austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

About the flapping fish and girls I've loved on nights like this with the moon above

We left Glen Arbor sooner than we'd run out of things to see and do there. Our pet rabbit's medical emergency ate up time, and maybe we should've started earlier in the first place. But we did want to get to a lighthouse. The rough plans to take a ferry over to the islands and the lighthouses there didn't come together; we'd have had to have devoted most of a day, starting early, for that. But we could drive to Empire township and see a lighthouse there. Empire is on the west, Lake Michigan, side of the Leelenau peninsula, about the same latitude as Traverse City. So it was a fair drive from Glen Arbor, made the more exciting by our satellite navigator not quite knowing where the lighthouse, or the state park it's in, was. We let the satellite navigator guide us most of the way and then paid attention to the local terrain.

The Point Betsie Lighthouse is your classic sort of Great Lakes lighthouse. It's just a couple storeys tall, with a more-or-less normal house attached to the tower. The lights don't have to be that huge. One of the outbuildings they converted into a museum, with the sorts of things you'd expect to see: the open boats they'd use for rescue, when needed. The cannons used to shoot tow ropes over to distressed ships. Packs of ancient medical equipment, turned by sand and wind and water and age into stone. Accounting and inventory logs detailing how much stock had been used, and how much worn out, and how much awaited replacement. United States Light House Service-branded plates and silverware. Radio beacon callsign maps. The precious stamp for the US Lighthouse Society's passport book, the first one bunny_hugger had been able to add to her book in ages.

bunny_hugger's mother declined going into the housekeeper's house, the one with actual furniture and a player piano and stoves that seem too tiny and a library that's far too tiny for the months of a harsh winter. Her brother and his girlfriend took the parents' car to drive in to Empire proper and sightsee around town. The house was small, as these things are often, and they could only let a few people into the lighthouse tower at once. Since there were only three of us, and there were a couple huge packs of people ahead of us, we lingered. It's easy for someone like me or bunny_hugger to keep staring at the Fresnel lens or at dioramas about invasive species. bunny_hugger's father could make small talk with the museum docent because he's the sort of person who'll happily make small talk with everyone. We have such a hard time presuming to.

One moment that stood out and that I even took a picture of: they had an October 1919 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald with the banner headline ``Muskegon Ship Disaster Grows'', in which the passenger steamer City of Muskegon sank at the Muskegon harbor. Which isn't anywhere near Empire and which I don't think the Point Betsie Lighthouse had anything to do with. But it shows off what kind of stuff the lighthouse service people did. And the other headline for the page was the Senate overriding President Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act. It's the sort of coincidence of events that looks affected when done in fiction.

Given the wait we'd be the last group allowed up into the lighthouse tower for the day. This gave us an advantage: they promised we didn't have to respect the ten-minute time limit for visiting. It was a gorgeous day, and the views of Lake Michigan were spectacular. I got to discover and try out my new camera's panoramic-picture settings, which will be the death of me yet. bunny_hugger's father learned from the fellow watching over the room about how new the current light was. It's solar-powered, a trend many automated light stations are going for these days, just like in the jokes you'd make about solar power.

The lighthouse was closing --- the reason we had to hurry along instead of staying in Glen Arbor longer and coming to the museum after that --- but we had time to look around the fog signal building, not operating since the 1970s, and the oil house, and the gravestone. It's not a grave site, just a stone. The mother of Edward Wheaton, lighthouse keeper from 1934 to 1946, had died. And Wheaton found that he couldn't lift the gravestone he'd made into his car. So he planted it there, just like in a charming little story about slightly odd people doing things. Lighthouse-keeping is a strange occupation.

Trivia: Every day the Leaning Tower of Pisa sways in a circle under a hundredth of an inch in diameter, due to the sun heating the south side more than the north and expanding the south side, and then both sides cooling overnight. Source: Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa, Nicholas Shrady.

Currently Reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz.

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