Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Green Seaweed for Earth Day

Part of the milieu of the old-time lighthouse keeper was seaweed, in all its diverse forms. This sea algae is plentiful, colorful, and is a shape-shifter, depending on whether it is wet or dry.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon, has a rocky, seaweed rich shoreline. Photo from rdmosley.wordpress.com.

What some might regard as worthless and inexhaustible, even a nuisance and a discard of the sea gods, was to the lighthouse keeper a material of many uses. It served as fertilizer and mulch for the garden and flowerbeds and insulation for crops during cold weather. It was fed to livestock and dried for use as stuffing in pillows and mattresses. We may enjoy our memory foam beds in these modern times, but seaweed was just as soft for bedding if properly rendered.

Perhaps the most important use of seaweed was for food. "Yuck!" you say? No, it was enjoyed. Seaweed was eaten raw in salads, it was added to soups (lighthouse miso anyone?), it was steamed or boiled like spinach, it was used as a thickener for puddings such as blancmange, and it was dried to make a salty flavoring similar to monosodium glutamate, the modern taste enhancer of prepared foods.

If the lighthouse larder ran low on salt, seaweed provided it and even added iodine, necessary for proper thyroid function. (Iodized salt is a fairly recent invention.) The fact that seaweed is also nutritious and free only added to its value in the lighthouse kitchen.

Seaweed made a great insulation for a clambake, steaming the succulent, buried clams just right. It dressed wounds, served as a kind of moisturizer for the skin and hair, and was thought to have curative powers for respiratory ailments.

Of course, there were other, less obvious uses for this ubiquitous alginate. Imaginative lighthouse children might fancy themselves merfolk with seaweed hair. They donned it as wigs and beards, made wreaths of it to hang up for decorations, and wove it into the station horse's mane. Bull whip kelp became the tentacles of a sea monster or the lariat of rodeo rider. Forests of kelp fired creative storytellers!

Kelp beds abound off Race Rocks Lighthouse, British Columbia. Photo by geckopaddler.blogspot.com.

Lighthouse keepers were truly thankful for this versatile marine greenie. Earth Day hadn't been invented in the days of the old U.S. Lighthouse Service, but if it had been...you can be sure seaweed would have topped the list of green things to celebrate!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Lighthouse as a Religious Symbol

During Easter, the holiest week in the Christian faith, and the Passover season celebrated by the Jewish faith, I am reminded of the sacred symbolism of lighthouses. We see their images and lights evoked in sacred traditions and emblems of both faiths.

(Photo of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse at sunset by Bruce Lewis.)

Light has great significance in all Jewish festivals. Passover is a dusk-to-dusk celebration; thus, sunset and the lighting-up of the lighthouse at dusk is a popular image at Passover, akin to the beginning of Passover and the the lighting of candles and reciting of the blessing.

The Old Testament is rife with references to light and the banishing of darkness. While the word “lighthouse” itself doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, translators and interpreters give it life in the many verses that portray God, the Word, and Christ as embodiments light.

As symbols of Christianity, lighthouses have special meaning. They represent the guidance, refuge, and salvation that characterized the life of Christ and the meaning of the Easter season. Images like those below illustrate the connection. Some of the lighthouses pictured are generic. The first one is definitely North Head Lighthouse at the entrance to the Columbia River, Washington.

 These images all appear on online sites for churches and faith-based blogs and web pages. There's an abundance of them! Just type "lighthouse + Jesus" in a search engine.

Many churches have the word "lighthouse" in their names. Some also take the shape of a lighthouse or have a lighthouse as part of their architecture or logo.

This church, called Jesus' Name Tabernacle, is in Louisiana. Elma Vaney shot this photo.
Jukesong Lighthouse in South Korea is a church and lighthouse combined. It's featured on Jan Defietser's Panoramio page.

The Church of Atlanta, Georgia fancies itself a lighthouse. I'm not sure it really has one, except in this image. The website says: "A lighthouse helps navigate mariners through storms, dense fog, dark nights and other dangers. Lighthouses reveal safe entries to harbors and assist in aerial navigation.  Similarly, at Church of Atlanta Lighthouse, we help navigate people through the storms, dense fog and dark nights of life."
Ukraine's Alushtyns'ka Lighthouse on the Crimean Peninsula doubles as a church. The city of
Alushtyns'ka has this image on their website.
 The U.S.Lighthouse Society tour on the Texas coast in 2013 found this lighthouse holding a beacon and the church bell at Sabine Pass.

