Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2011


By Steven Burns


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Sketches by Pam Britton

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All three generations of our family, with spouses and kids/grand-kids, spent a week on the Oregon Coast, five years ago.  It was a combination of having the entire family together, for our Christmas gathering, and to watch the winter storms.

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Yaquina Head Lighthouse Station, Oregon 1947.

We did what most people do: walked the beaches, played tag with the waves, and saw the sights.  It gave my sibling, and parents, a chance to reminisce about our trips, years prior.

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Umpqua Head Lighthouse and Coast Guard Station ...

We went to a couple tourist sites, but the family’s favorites were those locations that have some form of history attached to them.  This included the lighthouses.  Others have told us our family is strange, for going to historical sites, instead of amusement parks.  We go to these places but enjoy learning more.

This was the first time I had the chance to travel with my nieces and nephews and it gave me the chance to instill some of my knowledge upon them.  All of them were between four and ten years old at the time, so they were easily impressed.

Over the week, we visited, or saw, Oregon lighthouses at Tillamook Rock, Cape Meares, Yaquina Head, Yaquina Bay, Cleft of the Rock, Heceta Head, and Umpqua River.  For my nieces and nephews, each stop was more about exploring, than learning.  Not to say all the adults didn’t try teaching them something.

One of my nieces liked the pretty glass, the lenses, while another liked watching the waves since she was so high up.  After seeing the sights, for the most part, my nephews wanted to do nothing more than run around, if we had let them.

Near the end of the week, I noticed one of my nephews deep in thought when we stopped at the Umpqua River Lighthouse.  I could tell he was thinking about something positive, instead of the mischief he liked creating.

He was looking back and forth between the lantern room and a boat passing by when I asked him what he was thinking about.

“You say lighthouses were built so ships wouldn’t crash at night, or during storms,” he responded.

There were times I wondered if he listened and was impressed with his question.  I confirmed he was correct in what he heard and waited to see if he could make the connection.  His next question wasn’t what I was expecting.

“How come they don’t use their GPS?”

I had to laugh.  He had grown up with electronics all his life and didn’t comprehend living without them.  I explained that when the lighthouses were built, GPS were only letters in the alphabet and didn’t stand for anything.  He still had trouble comprehending that electronics hadn’t always existed.

That night, with my dad’s help, since he always liked creating games, we put something together to get my nephew to understand why lighthouses were built.  Scattering pillows about the living room floor, I had people sit on them.  I informed my nephew these were the rocks in the ocean.  If he touched one, he crashed.  All he had to do was get to the other side of the living room without touching a pillow.

With the lights on, he navigated around the pillows without any problems and I told him this was like having a GPS.

I then took my nephew to the kitchen and blindfolded him with a piece of thin cloth, so some light could be seen.  The others rearranged the pillows and turned off the lights.  Using small flashlights, which he could see through the blindfold, each person flashed their light at him so he knew where they were.  It took him longer but he made it through the obstacles.

His last attempt was without anyone acting as a lighthouse.  It didn’t take long and he stepped on a pillow.

He now knew the importance of the lighthouse, then and now.  It gave him an idea of what it was like before GPS machines and why we need lighthouses, in case the GPS system should fail.  He became very concerned about lighthouses being torn down because he didn’t want ships to crash.

All the other nieces of nephews played the game and it kept them entertained for a half an hour.  We had turned a game into a learning experience.  We knew they had learned the lesson about lighthouses, when on the way home, the question was asked, “If lighthouses are so important why aren’t there any lighthouses on the Columbia River?”  It was time for another lesson in maritime navigation, and possibly another game.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2011 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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