Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Star to Steer By...

We all enjoy visiting and photographing lighthouses. We take pictures mostly by day. It's easy in the daytime. No special equipment needed.

But at night lighthouses become fantastic objects for the camera! And, of course, night time is when they do their most important work. Why else would they need lights if not to help the navigator in fog, rain, snow, and darkness?

Catching a lighthouse at night with your camera is no easy task. I've tried numerous times with various types of cameras, with moderate success. (All of my night shots are slides, else I'd post some here.) A tripod is essential for night pictures, as is patience. Sky conditions need to be right too. Even then, I often end up with blurry, less than eye-popping images. What my eye catches seems not what my camera catches. A camera can catch more or less of what we see, I think. 

Digital cameras now do much of the work that skilled photographers once did. I've worked with several photographers who were assigned to do the pictures for some of my books. They all eschew digital photography and still create images the old-fashioned way with 35mm cameras and lots of equipment in cases and trunks. One of them admitted, though, that he uses "some software" to refine his images.

Yes, a little Photoshopping can make those night pictures pop, sometimes garishly....but delightfully too. What does a mariner really see when looking at a lighthouse from sea? What does the casual beach-goer see looking at a lighthouse from land? I doubt they see what's below. (Image of Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California, from Holidayaholic on Flicker. No derision is intended by my comments; this is a lovely image. I just think it's not what we would see with the human eye, especially with a blue sky in the background and clear air.)

A good foggy night will show us the beams revolving around the lantern (see Jennifer Oakes' Point Carbillo photo farther down the page), and perhaps we'd see a faint outline of the beams on a clear night (below), probably only if we stood under or near the lantern, as a guy named Martys did to take this shot, shared on www.downeast.com. It's all about perspective--where you are when you view the lighthouse. This is a wonderful image below, and I have indeed seen this effect at lighthouses. The moisture in the ocean air can illuminate the beams like this. The lighthouse Martys caught in his camera lens is the pretty one at West Quoddy Head, Maine. Check out his other image to see what happened at a short distance from the tower. The effect of the beams disappeared.

From sea, a lighthouse with a fixed beacon (no flash signature) can look like any other light along the shore, unless a sailor has an intimate knowledge of the coast and a good manual to help identify the lights he/she sees. In the "good old days," there weren't so many lights on the shore at night, and a lighthouse was easy to find. Now, it can be a challenge unless you really know your course. Our shorelines in many places--practically the entire Eastern Seaboard, I think--are all lit up. Cities have become their own lighthouses, sighted by ships long before the simple beams of an old lighthouse are seen.

So, what do lighthouses look like at night? If you haven't seen them for yourself, check out some of these great images of lighthouses doing their nocturnal work--

Here's Portland Head Light, Maine, on Flicker by Matthew Paulson.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina, was captured here by a National Park Service photographer. The long exposure picked up the background stars and made them slightly elongated as they moved across the sky during the time the camera shutter was open.

Jennifer Oakes captured the fog-reflected beams of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, California (Flicker). Notice there are no stars in the background. It was probably too murky and misty to see them. You need tiny water droplets, such as fog produces, or a lot of dirt in the air to really catch the beams. A misty evening makes them effulgent like this. At sea, the mariner wouldn't see this effect. The beams would just be flashes.

Here's Sherwood Point Lighthouse in the Great Lakes, pictured on Wikimedia Commons. Those exterior house lights wouldn't have been in use back the lighthouse's heyday. The lighthouse beam is surely more powerful than the house lights, but they'd still be seen some distance away as ambient light.

This UK lighthouse was photographed by Phil Downs. This is what a lighthouse looks like at night, no gimmicks or special effects, even by nature. (Nature doles out extreme grandeur sparingly, you know!)

The Cape Neddick "Nubble" Lighthouse is a favorite with shutterbugs. Above is a great photo that appears on http://www.inside-york-maine-vacations.com/nubble-lighthouse.html. 
While it does look as if a software program saturated the color and blackened the sky, I can believe the full moon would be so big--the moon does look bigger near the horizon than high overhead (an optical illusion)--and the red beacon seems about right. You may wonder, who needs a lighthouse when you have the moon??!! Well, mariners in the age of sail did use the moon. They did calculations for a ships' position called "Lunars." They used lots of math, almanacs, and a good nautical clock called a chronometer. It might be easier to use a lighthouse, we think. (However, a lighthouse can't give an exact position like navigating instruments can.)

I am partial to this shot of Block Island's old North Lighthouse, by Michael Blanchette. It looks like a master photographer was at work here--someone patient and well-equipped so that the beacon and night sky was captured in all its glory. Maybe this photo is enhanced--the Milky Way looks a bit too cloudy...or perhaps those are real clouds. I'm not sure. But it's a wonderful photo. Would I see this if I visited the old North Light on a clear night. Not likely. I've been there on several clear nights. It never looked like this. But I can imagine it so....  Can you?

