Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winterton Lighthouse, Norfolk, England

On January 25, 1922---the old lighthouse at Winterton-on-Sea, England was decapitated and gutted, and then its top portion was sold at auction to the highest bidder.

As you can see in the picture above, (Wikimedia Commons, Starvos1's image), it was one of Trinity House's sturdy, but also handsome, light towers. But its history goes back much earlier....
The first tower here was built in 1617. Little is known about it other than it burned down and was replaced in 1687 by the Turner family. They charged shipping a penny per ton to pass their stone lighthouse. Surely, the beacon was feeble. It could have been a large candelabra or oil lamp.
In the late 1830s Trinity House bought the tower from the family, made improvements, and kept it in service. The Fresnel lens had revolutionized illumination by this time, and England was keen to use it. The beacon now shone 17-miles at sea.
Winterton-on-Sea itself seemed to have been built from shipwreck.  Adjacent Winterton Ness included a sandbar that stretched out into the busy Yarmouth Roads, snagging vessel after vessel. Most of the townspeople made their living from wrecking---salvaging what they could from shipwrecks and either selling it putting it to their own use. They were seasoned rescuers too. Watching for ships in trouble was not only a past time but a vocation.
Every building in the town's early days, and its furnishings, had likely been created from the timbers and cargoes of wrecked ships. The sea tossed up all manner of things, and the poor villagers, believing God had sent them the bounty, gathered up the provident goods and claimed them. Mahogany panels lined their house walls, silks hung at the windows, spars held up their barns and sheds, claret spiced their porridge, and strange souvenirs such as coconut shells and ivory tusks decorated their hearths.
Shipwrecks were fewer after a beacon was established at Winteton-on-Sea in 1617. But it wasn't until Trinity House took over the lighthouse in the 1830s that it truly became a boon to mariners. The lighthouse was now 67-feet-tall and elevated on a 35-foot bluff. As mentioned earlier, it's beam was cast 17-miles to sea from a state-of-the-art lantern.
The beloved lighthouse was a favorite with the English, and Winterton-on-Sea was famous for its cruel North Sea weather. Daniel DeFoe included the town and its lighthouse in his classic novel, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, though he had never seen the tower. Knowing how notorious the seas were at Winterton-on-Sea, he decided it was an apt setting for a storm:
"...we made but slow way towards shore, nor were we able to reach the shore until, being past the lighthouse at Winterton, the shore falls off to the west towards Cromer, so the land broke off a little the violence of the wind..."
During World War I the lighthouse was used as a lookout post. A few years later it was deemed redundant and scheduled for decommissioning and demolition. However, it ended up being put on the auction block and sold. The top portion was removed and carted away to the Star Hotel of Great Yarmouth where an observation platform was placed on top of it. (Apparently, Trinity House did not auction the lantern. It likely was recycled for another lighthouse.)
The sold portion of the tower spent time as a hotel, then was made a private residence. It again was repurposed as a lookout tower during World War II. At this time, it was strengthened with stone and concrete.

Shown are the remains of the decapitated lighthouse in 1935, from

After the war, the sold portion of the tower went to private hands and has remained there since. The recent image below is from The tower and old keeper's cottage are owned by different individuals.

It's rather amazing, though, to think that some of the tower's stonework dates back to 1687--over three centuries old.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Walk on the Beach

This poem was chosen for a Rhode Island Sea Grant publication in the 1980s. Poetry isn't my forte, but I thought I'd share this one. On a January day, with so many places in the nation frigid and snowy, it might serve to warm you.

Imagine a walk on the beach in Rhode Island, near Misquamicut and Watch Hill Lighthouse....

Osprey nests, like organized piles of Ninigret sticks

   are a haven among the sea oats whose pronounced and

   intoxicated sway sets me to dreaming at dawn;

Brown sugar sand, finely ground in the great ocean pestle,

   compresses beneath my feet, where granite dragons,

   with sharp gray teeth, sprawl just below the tideline.


