Diary of a Lighthouse Keeper #1
A week in January at the New Dungeness Lighthouse – An adventure and an honor
Six of us keepers left the lighthouse transfer station in Carlsborg, WA, about 6:45pm on a Friday night. Two 4-wheel-drive vehicles were stuffed with all our provisions and personal gear for the week. This was my first time as a keeper and not altogether sure what I had gotten myself into. Luckily, three in our group had been keepers before and I knew two of our crew. We were assured that although the drive to the lighthouse was going to be rough, bumpy, dark, and a little scarey, the drivers were experienced and would keep us safe.
I knew I was in good hands, but wondered if this was such a good idea – a week with three women I’d never met and probably a minimum of a six-hour walk for me to get “off the island”. At this point, I was committed and it was one of the best decisions for a “vacation” I’ve ever had.
When we arrived at the lighthouse the returning keepers had all their gear ready to be loaded into the trucks for their trip back to civilization. All of us scrambled to unload/load as rapidly as possible to ensure the trucks could get back on the beach during the low tide change. So, there were were, watching the red tail lights disappear down the beach. STRANDED! Or so it crossed my mind! Another slight moment of “what have I done?”
We had organized ourselves as three groups for planning purposes during the weeks before we left and for duty shifts at the lighthouse. My work rotation for the week was: cook, day off, lighthouse duty – Repeat! I at least knew what was expected from me.
Given all the boxes of food and luggage we had to carry in, and the good humor among all six of us, I knew: a. we would not starve and, b. we all seemed to be kindred spirits.
First order of business was to unpack the groceries and settle into our rooms. I had a charming room with a quilt on the bed and a desk upstairs facing the lighthouse. I didn’t close the blinds the first night, nor any other night there. I wanted to see the light flash in my room on its rotation. Later that first night, we all sat around the living room, most of us knitting, and introduced ourselves with a little of who, what, when and how we all ended up on this adventure together. One person who knew us all and had made all our arrangements and facilitated communication among us prior to the trip.
I studied a bit about the lighthouse that first night. The property had been continuously occupied since 1857. It was the first lighthouse built on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What an honor to be part of that tradition. Our Keeper’s Quarters were built in 1904. The Coast Guard had lighthouse duty for a period of time until 1934. In 1934, electricity was brought to the property through a cable underwater across Dungeness Bay. In April 1980, New Dungeness Lighthouse welcomed Seaman First Class Jeni Burr, New Dungeness’ first woman Head Keeper. So many dates and interesting changes to the property and much more to learn – tomorrow!
I slept like a baby in the new surroundings! More Day #2 at the Lighthouse in the next blog.