Grab your camera and go lighthouse-ing some night. See what you capture.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lighthouses & Lantern Room Romance

Lighthouses often are described as romantic, meaning they fire our imaginations and lend themselves to stories that tug at our heartstrings. The landmark PBS series, "Legendary Lighthouses," described them this way: "What’s not to love about a lighthouse? Whether it’s for their beauty, romance or usefulness--or a combination of all three--most of us would admit to a fascination with lighthouses."

Lighthouses are romantic places indeed, but in the more familiar sense they're great settings romance--engagements and weddings and quiet getaways. Lighthouses with overnight accommodations like to bill themselves as "romantic hideaways." Events like a "Full Moon Climb" and a "Champagne Tour" appeal to those in love. I admit Jonathan and I (married 41 years now!) have taken more than one picture of ourselves at a lighthouse with happy married faces and arms around each other. The one below was a "selfie" we took at Barnegat Lighthouse in 1998.

If you don't believe that lighthouses can inspire romance, check out the Goodreads "Listopia" called "Light of Love." It lists 72 romance novels set at lighthouses. You'll find them here:
Lighthouses seem to be romantic even in the literal sense. I read Susan Wiggs The Lightkeeper several years ago, because it takes place at Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, the oldest sentinel in Washington and one of the oldest on the West Coast. Wiggs did a decent job with the historical information about the lighthouse and its wild watch at the entrance to the Columbia River, but...it's a romance novel...rife with unrealistic scenes of a lonely lightkeeper rescuing an unconscious and beautiful, scantily clad woman who washes ashore at the foot of his luminous home. He ends up obsessed with her and devotes much more time to wooing than work. No doubt, the local Lighthouse Inspector would have fired him! (Especially if the inspector knew the two were in the lantern having....)

Couples like to get married at lighthouses. The symbolism of strength and safety and caring seems just the right backdrop for tying the knot. In fact, many lighthouses offer wedding packages. It's become a popular practice and provides a tidy stream of income that helps maintain the old towers. My friends, Bill & Vivian Hendersen, were married at North Head Lighthouse. Here they are posing in the lantern, looking wistfully out to sea and dreaming of many happy years ahead. (Photo by Mark Severn)

Lightkeepers got married at their lighthouses; so did their daughters and sisters. Often, there was no time to go ashore to a church or vacation to be had. The honeymoon often took place at the lighthouse too. (This isn't a bad idea, we now think! There are lots of lighthouses where you can have an idyllic honeymoon. Here in Washington we have five of them with romantic lodgings.)

(Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum, taken in front of their replica of Brandt Point Lighthouse on the Mystic River. There was never an official lighthouse here, but when you're in love, what does it matter??!!)

These joyous events usually received a quick notice in the station logbook, something like: "Assistant Keeper Henry Johnson was married today to Miss Laura Hobson, Principal Keeper's daughter. Principal officiating. Second Assistant James Lambert witness." It wasn't always easy to find a minister, so many principal keepers had the authority to perfom marriages. In lieu of that, someone might row ashore and fetch the preacher. I remember one story that noted the preacher was given a hearty meal after the ceremony, paid a dollar, and taken back ashore that afternoon.

Lightkeeping was a lonely, demanding, and often tedious job, and a wife was not only a companion but a helpmate too. The U.S. Lighthouse Establishment expected a lightkeeper to find a spouse to keep him company and to assist with the work. But finding one wasn't always easy...

(Photo from Jim Claflin, Lighthouse Antiques, of a lighthouse keeper at Nauset, Cape Cod about 1903.)

I interviewed Marjorie Congdon Pendleton in the 1980s about her parents--Lawrence and Amy Congdon--who worked at Little Gull Lighthouse in the 1920s and Watch Hill Lighthouse in the 1930s, both in the Long Island Sound area. (This material went in my book, Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers.) Marjorie grew up mostly at Watch Hill Lighthouse near the town of Westerly. She told me she was smitten with the handsome Coast Guard men at the station beside the lighthouse. Her parents discouraged any flirtations or serious relationships with the Coast Guard crew, since they were "from out of town.". Their vigilance worked, but under their noses Marjorie struck up a friendship with a carpenter who came to the lighthouse to do some repairs. "One thing led to another," and she married Clifford Pendleton in the living room at the lighthouse in 1937 when she was twenty. Her sister was her maid of honor. (Photo below of the Pendleton wedding shows Marjorie on the right, courtesy of Marjorie Pendleton.)

A year after the wedding, the September equinoctial hurricane of 1938 caused horrendous damage at the lighthouse and also to the community at Watch Hill. This area of Rhode Island was hit the worst when the hurricane came ashore at high tide. Marjorie was stuck in her car during the storm surge with her infant son and was rescued only minutes before the water washed the car into the sea. Her parents dutifully kept the light going during the storm, but their home was badly hit. One of the items damaged beyond repair was Marjorie's wedding dress, which her mother had kept at the lighthouse. So much for lighthouse romance. It was a tough life.