Sunrise, shimmering on the Sound in amoebic, ruddy patches,

    makes little tangerine shadows in my footprints

    meandering along the morning beach at Misquamicut;

As the early mists from Hobomock’s pipe are lifted,

    modestly as a bride lifts her diaphanous veil,

    moonbeams die away, and jellies open like tiny, briny umbrellas.


A lighthouse—old solider who refuses to give up his watch—

    gazes toward the distant pregnant sails

    tickling the horizon and the Isle of Manisses,

While a cacophony of buoys and gulls guffaws

    at the beach cottages shamelessly showing off their legs

    and arthritic fishing boats that creak and groan and sigh.

In the backwaters and tide-rush, behind breakwaters and seawalls

    —daybreak-blushed stone fences old Neptune didn’t build—

     upending mute swans go in search of seaweed salads;

A submarine drifts silently offshore, like a great whale

     sunning its back; and I am reminded that I too must go about

     the business of the day, ever more renewed to have begun this way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lighthouse Keeper's Seagull Soup

It's National Soup Month, and what better place to eat soup in January than a damp, drizzly, foggy lighthouse.

Minnesota's Split Rock Lighthouse in the fog. Photo by Brandon Elijah Scott.

We know from lighthouse journals and logbooks that hot coffee was always kept on the stove, and often hot soup too. Even in the worst of weather, lightkeepers had to work. Hours spent laboring outside or in a damp tower chilled them to the bone. A cup of hot coffee and a bowl of steaming soup was ready when they came in from the cold.

Often, lighthouse soup was chowder, made from clams, oysters, lobster, or fish. Potatoes and onions could be kept in cool dry storage for use in soups and chowders, along with corn, either canned or dried. And at many lighthouses there was a constant supply of milk and cream from the family cow. There might be chickens in residence too, to provide eggs for making noodles and dumplings. A chicken that had ceased laying eggs might end up in the soup or chowder herself!

A day outdoors in the salty air, tending to lighthouse duties, worked up hearty appetites. So did duties like rescuing, which usually meant launching the station boat and rowing out into wild seas to an overturned boat or a full-scale shipwreck. Lightkeepers were sure to get soaked in the process, and the sodden castaways they saved were brought to the warmth of their quarters for dry clothes and a hot meal. Keeping soup on the stove was a sensible practice all around!

If you stroll through the grocery aisle today, you'll see lighthouses on a number of brands of soups and chowders. Lighthouse + chowder = wholesome and good! Lighthouse keepers and their wives were known for their good cooking. I can attest to that. The late Connie Small, wife of a Maine lighthouse keeper in the 1920s-40s, served me her fish chowder in the early 1990s after an interview I did at her home. In September 2012 I visited the keepers of Chrome Island Lighthouse in British Columbia. Lunch was amazing, especially Leslie's clam chowder. (Her apple pie wasn't bad either!!)

At times, lightkeepers ran out of provisions and had to improvise. This usually happened at remote lighthouses where the supply ship had difficulty making a landing in stormy months. The potato and onion bin could be emptied, the canned items used up, and the fishing could be poor or impossible in stormy, dangerous seas. In these circumstances, keepers often survived on cobbled-together meals of biscuits and beans. There always seemed to be flour and dried beans on hand.

What follows is a rather tongue-in-cheek recipe I concocted some years ago to remember those days when the lighthouse cupboard was nearly bare. I taught a lighthouse unit to my fifth graders, and we learned about sacrifice and struggle and a bit of the creative spirit from our study of lightkeepers. "Lighthouse Keeper's Seagull Soup" was a recipe for that practice of making due with what one has....along with a little bit of fun learning about it. We made this soup in a slow cooker one morning in class and ate it for lunch. The students swore it was the best soup ever, not because it tasted good, but because of the first-hand lesson it taught them. All the talk on the playground that afternoon was about eating "Seagull Soup!"

Perhaps you'd like to try it. Of course, you'll have to catch a seagull first! Ingredients listed below should serve four. Enjoy!

