Friday, May 29, 2015

Counting Lighthouse Coups

"How many lighthouses have you seen/visited/photographed/climbed?"

It's a question I often get at book signings and talks, from interviewers, and from friends who visit my house and see the endless profusion of lighthouse stuff in my office. I have a penchant for babbling on and on about lighthouses in my PowerPoint programs and delivering information in an authoritative manner (though I would never claim to be an authority on anything). People feel I must keep count of all the lighthouses I've seen. How else could I talk nonstop?

My answer to the "how many?" question is simple. I don't know how many lighthouses I have seen/visited/photographed/climbed. I stopped counting shortly after 500.

I used to keep a notebook of my lighthouse trips and a list of the lighthouses I saw on those travels. That was back in my scrapbooking days in the 1970s, when lighthouse hunting was more of a hobby and not part of my occupation. Then, I began adding notes to the list. The scrapbooks quickly became an unruly collection of sticky notes of every color, photos, slides, and postcards, brochures, and handouts picked up at lighthouses. At some point, probably around 1985, I stopped keeping scrapbooks of lighthouse travel and transferred the materials into file folders in a file cabinet. Scrapbooking had evolved into researching and writing. Today, I have multiple cabinets and crates full of files on individual lighthouses and lighthouse topics. If my house caught fire, there's plenty of paper in those cabinets and crates to fuel the blaze!

But back to that "how many?" question--
I have friends who keep count of the lighthouses they've seen. They'll gladly respond to the question at the beginning of this blog. They'll tell you exactly: "I've visited 489" or "922" or "1,067." "I've seen every lighthouse in Florida!" "I've photographed all the lighthouses in New Jersey!" "I've seen more lighthouses than Carters has liver pills!" And on and on it goes.

I call this pharologic tracking "Counting Lighthouse Coups." It can get obsessive, sometimes comically so. It can get competitive, as in who has seen he most? We love to claim a superlative. It's a human thing to do.

The proof is in the selfie!! Yes, I've visited both lighthouses at Cape Henry, VA.

There are a number of ways to count lighthouse coups. Just deciding what a lighthouse is factors into the process.
I have some friends who claim they've visited every lighthouse in the United States. Of course a declaration like this spurs much discussion about what, exactly, qualifies as a lighthouse. Did they visit that fiberglass pole on a concrete base with a solar-powered, automatic beacon on top? How about the steel framework light tower that gets confused with one handling big power lines? Then there are tripod lights on rivers and Texas Towers standing in the sea and foundations of defunct lighthouses with pole beacons mounted on them. And there are faux lighthouses, built for decoration. Did they visit those too? Is a lighthouse defined by function or appearance?

Another friend says a lighthouse visit is not a visit unless you get close enough to touch the lighthouse. Mega-zoom lenses that resemble Daboll trumpet foghorns can capture a lighthouse a few miles away, but does that count for a visit?

Another says you have to climb a lighthouse to say you've truly visited it. She'll bargain, beg, and sell off all her possessions to get inside a lighthouse and climb to the top. And, she's managed to climb MANY. Go Lighthouse Pixie!

In my experience, counting lighthouse coups began as a hobby and evolved by necessity. I have quite a large collection of lighthouse models--Scassis, Harbour Lights, Goebel, Danbury Mint, Spoontique, Lefton, you-name-it. I have plates, mugs, magnets, jigsaw puzzles, posters, postcards, snow globes, blankets, pillows, greeting cards, paintings, and more....too much more! At first I only collected these items if they featured lighthouses I had visited. Soon, gifts came my way at talks, book signings, at Christmas, Mother's Day, and on my birthday, all in the form of lighthouses. Many of these I had not visited; my collection of lighthouse memorabilia ballooned. (In fact, I had to give away much of it in 2002 when I moved from Connecticut to Washington. Otherwise, the relocation would have required several moving trucks! My lighthouse book collection? I never give any of it away unless I have multiple copies of titles.)

