Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Sweet Story

This story appeared in Lighthouse Digest magazine in February 2003. It has a happy ending, so don't bail on it midway through the tale.

It's historical fiction--the telling of the story with the best information available. We do know for sure there was a mule named Jack at Farallon Island Light, brought out to the island to help in the construction of the light station. He remained at the island for many years. As to whether he died on the island or was retired to a nice pasture ashore, history doesn't tell. I'd like to think he was.

The picture shows one of the mules that lived on the Farallon Island Light Station. All information I have indicates it's Old Jack. He did a lot of work for the keepers.

There were many quadrupeds at this remote place. I have several images that show them. They were beloved members of the crew. A few are buried on the island. My "Author's Note" at the end of the article explains more about the Farallon Island four-footed helpers.

Many thanks to Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest, for printing this story. (To subscribe to Lighthouse Digest, go to

Click on the images to make them larger for easier reading.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Documentary on Puerto Rico's Lighthouses

Director Sonia Fritz of Marina Films recently sent me this wonderful 2015 documentary on the lighthouses of Puerto Rico. She used a quote of mine at the beginning and sent me a copy as a thank you. It's a well-done, accurate piece of work, very colorful and nicely written--about 70 minutes long.
Puerto Rico's early lighthouses were built by Spain. There were twelve operating before 1898, when the United States gained control of Puerto Rico as a territory following the Spanish-American War. Several more lighthouses were built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and over the years aging towers have been replaced. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard manages Puerto Rico's lighthouses.

Cape Muertos Lighthouse about 1898--Coast Guard Archives Photo
Fritz and her crew visited fifteen lighthouses, including El Morro, Aricebo, Point Borinquen, Rincon, Mona Island, Cape Rojo, Guanica, Cape Muertos, Cardona, Point Figuras, Point Tuna, Point Mulas, Port Ferro, Culebrita, and Fajardo. She interviewed people involved with their maintenance and preservation, as well as former keepers and their families. A number of historic, archival photos are used to trace the history of the lighthouses. Modern-day filmography presents them as they are now--some well-preserved and others in ruins.
The stories of Puerto Rico's lightkeeping bear much similarity to those we find familiar elsewhere--the painting, cleaning, weather reports, storms, rescues, and isolation. Especially interesting are memories of the great earthquake of 1918, which shook the entire island of Puerto Rico and damaged many structures, including lighthouses. I have an anecdote in The Lightkeepers' Menagerie: Stories of Animals at Lighthouses about the Point Boringuen Lighthouse dog alerting the family moments before the quake struck. Hurricane Georges in 1998 also is remembered for the havoc it caused for lightkeepers and their families.

Point Mulas Lighthouse from Wikimedia Commons
The sentinels have their own special beauty and history. Families have memories of fishing and swimming, and meals of green turtle or hawksbill turtle caught around their light station homes. These same turtles are protected and studied today. Fritz spent time interviewing modern fishermen too, and discovering that they depend on the lighthouses today as much as ever.
Mona Island still has handsome large iguanas with an attraction to all things yellow. They live only on this isolated island off western Puerto Rico. A yellow dress or straw hat could cause trouble for the wearer! Yet, if food stores ran low, roasted iguana may have tasted good to a hungry lighthouse family.
At Point Tuna, some fifty local residents took refuge in the lighthouse during a hurricane in the 1960s. Flimsy wooden and grass homes are quickly torn down by storms, but the stone lighthouses stand tall and strong. One keeper's wife comically recalled having a fear of heights and climbed her husband's assigned lighthouse only once. A girl who grew up at Culebrita Light Station called it the "palace" of her youth. Imagine her heartache to see it in ruins today and a rusty steel tower next to it holding a modern light.

