Tag Archives: shoreline

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.

First Week at the Lighthouse

Milepost 9-15-15    Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan

Kaye posted a daily journal of our first few days of volunteering at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse:

Day One – Tuesday, 9-15-15

  •  We arrived last evening and met our team members. The place is so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine we have this amazing opportunity. And so it begins.
  • There is WiFi at the lighthouse!!! Wahoo!!! I am downright happy about that.
  • After a brief demonstration from one of the other volunteers, I worked the video room most of the morning, re-stocked the cooler, gave tours of the keepers’ quarters to some possible volunteer recruits, shadowed someone closing out cash register, learned to open safe. Bob worked in the tower and at various other jobs.
  • I am on a steep learning curve! Lots we need to know to be lighthouse keepers. Glad we don’t have to haul oil up the tower to light the lamp. Also thankful for a great team to work with and to learn from.
  • Exhausted. Feet hurt…
 Day Two – Wednesday, 9-16-15
  •  From our bedroom window, we saw the Badger leaving the harbor on its way back across Lake Michigan to Manitowac, Wisconsin.
  • I learned a bit about running the cash register.

Day Three – Thursday, 9-17-15

  •  Field trip!!! Craziness.
  • Somehow Bob and I ended up having the place to ourselves for the evening. The whole freakin’ lighthouse and the whole dang beach. How bizarre! Wonderfully peaceful and quiet after having those students here all day. Well, quiet except for the wild wind and pounding surf.

Day Four – Friday, 9-18-15

  • Our day off – so we visited the new grand-daughter who is one week old today.
  • Stopped at the famous House of Flavors for supper. Fish is excellent.

Day Five – Saturday, 9-19-15

  •  Busy day. I worked the video room all morning, the cash register in the afternoon, and then back to the video room.

Day Six – Sunday, 9-20-15

  •  What an awesome view. Nine miles to the south, the Badger is heading out of the harbor and across the lake passing a row of seven sparkling white sailboats as a speed boat zips by all of them. Several fishing boats are spread across the horizon as well.
  • Lots of interesting and inquisitive visitors came inside and still more lounged outside. On a quick afternoon break upstairs, I glanced out windows to the scene below. Families were sitting and/or playing in clusters on the beach. People strolled along the boardwalks and hiked into the surrounding dunes. So lovely.
  • One of my online writing friends came to visit today. It was our first chance to meet face-to-face after corresponding for three years. Fun times. Actually all of us on the team had friends or family visit this evening.

Day Seven – Monday, 9-21-15

  •  Another gorgeous morning – in a long string of beautiful weather. We sure picked the right time of year to be here!
  • An interesting day. First visitors were from London, UK, and later some from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Then a keeper from Passage Island and Rock of Ages in Lake Superior. What fun to chat with him.
  • It was 2 o’clock before I even knew it – and before I had chance for a break.
  • I feel like I’m beginning to understand the process of closing out the cash register. We were one penny off.
  • State park ranger, fire and rescue paramedics, and ambulance all showed up in our yard responding to a medical emergency call during the evening. Turns out all is well.
  • Finished out our first week with a campfire out on the dunes.
(Click on photo to view in full screen mode.)
Read more of Kaye’s accounts at her blog, Wondering Journey.

Lighthouse Duty Is A Tall Order.

Milepost 9-10-15                                                         Ludington, Michigan

Our long-awaited engagement at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington, Michigan is upon us, and there are a couple of notices I need to post for those who might want to visit while we are there.

The first is that this is a remote location that is only accessible via a 1.8-mile trail through the dunes from the visitor center at Ludington State Park.  It may be a difficult hike for those who are not used to that much physical exertion (at least it is not hilly).  And then there is the lighthouse tower with its 130 steps if you want to climb to the top.  Then, of course, the  return walk to the car.

The lighthouse is at the end of a service lane through the dunes.
The lighthouse stands at the end of a sandy service lane through the dunes.

The second thing to be noted is the hours of operation.  The lighthouse and museum and gift shop are open from 10 am to 5 pm daily.  The surrounding grounds – mostly sand dunes and lakeshore – are open all the time.

There is a small fee for entry into the state park unless you have the Michigan Passport license plate.  Trailhead parking is immediately inside the park entrance.  The cost to climb the tower is $5 for adults and $2 for kids twelve and under.  Kids must be 40 inches tall to climb the tower.

Kaye and I will be arriving at the lighthouse for our tour of duty on September 14th after 5 pm, and leaving on the 28th.  We will stay in the original keeper’s house which is attached to the lighthouse and be working alongside four other volunteers, taking turns in the gift shop, the museum and the lantern room at the top of the tower.

I plan to post reports and photos of our activities while at the light whenever I have access to wireless services, so stay tuned.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

_____________________________________

9-16-15 Update.  Day 3 of our 2-week engagement:

We arrived on Monday and settled in at our upstairs bedroom in the 150-year-old light keepers’ house along with the other volunteers.  The weather has been sunny and very windy every day so far.   Kaye and I take turns with the others, running the till in the gift shop, answering questions about the history of the lighthouse in the little museum, and keeping visitors safe on the tower platform 100 feet above the Lake Michigan beach.

We also rotate in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal for the group.  Today I baked pizzas from scratch and they were accepted with delight.

Skies have been totally clear the last 3 nights and I have had a chance to attempt night sky photography, something I have been hoping to try for some time but haven’t been in a dark enough location.  Though we are 9 miles from the nearest town, this is still not the best scenario, since the light on the ground tends to overpower the Milky Way.  Wish I could find how to turn off those amber yard lights next to the building.   Here’s a sample of my first attempt.

The Milky Way hangs above the 112-foot lighthouse at Big Sable Point. Ludington, Michigan.
The Milky Way hangs above the 100-foot lighthouse at Big Sable Point, Ludington, Michigan.