8 cups of seawater (household tap water)
chopped up seagull parts (chicken wings and thighs)
1 tablespoons of sand (chicken broth crystals)
2 large beach cobbles, diced (potatoes)
a few sand dollars (carrot slices)
1 medium anemone, diced (onion)
1 cup of seashells (shell-shaped pasta)
a teaspoon of blizzard (salt)
a big dash of soot from the lighthouse lens (pepper)

Be sure seagull has been cleaned and all feathers are picked from parts. (If not, the soup may squawk while cooking!) Cook seagull parts in boiling seawater until cooked through. Remove and clean meat from bones. Throw bones to the lighthouse dog or the pet shark. Chop seagull meat into small pieces and return to boiling seawater. Add sand, cobbles, sand dollars, anemone, seashells, blizzard, and soot. Stir to combine. Simmer until cobbles and sand dollars are tender. Serve hot in big bowls with biscuits on the side. The crew may sop their biscuits in the soup, but if they complain about how it tastes, they'll have to stand extra watches!

"Seagull Lighthouse," artwork by Janet Carlson.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cheers for Mentors!

Mentorship is a good plan all around, for the mentor, the mentoree, and for society. John Donne reminded us “No man is an island.” It’s fine to be independent, even an introvert and bit of a recluse, but at some point we all need support, guidance, and encouragement from people other than our family and friends. Mentors can help us along the way with good advice, a shoulder to lean on, and reminders of our potential and worth.

Since January is National Mentoring Month, I’ve decided to write about my longtime mentor and my experiences with mentoring.

At the college where I teach, one of our most successful initiatives is our student mentoring program. Even the top-notch students need someone to talk with who will support, advise, and encourage their path through academia. But students struggling with their studies and with critical resources, such as family support and financial aid, especially benefit from the college’s mentor program, as do those who are first-generation college students,. Even I had an unofficial mentor when I first was hired as an adjunct professor at the college. “Connie,” who’s now retired, was my go-to person for everything. She’d been at the college for years and could help with any issues or needs.

My intro to college at age eighteen was a tough one. It had a few missing rungs on my academic ladder, and those in place sometimes were shaky. I started in a psychology program at a Pennsylvania state teachers’ college. A small English scholarship and a grant from the local Lion’s Club paid my tuition and board. I scratched around to pay for books and materials and got by on a very lean budget. Nothing was wasted: Pencils scribbled notes and assignments until their erasers were gone and they were too short to hold between my fingers; pens were used down to the last dab of ink. I skimped on shampoo and soap. Roll-on deodorant got watered down. I even made a tube of toothpaste last all of my freshman year! My mom sent me a letter every two weeks and always enclosed a few dollars and words of encouragement. She was single at the time and trying to get by on her own limited resources.

The summer after my freshman year, I worked two jobs trying desperately to save enough money to go back to college in the fall. It didn’t happen. I cried big tears, but my mom reminded me that some paths aren’t straight and flat. “You’ll get back to it,” she assured me, and I did.

A long period of what I call academicus interruptus began. I worked, got married to a military man, had kids, and took a college course here and there wherever our military assignments landed us. I never let go of my dreamed of getting back to college and finishing my B.S. The chance finally came at age 32.

I had lots of help along the way. In 1986, I met my mentor, a man I regard as the dalai lama of educators; he helped me look inside myself, refine my life goals, and set a course for a desired destination—

Photo courtesy of UCONN

Stephen Jones was my professor for several English courses as I finished my undergraduate degree at University of Connecticut. I liked him from the start, even more than my official adviser, and I was amazed at how easily he talked on many levels and infused his lectures and conversations with profound buried messages. His assignments always had layers of meaning for me and sank deeply into my psyche. He returned my first essay with some very inspirational comments in the margins, namely, “I rarely see this level of work.”

