Would you pay to spend a vacation washing windows, mowing the lawn, weeding, polishing brass and painting objects high above the ground?
Your answer might just be "yes," especially if you love lighthouses, history and actively helping to preserve a treasured part of our heritage.
"What's the attraction?" writes Elinor DeWire in Sojourn at the Lighthouse. "It's the chance to experience something unique, something as close to being a genuine lighthouse keeper as you can find in the modern world."
Sojourn at the Lighthouse is Elinor's story of her week as a volunteer lightkeeper at the New Dungeness Light Station near Sequim (pronounced skwim) in Washington State. Her days were filled with the rhythm and scents of the sea. As she walked in the footsteps of the historic lighthouse keepers, she observed all the sights of living by the water, including seals, eagles and seabirds. She fell asleep each night with the light from the beacon sweeping across her room.
If you have ever fantasized about living in a lighthouse, Elinor's book is a delightful way to join in that adventure. She weaves together stories about her week there with interesting insights about everyday life for the original lightkeepers. The romance of the lighthouse is not diminished, but the reader also comes away with a deeper understanding of all the work involved. Keepers and their families faced many challenges living in an isolated lighthouse. They were subject to the caprices of nature, including battering storms. The dedication of the historical lightkeepers, as well as the present-day volunteers, is inspiring.
Advances in technology put lighthouses at risk. The need for their guidence lessened with the new marine navigational tools. Lighthouses that stood tall against the night sky, warning of danger and marking the way to safe harbor, were potentially in danger themselves. If they were abandoned, they would fall into ruin.
Into this grim picture came the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act and the "history heroes:" men, women and children who help to restore and protect lighthouses, preserving the legacy of these symbols of trust and strength for today and the future.
The New Dungeness Light Station Association is one of these "history heroes." They recognized the urgent need to care for the lighthouse after the U.S. Coast Guard withdrew its last Keeper in 1994. Still with an active beacon maintained by the Coast Guard, the rest of the work is carried out by the Association.
They began an innovative program giving volunteer lightkeepers an opportunity to experience a vanished way of life. During their week at the lighthouse, the volunteers provide needed maintenance and let visitors know about its vital history and importance to us now.
In Sojourn at the Lighthouse, Elinor writes, "This extraordinary historic site is one of the best living history uses of a lighthouse in the nation...New Dungeness Light Station is always open and staffed, even on Christmas Day. The light is on in the tower, and the lights are on in the house. The volunteer keepers prefer not be be called vacationers...they aren't on a lark. They see themselves as true lighthouse keepers, on assignment and carrying on an old and cherished tradition...doing something that matters in a modern world."
In addition to maintaining the lighthouse and grounds, volunteer lightkeepers "greet hikers and kayakers, make sure they have a drink of water and a place to picnic, and offer them a tour of the site." Elinor also participated in a modern-day rescue, highlighting the advantages of human beings staffing the lighthouse rather than impersonal automation.
In picking up Sojourn at the Lighthouse for a second time recently, I am reminded of the delights of rereading a book. I looked forward to experiencing again the feel of living surrounded by clean, salty breezes. I enjoyed reminding myself about the past, including historic lighthouse keepers like Edward A. Brooks, head keeper from October 1902 through August 1925 (pictured at right). Reading late into the night, I found myself laughing again at the very funny stories Elinor tells in the book.
Sojourn at the Lighthouse is filled with vivid descriptions and a love for preserving something valuable and important. You may just find yourself thinking that mowing lawns and cleaning windows could be a very meaningful and fun way to spend a week, especially when done to the beat of waves and a view of a lighthouse by the sea.
Lighthouses are, of course, much about the night...At the light station there was a big sky rimmed by water and mountains, forming a dome dappled with stars...the stars and constellations shone gloriously overhead after dark. The loveliest star of all, of course, was the lighthouse beacon, a star for ships to steer by. From
Lighthouse expert Elinor DeWire is the author of twenty-four books as well as many newspaper and magazine articles. She is also a popular public speaker and workshop organizer. Elinor teaches at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington and has served on the boards of many lighthouse non-profit organizations. She is currently on the board of directors for the U.S. Lighthouse Society.