Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stars are Lighthouses in the Sky

Photo by Alex Pitt

Years ago, I worked in a planetarium. I've mentioned that in previous posts, but it deserves repeating. The experience definitely colored my life and inspired me in myriad ways. Planetarium work--mostly talks and classes in the dome and off-site, including sidewalk astronomy--proved to be one of the most gratifying jobs of my career. People love to sit back in the cool darkness of a planetarium and voyage through the night sky. When they see a telescope set up a sidewalk or in a field, they always stop and take a look. 

In my planetarium talks, I identified the major stars, which also happen to be the navigating stars. We found the north pole of the sky using the Big Dipper and the Pointer Stars (I called them the Pointer Sisters--I'm dating myself now!) that point to Polaris, the North Star, which lies very close to the celestial north pole. I always gave a simplified explanation of how navigators of yesterday used the stars and a few rudimentary instruments, plus some math, to find their way at sea. What seemed complicated suddenly made a little sense. And it gave my audiences a bit more appreciation for those twinkling lights in the heavens.

Jim Reitz's photo of stars slowly circling over Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Near the top, in the dark little circle, is Polaris.
One of the loveliest natural motions for the camera is evidence of the Earth turning on its axis. As our planet rotates from west to east, the stars seem to move above us from east to west. Set up a camera on a tripod, open the shutter for awhile (ten minutes or more), and you'll capture proof of Earth spinning on its axis. Such celestial motion is awesome, not to mention that it gives us day and night. Check out these images of star trails.

Mark Wallheiser cleverly caught the sky swirling around the North Star, which he carefully placed behind the lantern of the St. Marks Lighthouse. This type of image is a long exposure, with the camera on a tripod and the shutter open for 30 minutes or more.

Here's another star trail image from Shutterstock. Note the star trails are shorter than in the photo above, because the shutter exposure was shorter. That big streak through the background is a meteor., a.k.a. a Falling Star. Of course, stars don't fall from the sky. That's the romantic explanation. A meteor is just a piece of debris swept up by Earth's gravity field and pulled down to toward the ground. The debris catches fire from friction as it speeds through our atmosphere. John Donne said "Go and catch a falling star..." You can, if you're patient. About two or three meteors streak through the night sky every hour. During meteor showers, there are more.
Other delights await the night sky observer, including the Milky Way, a view into the star rich center of our galaxy where some 100,1000 stars reside. Some are so distant, they appear as luminous dust. It's pretty wild at the galactic center, with lots of stars growing and dying, and maybe even a Black Hole.

Photo by Mike Selway. This Cape Leveque Lighthouse in Western Australia. Mike left the shutter open on his camera and caught a rivulet of the Milky Way! The Milky Way arcs over the heavens, looking like a large river of Milk. Find a book of sky lore and read about some of the ancient myths concerning the Milky Way.

Not surprisingly, in my planetarium talks, I dubbed those bright navigating stars "lighthouses in the heavens," because they showed the way at sea and were considerably brighter than the other stars visible to the naked eye. We humans can see about 3,000 stars overhead on a dark, moonless night away from cities and other sources of artificial light. As mentioned earlier, the milky appearance of the Milky Way contains MANY MORE stars. The night sky is an amazing canopy of tiny lights--far away natural lighthouses.

Adam Seward made the stars stand still in this excellent quick image! Can anyone identify this lighthouse?

Chris Cook waited for the perfect night to capture the crescent moon, Venus, and Mars. When planets align in the sky, it's called a conjunction. People in antiquity believed anyone born on the evening of a close conjunction of planets and the moon would grow up to be special. (I have to confess Jupiter and Mars were in conjunction the night I was born, but no moon joined them. So I am only a wee bit special! 😉 ) Chris Cook didn't say which lighthouse he photographed, but it appears to be Chatham. Anyone else want to weigh in on that?

Don't forget the big full moon is the perfect palette for a night-time photo. Rafael Ramos took this amazing shot. I think it's a Mediterranean lighthouse, but I don't know which one. Notice how detailed the moon appears in the photo. This is because a camera can gather much more faint light and many more details than our eyes can.

Greg Lovett caught the moon behind what I think is Jupiter Lighthouse on one of its Full Moon Tours. Check out that gorgeous Fresnel lens, a moon in itself! 

Cape Espichel lighthouse near Cabo Espichel, Sesimbra, Portugal was captured on March 16, 2014 by Miguel Claro. He took successive exposures to track the moon-rise behind the lighthouse.

Sunrise is a good time for a photo too. Bundle up, take a thermos of coffee with you. and set up your camera to grab some colorful shots, like this one by Alex Sam. It's the Walton Lighthouse in the Santa Cruz area of California.

Here's another sunrise behind Ram Island Lighthouse, captured by the well-known Capt. Kimo. He's a lighthouse fan with a talent for photography!
I wasn't kidding when I said that stars are lighthouses in the heavens. If you aren't about this claim, read on.

I'll end this voyage through the night sky with a poem I wrote many years ago when I worked at the planetarium. This poem appeared in my out-of-print book, Lighthouse Victuals & Verse. I drew the lighthouse too! (I dearly wish my arthritic hands could still render images like this--I fear I've lost some of art skill.)

Enjoy, and do go out and look at the night sky--preferably near your favorite lighthouse!

Sunrise at Abaco's Elbow Key Lighthouse in the Bahamas, by Patrick Bennett.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Fascinating Faux Lighthouses

Lighthouses are immensely popular. Of course, those of us who love them know that fact. We are always on the lookout for the latest lighthouse item, be it small or large, real or imagined. One of the bigger items of the imaginative ilk is the faux lighthouse. This is a sentinel, sometimes every bit as convincing as a Coast Guard lighthouse, that someone has built merely for the joy and love of it or for some special purpose.

