  Perhaps it was once a place where the keepers and their families felt lonely, cut off from the rest of the world.  Perhaps they felt liberated and free.  I'm guessing that it was a mixture of both. My reentry into the land of traffic and noise has not been as pleasant or exciting as it once was, after living for years in the northern woods.  Ten years ago I was excited to be in a place that was busy all the time.

Being at the lighthouse reminded me that I need both places to satisfy my soul.  I need equal measures of community and solitude, no matter the conflicts that this brings to my life.


  1. Another excellent post, Jenny. Some of us are "Kinos." We experience the world primarily through our Kinesthetic Representational System which includes not only the sense of touch but our feelings and emotions. We feel a certain way about a place. We feel "at home" in some places more than others. This can change as you go through life. As you pointed out you might go through a period feeling at home in a city because it gives you a sense of community, safety and security. A visit to a remote spot might turn the rudder and you begin a phase in which it feels right to escape the crowds and traffic noise and enjoy solitude in an unspoiled natural setting. I experienced an unprecedented feeling of peace and calm when I took the 70 mile boat trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas National Park wildlife refuge. Far from civilization, it was, as you stated about your experience at the lighthouse, as if time had stood still.

    1. I love the idea of phases, like waves that wash in and then recede. I had never heard of the term Kinos. That is so interesting! I'm intrigued by the trip you took to the refuge. It sounds like something to remember your whole life.

  2. Oh, Jenny, I love lighthouses, both metaphorically and physically. They represent so much to me. There's one near a beach here and I love to just sit and look at it.

    I know exactly what you are saying about needing community and solitude to thrive. We need food and water to nourish our bodies, and our souls need solid measures of aloneness and interaction to flourish. I think each hones the other.

    I so enjoyed getting to know the history of this lighthouse and how people banded together to save it. Bravo!

  3. I liked your thoughts on this, Jenny. And I feel much the same way. When I was younger, the noisy hustle bustle was exciting and rejuvenating. But as I get older I find that I seek out more quiet places that are conducive to meditation or just quiet thoughts. Noise and confusion make me tired, even though it might be temporarily fun.


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