Rincon Lighthouse, from Wikimedia Commons
The glorious Genovese tile floor is still intact at Fajardo Light, the first lighthouse sighted by ships coming to Puerto Rico from Europe. Fajardo Light is on a preserve and is well-maintained. Point Figuras Light is resplendent in a bright yellow daymark. (Good thing the iguanas don't live there!) Cardona Lighthouse is a mix of old tower and new equipment. It sports an LED optic comically known as a pancake light for its appearance. Each light is stacked on another, pancake style. The beacon can be controlled remotely by the Coast Guard AtoN.
The stories seem endless...and fascinating.
The film is narrated in Spanish but there are English subtitles. The documentary won first place at the 2015 International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival. To see a trailer and find out more, go here:
(I apologize for the lack of diacritical marks--BlogSpot does not seem to offer them, at least not that I can find. Also, there's an awkward mix of Spanish and English in the spelling of the light station names. Please forgive the errors. Thanks.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Feeling Honored

I have been so occupied with my move from the Northwest to New England, I'm just now finding time to post this honor I received on January 8th from the U.S. Coast Guard.

On that day, my husband and I (exhausted from packing and preparing for our cross-country move) attended a farewell party held for us by the volunteers at the U.S. Lighthouse Society HQ in Hansville, Washington. We all met at the Point No Point Lighthouse for refreshments and fun. Many friends were there--good folks who love lighthouses as much as I do and devote themselves to worthy projects. I was really surprised when Capt. John Moriarity (Ret.), former head of Aids to Navigation in Seattle, greeted me at the party. He's now a civilian working at the 13th District AtoN office.

"Gosh! How kind of him to come and see me off!" I thought.

About an hour into the party, I discovered the real reason he was there. He presented me with the Coast Guard's Meritorious Public Service Award!

Check out my medals in the photo above, taken by my daughter. I also was presented with a handsome award certificate, signed by Rear Admiral R.T. Gromlich, Commander of the 13th Coast Guard District. Whew!!!!

Capt. John Moriarity presented me with the Coast Guard's Meritorious Public Service Award. Jeff Gales is in the background holding the medals.
I've received a number of honors for my work in lighthouse education and preservation, but this tops them all. The Coast Guard has kindly and generously assisted me with all my lighthouse books, articles, and projects. To receive this award from "Semper Paratus" is truly an honor.

Thank you to all who made this happen. I know Jeff Gales and Capt. John Moriarity pushed for it, and I am grateful to both. I'll miss the crew at society HQ. Special thanks go to Capt. John for making the trip from Seattle to present the award. I will miss him too, and his crew at District 13--always willing to let me dig in the files and borrows items, and eager to attend whatever lighthouse event I cooked up.

With many thanks and much gratitude,

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Cross-Country Move & Searching for a Lost Cat!

Many apologies to all my readers for my long absence! It's been weeks since I've posted a blog. But I have a good excuse; I've had important business to do. 

For the past few weeks my husband and I have been relocating from Washington to Connecticut. As we both recently retired from our day jobs (I retired from teaching at Olympic College in December), we decided to move back to Connecticut to be near our grandchildren. They are growing up so fast; we don't want to miss any of that!

Our house sold quickly, quicker than we expected. The furniture was packed and loaded onto a United Van Lines truck, and off it went. My car shipped too. That left us with Jon's truck and a flatbed trailer with his Kubota tractor on top. We only had 3,200 miles to go!
The trip across country this time of year was challenging. It was exceptionally cold, and we encountered two snow storms--one on the Wyoming/Utah border and another in Ohio courtesy of Lake Erie. Temperatures were frightfully low day and night. We slept in our truck, since we wanted to be with our kitties and also to keep watch on the valuable items we were hauling. One night in Nebraska the wind howled and the temperature got down to 8 degrees below zero. Whew! No matter how many blankets I snuggled under, I couldn't get warm. Jon started the truck every hour to keep us from freezing. Thankfully, we had only four nights of F-150 Truck Hotel until we reached our destination.

I learned to appreciate several things in those five days and four nights--the hard work and friendliness of truckers (we slept at truck stops), the goodness of a hot meal, and the wonderful warmth of a hot shower!


As I write this blog, the crossing seems far behind me. I am sitting in my new office in Canterbury, Connecticut. It's full of boxes yet to be unpacked; but, I can get to my computers and begin work again. The sunny window next to my main desk has a view of the winter woods to the south of the house. It's a very different view than I had in Washington--no mountains or Douglas firs, no eagles flying by or green grass, no blue water in Hood Canal. Instead, there are endless maples and hickories and beeches, some with brown leaves still clinging. There are oaks too--so many oaks!--presiding over carpets of fallen acorns. Squirrels are busy burying and exhuming the bounty. Gray squirrels, not the little Douglas squirrels I saw in Washington. Stellar Jays have been replaced with the Eastern Blue Jays. And there are male Cardinals, wearing bright red feathers, looking for seed in the empty feeders. They are striking! I must get them some birdseed.