Many of us have begun collecting images of unofficial lighthouses. We see them everywhere, even inland. I think they'd make a wonderful book, a tome replete with images like those in this blog.
Dimick Lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington was built as a retreat for the Dimicks. It has its own light, but not bright enough to distract ships and require Coast Guard status. 

Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport features this little lighthouse. It has its own dim light for aesthetic effect. Weddings are popular beneath it. It looks like a mini-Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Behind it is the George H.W. Bush home, hidden in the trees across the water. I stayed at the resort in October 2016. There was a heavy windstorm that weekend, so taking this photo involved taming my hair and scarf so they weren't in the photo.

Bruce Robie gave me this image of a faux lighthouse at Pier 39 in San Francisco. Check out the sea lions on the outermost float.

I shot this photo in a small town in Oregon along Route 1. It's a real estate office. You can see the decorative light in the lantern.

Nordic Finn Lighthouse Company in  Seabeck, Washington has this faux lighthouse, complete with a rotating beacon and foghorn. The company makes special-order lighthouse replicas and faux lighthouses. Photo by Al Clayton.

Alice D'Amicol took this photo of a faux lighthouse in Florida. I believe it's a beach cottage. Note the AC unit above the red door.

A faux lighthouse greets visitors to Catalina Island, California. Photo on Wunderground by boyntonbeachboy.

This is the Lighthouse Landing Restaurant near the real Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse at Ponce Inlet, Florida. I've dined here, and will attest that it's pretty good fare!

Starbucks is everywhere, even in Cozumel, Mexico. Pierre Bernard took this picture of the Starbuck's lighthouse all lit up at night.

The McDonald's in Port Washington, Wisconsin has its own lighthouse. I haven't been here yet. Someday! Although I love McDonald's food, I try to avoid it. The photo was taken by Kraig Anderson of Lighthouse Friends.

The post office in Sequim, Washington has a very accurate replica of the New Dungeness Lighthouse. I've been a keeper at the real lighthouse several times and have published a book about my experiences there. Click here to see the book.

The Tennessee River Lighthouse was captured on its shore-side perch by Megan O'Brien.

Churches love lighthouses for their symbolism of salvation and guidance. This one is on Zion Baptist Church in Texas. Photo from TripAdvisor.

A motel in Long Beach, Washington has this lighthouse at its entrance. I love that we could drive on the beach here and fly kites. Near the motel is Klipsan Beach where a lifesaving station still stands, though privately owned.

Do you have pictures of your favorite faux lighthouse? I'd love to see them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tombstone Territory

Courtesy of Lighthouse Digest
Over my years of collecting information and minutia about lighthouses, I've discovered a number of gravestones with lighthouses on them. The salvation symbolism of a lighthouse, plus its enduring meaning as a refuge from storms and woes and an icon to show the way, make it appealing to families as they decide on a monument for the hereafter. Another reason we see so many lighthouses on gravestones is that people just plain love them.

This is the grave of lightkeeper Abbie Burgess Grant in Spruce Head Cemetery, Maine. The photo was taken when the small lighthouse was placed on her grave in the 1940s. That's Edward Rowe Snow on the right and Wilford Snow on the left. This image is from Jeremy D'Entremont's website about New England lighthouses.

Quite a few of my cemetery images are old slides, so I cannot share them until they are converted to digital files. Having a digital camera and a cell phone is terrific for cemetery sleuthing, as I have the images instantaneously and can share them right away. 

I love walking through cemeteries--I always have--as the serenity, quiet, and storied stone monuments have great stories to tell.

Enjoy this sampling from my files. Many are my photos, and in the very polished stones you can often see my reflection as I snapped the photo. A few are from monument companies or other photographers. Study them, and note the details. They were all lovingly designed.

And please be respectful of these stones and their owners, as you would be if you were walking through a cemetery. I said a quiet thank-you to each one as I took a photo.

Cemetery in Brooklyn, Connecticut

Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida

Bozrah, Connecticut

Photo by Lisa Pisa. 

This image was on Pinterest, with no info attached. It's quite the monument!

Octave Ponsart was a lightkeeper from New England. His daughter Seamond is a digital friend of mine, meaning we communicate on FB and email often but have never met. Someday, Seamond!! You're a true lighthouse kid. Note the service badge on the keeper's grave. It's part of a program to honor lightkeepers. You can learn how to help with that by emailing Photo by Scott Coup.

Brooklyn, Connecticut.

Burwen cemetery in the United Kingdom, from Wikimedia Commons

This lighthouse mausoleum is in Memorial Park Cemetery in Michigan. I found it on a way-making website. Apparently, it is a geocaching spot. Neat!

I found this stone in cemetery in Lewes, Delaware. It has the shape of a lighthouse, but it may be a cross.

Barrow Cemetery in the UK has this monument to John Gall, one of the rescued crew of the wrecked ship Forfarshire. If you recall your lighthouse history, Grace Darling helped with this rescue. She was the daughter of the lightkeeper of Longstone Lighthouse. This monument does resemble that lighthouse--the beacon that saved John Gall. Photo by Stephen Middlemiss.

This lovely stone featuring New London's Ledge Lighthouse is in the Mystic Cemetery in Connecticut.

Richardson Memorials in Maine did this nice engraving of Portland Head Lighthouse.

This man was a lightkeeper at old Willapa Lighthouse on the coast of Washington. His lighthouse washed into the sea many years ago. His grave has been moved once, due to erosion of the shoreline at Willapa Bay. The last time I paid him a visit, the sea was encroaching again.

If you have images or directions to lighthouse gravestones, let us know!