One lighthouse has become synonymous with romance. It's the Minots Ledge Ligthhouse off Cohasset, Massachusetts. This tower has a fascinating history that I'll detail in a later blog entry. For now, I'll simply say the granite tower's flash pattern of 1-4-3 means "I Love You." Couples park on the beach that looks out at the lighthouse, a mile offshore on a submarine foundation of jagged rocks. Sometimes they get engaged or married on the beach. Gift manufacturers have capitalized on the romance of this sentinel and have created all manner of Minots Ledge 1-4-3 trinkets for lovers. One fact about it that might bear mentioning: It's one tough, strudy, and reliable lighthouse...traits that could symbolically represent the "right stuff" needed to be married or together successfully for a very long time.

If you're thinking of making your sweetie a handmade Valentine, check out these from www.alphamom.com. They're clever and cute, with Hershey's Kisses for beacons. I think I want one of these!


Happy Valentine's Day to all the world's lovers!
And a special hug and kiss for my Valentine of many years--
Jon DeWire.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fair Winds & Following Seas, Ron Foster!

My interest in lighthouses goes back to 1973 when I moved to Maine as a new bride. My husband was stationed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and we lived in the little maritime town of Bath. It had a shipyard on the Kennebec River and a wonderful maritime museum. On our jaunts in our '67 Volkswagon beetle, we discovered the area lighthouses. I was fascinated with them....and 41 years later, I still am.

Over the years, I've lived in many places and met many wonderful people who share my love of lighthouses. Sometimes, they contacted me by mail or email or attended my talks. Sometimes, I met them by chance in my travels. Sometimes, I discovered them just down the street. This is how I met Ron Foster--down the road a bit! Back in the mid-1990s, he had a hand in launching a group called NELL--New England Lighthouse Lovers. I knew about the group when it debuted, but I had no idea that a one of the founders lived in my town in Connecticut.

One day, I went to the post office to pick up my mail and found a letter from a man named Ron Foster. He told me he loved lighthouse and was part of a new lighthouse group called NELL. He asked if I would speak at a meeting. I was delighted to not only to speak, but also to meet a group that had formed so close to my home. It was a terrific day when I visited the group at Avery Point, Groton, on a satellite campus of University of Connecticut. I had a special place in my heart for the campus, since I'm a UCONN alum! I gave a talk, signed books, and was so impressed by the passion of this group I donated my speaking fee back to their effort.
This is me on the left, with Ron and his wife, MJ, at that NELL meeting. It was the beginning of a cherished friendship!

Ron Foster has given me many happy experiences and good collaborations. Ron is a fantastic photographer and has allowed me to use his images in several of my books and articles. I went on a few lighthouse tours with him, and we always had fun together sharing our mutual love for the sentinels. A few years ago, when Ron was visiting the Puget Sound area, I invited to my home. That's how special Ron is; I consider him a close friend as well as a cohort in the lighthouse preservation.

NELL eventually became part of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Also part of the effort is the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the the small lighthouse that stands on the UCONN campus at Avery Point, not far from Ron's home. Ron was instrumental in launching the group and helping with restoration of the lighthouse. Much of the work happened after I left Connecticut, but Ron and the group have always kept me informed and included me in their effort. They even gave me an award for my work and an honorary membership in the group. 

The Avery Point Lighthouse was a beacon for me when I returned to college in the 1980s to finish my B.S. and then complete an M.A. I met my mentor there--Stephen Jones (above), a former Coast Guard lightkeeper, author, and professor of English. He supported me through college and my writing career and appears on the cover of my Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers. We still keep in touch. The photo above shows us together at a an APLHS meeting in 2001. (The lighthouse and moon photo is on the APLS website.)

 Top photo shows restoration work on Avery Point Lighthouse. (Ann Trapani photo) The bottom before-and-after images, are by Ron Foster, showing how the lighthouse looks after the APLS funds and work returned it to its former beauty.  

The lighthouse was built in 1944 and was lighted from 1944 until 1967. It sat neglected for nearly forty years. APLS spent several million dollars to restore it, and they relighted it in 2006. This is the kindest act anyone or any group can do for a lighthouse--rekindle its beacon. It's like returning sight to the blind, I think.

You can learn more about this special little lighthouse and its active preservation/education group at www.averypointlight.com.

Ron Foster sent me an email this past weekend to say he is retiring from his job at Electric Boat after more than 40 years of work there. Today, February 3rd, is his first official day of retirement. I hope he's having fun today, and I suspect he's doing something "lighthouse." I know he is planning many lighthouse trips and projects for the coming years. And he'll continue to work tirelessly for the Avery Point Lighthouse Society. Some of the kindest, most dedicated and hardworking people I know are "lighthouse folks." Ron is among them.

Have fun in retirement, Ron. You deserve it. And keep shining as you always have! (Photo below taken in 2001 by Ron Drummond)