The symbolism is endless. I could write a book called The Lighthouse Made Me Believe. There would be endless illustrations.
I'll leave you with these, in hopes you will believe...that lighthouses are powerful and often-used religious symbols.

This last one is a jigsaw puzzle.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

National Library Week: Lighthouse Keepers Were Avid Readers!

Happy National Library Week! Thanks to Benjamin Franklin's idea of a lending library and his establishment of The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, free-circulating libraries began in the United States more than 200 years ago. Franklin is one of my favorite historical personalities--a man with so many great ideas and a lust for life. It's no surprise he though up the idea of a free library system paid for by taxes. After all, he was a printer!

In honor of National Library Week, I thought I'd talk a little bit about reading, books, and lighthouses....

You've probably guessed that reading was a popular past time with lighthouse keepers. While there wasn't as much free time at lighthouses as we might expect, there were watches to stand and leisure hours, usually in the evening after all the day's work was completed. Many lighthouses were in remote locations, so entertainment had to be something you created for yourself. It's a well-known fact that lighthouse keepers liked to read.
Tillamook Lighthouse, Oregon, from "The Freelance Adventurer." Getting to the library from this place wasn't easy! That's why the library came to the lighthouse keeper. Read on!
Many lightkeepers were book collectors and had vast libraries collected over a lifetime of service. Some even wrote their own books. Robert Thayer Sterling was a lighthouse keeper at Portland Head Lighthouse and an author too. His Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Keep Them was published in 1935. Donald Graham, who wrote two fine books about the lighthouses of British Columbia, was a more recent lighthouse author. So was the late James Gibbs, who served on Tillamook Lighthouse (pictured above) as a young Coast Guardsman and wrote a number of books about West Coast lighthouses. He claimed his time on "Terrible Tilly" was what encouraged him to read and become an author.

Many lightkeepers and their family members wrote books about their lighthouse experiences after they retired. One of my favorites is The Light on the Island, by Helen Glidden, in which she captured the fun of a large family living on isolated Patos Island Lighthouse in Washington. Her father, Edward Durgan, was the lightkeeper.

There are LOTS of books about lighthouses written by non-lighthouse keepers. I'm one of those non-lighthouse-keeper-lighthouse-book-authors. Many people think I live or once lived on a lighthouse, because I've written so many books about them. I don't, and I haven't. All my information comes from interviews, documents, visits to lighthouses and libraries...and...reading! I have a passion for the subject.

There are many lighthouse books on the market today. When I started writing about lighthouses in 1980, there were few books on the topic. Edward Rowe Snow, mentioned later in this blog, was one of the authors known for his lighthouse books. The first lighthouse book I read was by Snow--

I borrowed it from the library at the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine. Years later, I bought my own copy, and later still I interviewed Snow on the phone. He died in the 1980s,and his books slowly went out of print. His wife, Anna-Myrle, kept a correspondence with me for many years after her husband died. Thankfully, Snow's books have experienced a comeback. Author and friend, Jeremy D'Entremont, has brought back new editions of many  of Snow's wonderful books, including this one--

There are hundreds of other lighthouses books you can add to your wish list at the library or on Amazon. com. Just type "lighthouse" into the search bar and see what you find. Read the reviews though, and make good choices.

If it's kids' books you want, there are a gazillion! A few years ago, as a project for the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee (now called the American Lighthouse Council), I put together an annotated bibliography of kids' books about lighthouses. You can find it here: http://www.amlhcc.org/research.htm 
(Scroll down to "Current Publications" and find the PDF under "Annotated Bibliography...".)

This is one of my favorite kids books about a lighthouse because it inspired "Lighthouse Kitty," the mascot of my kids' column about lighthouses that ran in Lighthouse Digest for a number of years.

A fascinating chapter of lighthouse history that fits today's topic--

The U.S. Lighthouse Board, which assumed control of the nation's lighthouses in the early 1850s, was concerned about the edification of its employees who lived and worked on lighthouses and lightships. Of course, lightkeepers were required to know how to read and write, and they were encouraged to read books and magazines that dealt with topics germane to their occupation. The need for reading materials was satisfied in several ways--

The Seaman's Church Institute in New England provided books and magazines to lighthouses. Local businesses, fishermen, and people involved in the maritime trades were known to give books to lighthouse keepers. In the 1980s I visited New London Ledge Lighthouse in Connecticut, a caisson sentinel sitting on a rock ledge at the mouth of the Thames River. The Coast Guard keepers showed me their library of books (some of them for adults only!) and said that local boaters often stopped by and brought "beer and books."