I told him I had launched a semi-successful career as a freelance writer—semi-successful because I didn’t make much money at it and because, in my mind, I lacked training in journalism. Everything had been learned by trial and error and imitation, and I wasn’t confident it was the right stuff. I had one book completed that went to print while I was a student in Stephen Jones’ class. (Guide to Florida Lighthouses, Pineapple Press, 1987) He held a small celebration for me in the faculty lounge and, tongue-in-cheek, announced that I believed I had put the cart before the horse when he thought I was really pulling the cart and the horse too!


I discovered Professor Jones was an author too, and he had served as a lighthouse keeper in the Coast Guard. His year at Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse in Delaware had inspired a book of the same name. Being a lighthouse fancier, I devoured the book, thrilled to find a narrative that cut through the romance to tell a realistic story. I was trying to do that too, in a second book that was in the works. It was eventually published in 1995 as Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers. Steve was on the cover of the first edition. (shown above in the b&w inset photo)

Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, Delaware, where Steve Jones served as a Coast Guard keeper in 1960.
Steve's book about his time on the lighthouse.

In the meantime, Steve Jones and I found much common ground in our love of lighthouses and all things nautical and our shared passion for learning. Our relationship had evolved from last names to first names. I had a job at Mystic Seaport Museum and access to archives and relics. Between Steve and the museum, I produced a trove of articles for newspapers and magazines and worked diligently on research for my second book. I was thrilled when Steve asked me to be a keynote speaker for a “Working on the Water” conference at the college. By this time, I was in graduate school working on an M.A. in Education.

We had many discussions about education and work, and about writing too. He assured me I didn’t need that journalism degree to be a successful writer. Not even an English degree was necessary. “You need to understand audience to be a writer,” he told me, “and it’s obvious you do.”

He also told me successful writers write, every day, and that they view the world through the prism of writing. Stories are everywhere; I needed to keep my antennae up and tuned in to catch them. Each tale could be bent and shaped to fit an audience. (Writers call this the angle.) Steve also assured me writers have second jobs, which people think are their first loves…but it’s really the writing they crave. Verbiage pays in satisfaction, and sometimes in bylines and flashes of fame, and less often in a few shekels that might pay for a fraction of the time spent on the effort. Steve has made, and still makes, his “living” income teaching and running a boatyard. He also owns Flat Hammock Press in Mystic, Connecticut.

Steve and I being honored by the Avery Point Lighthouse Preservation Society in 2000. Steve's boatyard restored the lantern of the lighthouse, which stands on the Avery Point campus of UCONN where I first met Stephen Jones, English professor.
(Lighthouse photo from Wikipedia)

I teach too. Many writers do. Teaching is, truly, much like writing. Teaching requires working with an audience and sharing information, and then evaluating how well you did your job. Students produce good assignments and pass tests to validate youen. Readers respond by reading more of your work, posting positive reviews on Amazon, and sending you mail and attending book talks/signings. Teaching and writing are both forms of edu-tainment.

The Old Lighthouse Keeper on a return trip with me in the late 1990s to Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse.
Though 3,000 miles separate us, Steve has kept in touch with me, as good mentors do. I haven’t been in his classroom as a student in almost thirty years. Of the college texts I’ve kept for sentimental reasons, most are from his courses: “Literature and the Sea” and “Nature Writers.” Every few months I get a postcard from “The Old Lighthouse Keeper,” my handle for Steve. These days, he sends email and messages between our Linked-In accounts, often grousing that he’s not sure how to communicate electronically and wondering where those messages go, “damn things!” He’s at an age where cyberspace is sometimes confusing and exasperating. Aren’t we all?

We are lucky if we find a lifelong mentor. Mini-mentors are more the norm—those influential and encouraging people who pass through our lives. I have plenty of minis, but Steve is the constant intellectual and spiritual benefactor. Yes, he breezes in and out of my distant ken with cryptic postcards and emails, but I feel his presence in my work every day. For one thing, I follow his advice about writing every day. That’s about the best suggestion anyone can give a writer.

Happy National Mentor Day, Steve, and all mentors. It’s a good thing you’re doing.