Collections can get out hand. They cost money, need organization, need space, need storage, need dusting. When they grow large, we must inventory; otherwise, we end up duplicating. "Oh, I already had six of that postcard!" I've confined my lighthouse collection to my office and storage spaces around my house. There's a large, heavy box in my crawlspace with about 300 lighthouse mugs in it. Another has a large plate collection. A third is full of lighthouse Christmas ornaments. It's all rather silly, I think these days, now that I'm officially a senior citizen---a latent expression of primeval hunting and gathering urges gone wild!

At some point I decided that if I wrote about a lighthouse (more than just a short anecdote in a book or article) then I should have a model or nice memento of it. Then, I got sassy and told my husband I should visit every lighthouse I write about.

Negril Point Lighthouse, Jamaica. I saw, I visited, I touched, I climbed, I photographed.       Hey mon, I even interviewed the keeper!

"How can I write about a place I've never been?" I asked.

He grimaced. Already, we design many of our vacations and trips around lighthouse visits.

"No," he replied firmly. "We are not going to the Seychelles anytime soon. Be satisfied with a byline."

And those trips, those lighthouse excursions--so many people love them! The tour industry knows this.  The U.S. Lighthouse Society does fantastic lighthouse tours, as do other nonprofits and tour companies.  Lighthouse people love to get the itineraries and see all the lighthouses on them. Some arrive with maps all marked up with lighthouse locations, and some bring more cameras and lenses than clothing. This excited lighthouse-ilk know there are rules about the tour stops. Everyone gets off the bus and queues up for photos before anyone can walk toward the lighthouse. No one wants Joe's backside in a photo or Mary's bright chartreuse shirt. "Would someone move that hose laying on the lawn please?  I don't want that in my photo."

Lighthouse photos must be pure...except for the group photo before we leave.


State lighthouse societies know about lighthouse hunting folk. These nonprofits design "Lighthouse Challenges" and special "I've Seen the Lights" patches to encourage lighthouse bucket listers to visit! Then there are people who bring mascots--stuffed bears and bunnies and doggies and such--and must photograph these silent buddies at every lighthouse they visit. "What lighthouse is Waldo visiting now?"

Me? I prefer to bring Santa Claus. Here he is at Point Robinson Lighthouse, Washington, visible in the background on the right.

While on such tours, or at lighthouse meetings and conferences, lighthouse fanciers love to compare notes about lighthouses they've seen/visited/photographed/climbed. I always enjoy the lively conversation at these affairs because it's rife with superlatives and fun lighthouse bravado.  It's also informative. You gets good contacts and tips:

"Go in the morning and shoot photos from the southeast side!"

"Don't pick the cow parsnip flowers; you'll get a nasty rash."

"If you climb down the rocks by the public beach and then walk along the tideline, the mean lade with the broom won't come out and yell at you." (Did I mention lighthouse enthusiasts often trespass to count coups?)

"Tell the sentry at the gate you are a member of the American Lighthouse Foundation."

"Show them one of Elinor's books and say you're helping her with research for a new one!"

"Better yet, tell them she's your mother!" (You're laughing now, but this has worked many times for my kids.) 

So...what's in your lighthouse bucket? How many have you seen/visited/photographed/climbed? Maybe it doesn't matter. It's just a lot of fun to "Count Lighthouse Coups" and compare notes.

To end this fun romp through lighthouse mania, I'll mention that I have begun collecting lighthouses on a Pinterest Board. It's called "The Lighthouse Hunter."

I'm not the only one collecting images of lighthouses on Pinterest. Go see; type "lighthouse" in the Pinterest search bar...and then stand back as an explosion of amazing stuff is unveiled!

Pinterest piques my interest and obsession every time I pin a photo. They'll ask which board I want---chickens? pine cones? ravens? owls? donkeys? lighthouses?---and then tickle my fancy with: "Start a new board?"

Maybe I will start a new board. I'll call it "Counting Lighthouse Coups." To make it tougher, I'll insist on proof, like the photo below. That tortoise can tell you I really did visit Vrysaki Lighthouse in Greece! (Photo by Derith Bennett)

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