Photo by NewEnglandBoating.com shows New London Ledge Light in the foreground and the elder New London Harbor Light in the background.

For many years, author Edward Rowe Snow (mentioned above) sent books to lighthouse keepers; he was keenly interested in navigational aids and wrote a number of books about them. I feel a kinship with him there--I've given some of my books to lighthouse keepers. Sometimes, they discovered them in bookstores, bought them, and then wrote to me and shared stories. I struck up a great friendship this way with lighthouse keeper Chris Mills on Ivory Island Lighthouse, British Columbia. He bought my Guardians of the Lights and sent me several letters. We remain fast friends some twenty years later. Chris went on to write several fine lighthouse books himself and is now living in Nova Scotia, working on behalf of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, and also working for the Canadian Coast Guard. Here's a shot from his lightkeeping days.

Back to the topic of the U.S. Lighthouse Board's desire to edify lightkeepers--
In 1876, the Board introduced circulating libraries for lighthouses and lightships. These were housed in suitcase-style, oak bookcases that could be transported easily and exchanged between the lights. They were filled with about 80 books on topics of all kinds, including history, how-to books, novels, poetry, birds and sea animals, and even "The Good Book" itself. Each time the supply ship visited a lighthouse (usually three to four times a year), it swapped out one library for another. Lightkeepers could request titles or topics. Each library had a checkout system to track who on station had which book. Each book had a lighthouse service bookplate affixed on the inside cover. Lightkeepers had to be careful with and responsible for the books. If they lost or damaged any of the books, they paid for them. When a book became too worn, it was replaced and the worn copy was given to a deserving lightkeeper as a gift.
The next four images show the design of the U.S.L.H.E. (United States Lighthouse Establishment) portable libraries and the bookplate that was affixed inside in each book. These images are from the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.


The bookplate featured two lighthouses, thought to be American Shoal on the left, in the Florida Strait, and Minots Ledge on the right, off Boston.

Other countries, such as England, also offered similar portable libraries to their lighthouse keepers. The Carnegie Library also had a portable library system used by lighthouse keepers in remote parts of the world.

As common as reading was at lighthouses, it's tough to find pictures of lighthouse keepers doing just that! Here's one given to me by Art Losvar of Mukilteo, showing his grandfather and grandmother reading in the quarters at Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington in the 1920s.

Language is a truly a gift, one given to humans only, it seems. This is what I tell my college students when they grouse about reading assignments. I remind them how precious language is, and that books are, to quote my late mother, Ruth: "windows open on the world." Having a free library system is a gift too!

Happy National Library Day! Go forth and read!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Give-Away!

In honor of the Florida History Fair (see info below), and to encourage kids of all ages to learn more about Florida's lighthouses, I'm giving away a free, autographed copy of Florida Lighthouses for Kids. The 58-page softcover book was published in 2004 and is chocked full of neat stuff about all the lighthouses in the Sunshine State. Drawing will be held May 6th, 2014, the same day as the awards ceremony for the Florida History Fair.

To enter, send your name and address and a short statement about why you're interested in Florida lighthouses to:

Cat in the Window Press
c/o Elinor DeWire
P.O. Box 1022
Seabeck, WA 98380

All entries received will be placed in my lighthouse cookie jar (minus cookies of course!), and then I'll ask someone special to blindly draw out the winner on May 6, 2014. I wonder who that special person will be? The book will be mailed to the address on the winning entry by mid-May.

And, don't forget to attend and participate in the Florida History Fair!

May 4–May 6

Florida History Fair state competition The state contest is held on the campus of Tallahassee Community College. The Awards Ceremony is held at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum.
  • May 4:  Registration and exhibit set up
  • May 5:  Registration and competition judging (daytime);
    Open House at the Museum of Florida History (evening)
  • May 6:  Awards Ceremony

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Lighthouse Becomes a Sundial

Many years ago when I began taking photos of lighthouses--about 1972 to be more precise--I discovered an intriguing part of the lighthouse-visitation experience: the shadow of a lighthouse! Even on a cloudy day I'd find it. And sometimes it was there at night too, especially if the moon was full. Of course, I had to climb to the top to truly appreciate it. It's the seagull's view that's the best one for lighthouse shadows!