I've already experienced a snowstorm. About six inches fell last weekend, very powdery. It whirled around the porches and decks and put down a pure cover on everything. Snow was a rarity in the Puget Sound area, and when it came it was almost never powdery. There are commonalities though. This place is rural, and quiet, and beautiful. It had character, just as the Pacific NW had. But now, it's New England-ish.

The most humorous commonality was the little gray house mouse I found the other morning in death's repose in my bedroom slipper. A gift from Sadie. She's our Maine Coon, and she has settled in comfortably here, almost as if she's where she truly belongs. I suspect her great-great-great-great-great grandpappy cat came here to New England on a sailing ship a century or more ago. And that mouse? He might be a descendent of a mouse on that very same ship. I think she caught the little guy in the basement. Go Sadie, go!

Sophie, our older kitty, took some time to adapt. In fact, she's still learning the ropes here. She may be bred from a strain of Northwest cats, descended from the pet of some Norwegian lumberjack or Chinese worker in a salmon cannery. I must tell you a short story about her...

Sophie frightened us the first night in our new home, and for several nights thereafter. She is timid and shuns most humans other than us; thus, she immediately went in a search of a good place to hide while all the noise and confusion of the furniture movers was going on. In fact, she found a near fatal hiding place in a narrow opening at the top of the basement steps that gave access into the floor. She crawled into that dark, cold, labyrinthine space between the upstairs floor and the basement ceiling. The more noise she heard from strangers, the more heavy footsteps and loud voices, the farther into the floor space she crawled...until she was deep into a maze of pipes, wires, and floorboards.

That night, I called and called but couldn't find her. My husband assured me she'd appear from wherever she had hidden in due time. Our house remained rather noisy for several days, and there was no sign of Sophie and no meowing. By day four we were both panicked. We had made several thorough searches of the house. Then, I noticed that small opening under the top step of the basement stairs, an opening just big enough for a skinny cat to squeeze through it. I felt sure she's gotten into the floor. Again, I called and called. No answer. 

Then, as we were about to go to bed that fourth night, I thought I heard a distant, faint meow. Jon listened too, and after a few minutes he was sure he heard it.

Ears to the floor, we traced the origin of the sound. Then we rushed to the basement and called for Sophie. A desperate and feeble meow above our heads told us her whereabouts. She was, indeed, far from the place where she'd entered and unable to find her way back. Jon got a step ladder and removed some tiles from the basement ceiling. Moments later, a frightened but grateful feline face peered down at us. Sophie! We lured her onto a floorboard with cat treats and then lifted her out of the ceiling. Both of us were thrilled and relieved to have our kitty back!

As you can imagine, she was thirsty and hungry beyond description. We hugged and petted her as never before! Sadie seemed blase about the whole affair. Perhaps she had enjoyed her four-day stint as top cat just a bit too much. 

Reunited, we went to sleep that night, kitties curled next to us. It was a story with a purrfect ending, to be sure, though I think Sophie may have used up one her nine lives. This tale has been dubbed "The Lost Sophie Saga." I think we may tell it again and again.

You've probably noticed there hasn't been a single mention of a lighthouse in this blog entry. I apologize for that, and I can rectify it easily! This area was my home twice before, from 1976 to 1979 and again from 1986 to 2002. I wrote several books and many articles about lighthouses in those years. I presented many talks and school programs as well. Connecticut has been fertile literary ground for me, and I expect it will be again.

I'm excited to get back to the Nutmeg State!

Publicity photo taken by a photographer for The New London Day in October 1995 for the debut of my book, Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers.

My "moving" hiatus ended, I'm getting back to work and will finish two Itty Bitty Kitty lighthouse guides--one about Bermuda and the other about Rottnest Island, Western Australia. Then, it's on to a fresh New England project, a book about a favorite Massachusetts lighthouse. I'll let you dangle there....wondering which lighthouse! Stay tuned.