Light Housekeeping and Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 9-29-15  Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, MI

Kaye and I just finished a two-week term of volunteer duty at a 148-year-old lighthouse on the western shore of Michigan, and we found it a rewarding experience if a bit exhausting.  Eight-hour days and six-day weeks can be a challenge for a couple of retirees who aren’t used to being on duty for anything but hammock swinging and beach walking anymore.

But rewarding it certainly was.  There is a noticeable boost to self-worth when you feel that you are providing a valuable service in helping to preserve a historical landmark and enriching the lives of hundreds of visitors who come to see a unique treasure of American history.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Staying in the upstairs keepers’ quarters, the volunteers start their work day by tidying the yard around the buildings, then opening the gift shop, the archives room, and the tower for the daily shift.  The doors are open from 10 am to 5 pm, and guests arrive by land or sea, hiking a couple of miles from the trailhead at Ludington State Park, or paddling along the shore in kayaks or coming ashore in motorboats.

Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.  Whenever the wind blows – and that is often – the sand moves.

The day is spent welcoming guests, giving tours, and talking the science of lighthouse technology and the history and life of the old-time lighthouse keepers.

Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop
Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop.
Visitors are treated to scientific and historical data in the archives room on their way to the tower stairs.
Visitors are treated to a plethora of scientific and historical data in the archives room on the way to the tower stairs.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
The view from the top is breathtaking - especially for those with a fear of heights.
The view from the top is breathtaking – especially for those with a fear of heights.

After hours, the workers enjoy the conveniences of modern living – in a very old house – and in the company of new friends.    The upstairs keepers’ quarters are comfortable and homey, and the workers sometimes cook for each other and play table games in the evenings.  There’s no TV, but there is wifi on site, so Kaye and I were happy campers.  Of course, the beach and the million dollar sunsets were available to us every day.

The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance - and a grand view to the north.
The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance – and a grand view to the north.
The old keepers' house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hand out in the evenings.
The old house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hang out in the evenings.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of four historical lighthouses that are cared for by the Sable Point Lightkeepers Association (SPLKA).  Volunteers at the other three lights sign on for one-week tours, while Big Sable Point offers the only 2-week term.  There are also day keeper opportunities.

Though there are challenges to this sort of experience, Kaye and I are very happy about our time spent here and the new acquaintances we have made.  Some folks travel quite a distance to try this out (one of our fellow keepers was from Connecticut), because it is really a unique opportunity.  There are only so many shorelines and lighthouses in the world, and I am glad to have had the chance to live and work at this one.

Big Sable vertical

For more information about volunteering at any of these four west Michigan lighthouses contact SPLKA.org

I have posted a few more photos below, and made several more of them available from my online web gallery at SimsShots Photography.  Order prints from wallet size to 3-foot-wide sofa-size posters and lots of other products.

Also, there are a few of these on my photo-sharing stream at Flickr.

Big Sable dusk

Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.
Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.

Big Sable nighttime

This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.
This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.

Also, there is this:  While shooting the lunar eclipse on the evening of September 27th, a ghostly apparition showed up on one of my photos, adding another episode to the on-going legend that Big Sable Point Lighthouse is haunted.  I think it is some sort of optic anomaly, but others are sure they have seen this sort of thing before and that it is a paranormal occurrence.  What do you think?  Let me say, the night was absolutely clear with no fog or smoke anywhere near.  (Click anywhere on the photo to see it in full screen mode.)

Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.
Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.

Order prints of this photo at SimsShots Photography.

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