Showing posts from December, 2013

Lighthouse Keeping (Part 1 -- Physical Rigors)

When I say, I am a lighthouse keeper, most people are surprised. Unknowingly they smile. Do they still exist? How did you even think of doing that? Is there training? How did you get the job? I understand this fascination; asked many of the same questions myself, when my friend became a keeper a few years ago. Romantic. Captivating. The Lighthouse. That fiery beacon by the misty sea is ingrained in our ancestral memory. If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a tower, stirring up a cauldron of chowder, or sipping tea as you scan the horizon for floundering ships, you know what I mean. But be forewarned. As merry as it seems, lighthouse life is not a dream.
In my late fifties, I wanted a new career, something different from my stressful, chaotic, sedentary high school teaching job, something that would allow me to think and write and create.

When the online job posting appeared at last, I applied and waited, interviewed and waited; and finally, was informed that if I passed the medical, I wou…


The most critical duty of a lighthouse keeper is to observe and report a marine weather forecast* every three hours. It is human eyes and ears, that experience standing beside this Pacific sea, and record it for the benefit of all who use this “whaleroad”. Some keepers also observe the skies and provide aviation reports much needed by pilots. Etched up and down the west coast of Canada from Victoria to Alaska, we are a scattered chain of observers, linked by Coast Guard radio.

As I listen to the other keepers report, I am always curious. No two of us ever give the same report; in fact, the weather is often vastly different. The nearest station to us may report visibility of 15 miles, while we are obscured by fog, or it may be raining there, while I am basking in starlight. This is why human observation at lightstations is critical.

The first report comes early: 3:30am. Awakened by my alarm--best to set two I’ve discovered--I slip into clothes, boots, toque, glove, jacket and don a miner…

Oh the Wind and Rain

When I came out of the office this morning after reporting the 6:40am weather, I had to hold on ... to my hood ... to the wall. With southeast winds gusting 28 knots (that is 52 km/hr ... think of driving through town) that corner of the station was getting walloped. The wind, of course, churns up the sea, so we had some roaring waves breaking off the rocks.

This is the kind of thing that makes Tofino a surfers' and stormwatchers' paradise -- although this is technically not a storm. This is just a little wind and rain ... light rain, to be exact; what the Beaufort Scale calls a "strong breeze" ... close to a "near gale".

Below is a map of Tofino. You can see where we are, just to the west of Chesterman Beach (which is touted to be one of the best surfing spots in North America. Surfing Tofino

And, here's another of the breakers just west of the station. No storm yet, but hey, I'm here for another week. If we really do get one of those storms, we'l…

Alive Alive O!

"When the tide is out, the table is set."

I heard a Musqueam elder say this a few years ago at a Vancouver gathering, but its echoes are much older. Any of the First Peoples who've been living along this western coast since time immemorial know it, and know it well. This is the first day I've lived it.

We've been talking about gathering mussels all week, but the time just wasn't right. For one thing, you need a low tide, and this time of year when daylight is limited, low tides are scarce. In fact, they become increasingly later in the day over the next week, and by December 15, as we move closer to Winter Solstice, low tide occurs in the dark.

Today, I took advantage of a low tide at 9:45am. Perfect. Right after my last weather. I wanted to check out the tide pools and see what I could photograph. Unfortunately, there wasn't too much around.
But the next item on the agenda was collecting mussels. (Any of you who know me will understand that mixing Irish …