Little River Light, lantern room

Little River Light, lantern room

In today’s post, I’m departing from my normal format of historical and historical fiction stories about lighthouses to tell you about my personal experience as a lighthouse keeper in 2013.

One year ago, I wrote a post called “New Year’s Resolution – Be a Lighthouse Keeper.” I decided to take my own advice and pursue this lifelong goal, and my husband eagerly agreed.

Of the various lighthouses that offered volunteer positions as lighthouse keepers, the Little River Light in Cutler, Maine, appealed to me the most. The charming 19th century lighthouse and keeper’s house situated on a small island captured my heart. We completed the application, anxious to get one of the five two-week slots available, and were thrilled when the board of the nonprofit organization that manages the property approved us.

In July, we arrived in the picturesque lobstering village of Cutler to begin our assignment. First, I must clarify that we were not really lighthouse “keepers.” We were caretakers of the property, since the US Coast Guard oversees the automated light and foghorn. Some of our duties were to keep the buildings and grounds clean and maintained. We did our best, but I wondered if the lighthouse inspectors of the past would have approved our work.

We fell in love with the place. The setting at the mouth of the Little River and the Bay of Fundy was an ongoing panorama of changing beauty. We couldn’t stop taking pictures. On a clear day, we could see an island in Canada, as well as its lighthouse. To the south, we could see the lighthouse at Machias Seal Island when it came on at sunset.

The keeper’s house had been home to several families throughout the years. Relatives of the last keeper, Willie Corbett, are still in the area and have been involved in the home’s renovation. These days, guests pay for the privilege of staying in one of three upstairs bedrooms. One of our responsibilities was to pick up these guests from the mainland and take them back to the island. We met many nice and interesting people during our stay.

And of course, the lighthouse, the proud sentinel that guarded the entrance to the harbor, was my favorite place. From the galley, I could see

Foggy sunset turned our world pink

Foggy sunset turned our world pink

boats as they passed the island each day. Some days I even sat in the lantern room and read, feeling a bond with the keepers of yesteryear.

The resident eagles reminded us that we were on their island as they soared past or kept lookout on the rocks below. We were thrilled to hear their offspring cry from the nest and were able to spot them in their lofty perch from the water.

We learned how dramatic tidal change can be – as much as twelve feet difference some days. As a result, we had to adhere to a strict schedule for going to the harbor safely. From the shore, we watched ten-foot high rocks disappear at high tide and reappear at low, covered with seaweed the seagulls dined in.

The weather varied considerably as well. When we arrived in early July, the area was experiencing record highs in the 80’s. However, a few days later, the temperature dropped to the 60’s. We saw clear days and foggy days that engulfed the island. And we also saw breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

It was with great sadness that we left, feeling as if we were leaving a piece of ourselves on the island.

Little River LIght  - painting by Pam BrittonIn September, the property was closed up for the winter and the floating docks removed, not to be used again until the next summer. For a Southerner like myself, I didn’t understand why it was open such a short time. However, I’ve become aware of how harsh Maine winters can be, as they’ve already experienced several blizzards in the past month. When we were on the island, we had the convenience of electricity and running water. This was not the case for the lightkeepers who lived there a hundred years ago. How they managed to survive the winters amazes me, and I have a greater appreciation for them now that I’ve been there.

Being a volunteer lighthouse keeper was one New Year’s resolution last year that I accomplished. And I will be forever thankful that the opportunity was possible. The people of Cutler and especially, the Friends of Little River nonprofit organization that manage the property are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and their dedication to preserving the Little River Light is admirable.

May God bless your goals for 2014.

“May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4