Everyone knows lighthouses are photogenic. You can get all sorts of neat angles, colors, seasonal shots, and interesting elements at a lighthouse. Around 1985, I decided to capture lighthouse shadows. I have dozens of them in my collection of images. They may be fleeting and ethereal, but they're definitely part of the lighthouse milieu.

St. Augustine Lighthouse, Florida, casts its long shadow--by Ronnie Bo.
This year, I'm in the process of sifting through the thousands of lighthouse slides in my collection and choosing the most important ones to be digitized and saved. Slides lose color over time, get scratched, and they take up considerable space to store. I guess I'm downsizing. No one gives slide shows anymore either. I used to do only slide shows for my talks, but then PowerPoint came along and...well...you can guess the rest of the story. I take the chosen slides from my collection in batches to Costco and get them converted to prints which I scan. Slowly, I'm making my way through a very large collection...and trying to come up with good categories for storage and retrieval.

I found a slide of a lighthouse shadow this morning. It's Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in Florida, a tall one. There are many more images of lighthouse shadows in my files, I'm sure. "Don't forget to shoot the shadow!" was a common admonition from my husband years after our lighthouse fascination began. So, now I realize "Lighthouse Shadows" will be one of the categories I'll need once my slides are digitized.

Like huge sundials, lighthouses mark out the hours on the ground. Each one does its own shadow path, depending on its height and latitude. In the Northern Hemisphere, lighthouse shadows fall on the north side of the towers around noon time, because the sun rides in the south at noon on its daily travels.  In the Southern Hemisphere, the reverse is true; the shadow of a lighthouse falls on the ground to south of the tower around noon because the sun lies in the northern sky. And, for lighthouses at the equator, shadows are short all year; on the equinoxes at noon, there are no shadows. We all know shadows are longer in winter, as the sun rides lower in the sky. To catch a long lighthouse shadow, go in the morning or evening in winter.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Western Australia points its morning shadow toward the Indian Ocean, and then as evening draws near, it points to the Southern Ocean. I'm especially fond of this image, having visited Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in 2000 (shown below). Photo above by Bonny Wells.

Of course, real sundials are made with precision, aimed at giving accurate time. A sundial's gnomon--the part that casts the shadow--must be angled to match the latitude of the place where it tells time. The angle of the gnomon plus the angle of the sun's altitude at noon must equal 90 degrees. The math isn't all that complex, but I won't go into it here. (I point out the latitude requirement simply because so many of us are duped into buying garden sundials from stores and catalogues without realizing the gnomons must be set to our latitude. Most garden store sundials are set for 45 degrees latitude. Most of the United States lies below 45 degrees.) So, I suppose this means only a leaning lighthouse could really be a sundial of any use.

If not an accurate sundial, then a lighthouse is an imaginary one for sure! Its gnomon-like stance surely gives a crude sense of the time. I've always thought it would be fun to mark a lighthouse's shadow path on the ground and watch how it changes season to season. The farther it stands from the equator, the greater the change will be as the sun slides low in winter and high in summer.

Sean Rose captured the phantom shadow of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This tallest American lighthouse produces one very long shadow, especially on the winter solstice!

Tony Kurdzuk shot the shadow of New Jersey's Cape May Lighthouse on a summer day.

Some lighthouses have sundials on their grounds, usually just for decoration. European lighthouse builders were fond of putting sundials at lighthouses. The Stevensons, who built many lighthouses in the United Kingdom, must have felt a sundial was a stylish element and possibly a bringer of luck. They liked the tradition and added sundials to many of their light stations.

Here's a sundial at Mizen Head Lighthouse in the UK, photographed by Michael Harley.

You can see a sundial to the left of the light tower at this French lighthouse, featured on an old postcard.

Most sundials have sayings on them, about time and sunshine. What would a lighthouse's saying be?

Tempus fugit...
But not if you're a lighthouse keeper stuck on a hunk of rock at sea!
Time drags on...

I show only sunny hours,
So why am I on duty in foggy San Francisco?

Time is written in my shadow,
But only if I lean to the right latitude!

If you hanker for a lighthouse sundial of your own, try this one. You'll find it at http://gardenculture.com/store/product9.html.

And, know that the angle of this garden store variety sundial is 45 degrees and won't give much of an accurate time...unless you live at 45 degrees latitude. Perhaps this is why the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment encouraged lighthouse keepers to use pocket watches and the service-issued wall clock.