I’ve only been blogging for six weeks, and I may already be deviating from my plan. According to my initial post, all “Whimsical Wednesday” entries should focus on my hobbies and interests. Memorable places are earmarked for “Tuesday Travels,” but today’s topic doesn’t fit exclusively into one category or the other.
True, lighthouses have intrigued many a traveler, but they’ve also captured the hearts and minds of countless writers, painters, photographers, historians, and preservationists – and the lighthouses of Michigan are no exception. The state’s 3,288-mile shoreline – which traces four of the five Great Lakes and is second in length only to Alaska – has nurtured over a hundred lighthouses, some of which are still operational. Some of these historic landmarks have even become inns and maritime museums.
Lighthouses have always fascinated me, and ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed of being a lighthouse keeper. How I’ve longed for the peace of isolation, the promise of inspiration, the pride of conservation. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I’ve surely romanticized the life of a lighthouse keeper. It’s simple to focus on the positive aspects – the scenic beauty, the remote location, the chance to write – and forget the negative ones, such as loneliness, storms, and, of course, hard work. After all, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for lighthouse keepers of old to lug barrels of lantern oil up those narrow, winding staircases.
Such considerations, however, didn’t stop me from inquiring about the Keeper Program at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on a recent visit to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Built in 1858 and situated within Leelanau State Park, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the most well-preserved in Michigan. For a small fee, visitors can tour the restored keeper’s residence, check out maritime exhibits, and climb the lighthouse tower for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and a few outlying islands.
From April to December, volunteers can stay for one or two weeks in the former assistant’s quarters on the northern side of the lighthouse as a lighthouse keeper. During this stay, volunteer lighthouse keepers are responsible for greeting visitors, providing historical information, assisting in the gift shop, cleaning and painting the buildings, and maintaining the grounds. Like lighthouse keepers of old, they must be in good physical condition, able to climb stairs, and willing to work long hours. Unlike the romanticized vision of 19th-century lighthouse keepers, however, these volunteers must be comfortable dealing with the public.
And, of course, that’s only one of many reasons why Dan thought I was insane for asking about the Keeper Program. “Let me get this straight,” he said on our way back to the parking lot. “You’d have to deal with the public, do manual labor, and pay for the privilege?” ‘Cause, oh, yes, I forgot to mention that it would cost us $880 to stay and work at the lighthouse for two weeks. As he pointed out, this wouldn’t exactly resemble the dream in my head... of staying in a remote lighthouse for a season, away from people and urban stresses – just us, our kitty, the lighthouse, and the freedom to craft our stories.
So, perhaps Dan’s right. Perhaps we would be better off spending that same amount of money on a writer’s conference or a romantic getaway. It wouldn’t be the same as experiencing the life of a lighthouse keeper – but, then, neither would participating in the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Keeper Program. Although I understand and appreciate the necessity for such volunteers, who contribute to the preservation of one of Michigan’s most treasured landmarks, I’m just not certain that it’s a good match for me. And besides, I’ve already climbed the tower steps. How can working the cash register at the admissions desk top that?
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