Adventures of a Lightkeeper
By Barry Porter, Flanker Press, 2022, softcover, $21
A review by RJ Heller
“The longer I looked, the more I realized there was more to observe. It was a never-ending performance, every hour, every day. If it floated or if it moved on the ocean, I have observed it from a lighthouse. A lightkeeper was on watch.” — Barry Porter
Twenty-three years is a long time to be doing a job. And when it involves days on end, living and working on an island as a lighthouse keeper, well, there is no other job like it and never will be again. A lightkeeper truly does see it all.
Lightkeepers are like fossils from a time long gone. Their bones are not found in rock, but upon rock. They are held within the structures they worked in, lived in and kept watch from for days, years, decades of time and circumstance. Each lightkeeper has a story to tell and in Adventures of a Lightkeeper, Barry Porter tells us his story.
It is a story that covers a vast expanse of place and time. Porter was a lighthouse keeper with the Canadian Coast Guard on the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. His tenure began at Surgeon’s Cove Head Lighthouse, a busy shipping channel serving the ports of Botwood and Lewisporte. Porter’s last keeper assignment was in the historic 146-year-old Long Point Lighthouse on Twillingate Island.
The exploits and encounters Porter attends to during his time at post are keen observations manifested in clean, concise writing that flows throughout the book. This is pure storytelling spanning the years from 1983 to 2006. If one wants to get close to what a keeper’s life is like, this book will provide both the drudgery and excitement of both an occupation and that way of life.
Porter’s story begins in February of 1982 when a prized drilling rig Ocean Ranger sinks off the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. It was just a few months before that happened, that Porter was being interviewed for a welder position on that very ship. After hearing the news of the ship’s sinking, Porter knew he was finished with one career and that he needed to make a drastic change. Seeing a friend take a position with the Canadian Coast Guard as a relief lighthouse keeper, Porter decided that was the change he was looking for. This “beginning” is where Porter takes you into his realm. His days as a lightkeeper were a mix of hard work, drudgery, repetition and joy beyond measure. Days upon days, working in four-week shifts, Porter is not only responsible for the job of maintaining the light but also fulfills a myriad of other occupations. We learn that a lightkeeper is also a machinist, a painter, farmer, medic, bookkeeper, cook, weatherman, radio operator and in those rare times, a tour guide. All of these occupations together amidst the surreal scenery of icebergs, whales, the occasional polar bear, arctic foxes and anything else Mother Nature decided to provide are the observations Porter makes shine, both as lightkeeper and an amateur naturalist.
“Scanning over the turbulent seas, I let the salt air blow over every inch of my skin and soul. The endless sky, the clouds, the sea conditions, the wind direction and its strength, the visibility, the colours — my senses were on overload. Most days I could see for endless miles, right to the horizon, where the sky would drop into the sea. It was so beautiful and so peaceful but also wild and dangerous. Many days I could see dozens of icebergs floating by the station, humpback whales feeding just offshore, or gannets diving into the dark blue ocean at sixty mph, like javelins thrown by Olympic athletes.”
Today, the life of a lightkeeper remains distant. Photos in black and white try to offer glimpses of the extraordinary day-by-day steps taken to maintain both the light upon the rock, as well as the life and lives that inhabit the surrounding waters. Porter offers many snapshots of his time on post. An isolation abbreviated by movement of cargo, people, helicopters, ships, but most of all, the movement of time.
Finally, this is a story of replacement — technology by way of automation — stepping in to take over the dispersing of light. The blinking light today not only signals a calming hello to the sailor but a thankful farewell to the keeper. As one element — technology — steps onto a granite ledge, the life of a lightkeeper steps off, carrying with them memories that if not captured, will be gone forever. Porter’s book has captured a significant piece of time for us all to relive, but more importantly, stories about a particular way of life we should never forget.
Uplifting and Unforgettable Coastal Maine Experiences
Books by Jay Diedreck
Do you love the ocean? Do you especially embrace coastal Maine? With all of his four novels, author Jay Diedreck captures the enchanting Maine setting of Port James.
You might ask, “Where exactly is Port James?” It is somewhere nestled along the rocky, sea swept coast of Maine. This Victorian village of small intriguing shops and gas lit sidewalks, is cradled next to her proud, historical lighthouse. The village is both nautical and delightfully charming. It is an unforgettable place where you would dream about or, if lucky enough, be able to vacation for a while. Entering its warm ambiance, the reader is transformed and becomes a treasured member of a precious Maine family, sharing love, adventure, struggles, and wonderful successes. Port James is fictitious, yes, but truly real for anyone who loves lighthouses
, and has “ocean water flowing through their veins.” Jay Diedreck is one of those sea loving individuals. He has been told that he has the unique ability to write with vivid pictures. Some readers say “I am not just reading; I am living this story.” Many have asked, “May I please live in Port James?” Retirement has afforded Diedreck the time to write his four novels but a lifetime of love for the ocean and its lighthouses, gave birth to his works.
His first novel is Klem Watercrest, The Lighthouse Keeper. Klem and his wife Jane have a beautiful marriage, performing the
ir lighthouse duties as the center of village life. All their friends know where to find them, either in the lighthouse keeper’s home or tending to the various flowers around the light. They have outings and adventures as well, giving the reader their rich and sometimes surprising life experiences. Seaside Journeys of Faith, the second novel in this series, lends the joy and love of several adventures and unexpected twists for the reader. Unforgettable characters share their lives as they take you through enchanting time of triumphs and achievements as well as struggles along the way. The flavor of ocean life along with its captivating Port James lighthouse lives throughout this novel.
A Port James Romance, carries you through a beautiful, innocent, but deeply loving courtship where readers have found themselves completely immersed. Ocean beaches, cliffs and the Port James lighthouse plays a vivid and paramount part within this enchanting story.
I Hear My Lighthouse Calling, delivers life changing decisions to the main characters. The sea calls them, their lighthouse calls them, but a true and totally unexpected miracle appears, and makes its mark on their life. Salt air competes withs their choices that keep the reader wondering how it ends until the last page of his ocean loving novel.
Diedreck says that it is truly time to take an ocean break from the trials of this sometimes “upside down world of ours.” He says everyone sincerely deserves a reprieve, and he truly believes these novels deliver that need and desire.
The following excerpt is from A Port James Romance:
“Inspiration Point had many special things about it. Its sand was creamy white and soft on the bare feet. Most of the time, the waves were playful but not immense. From the water’s edge there was a picture-perfect postcard view of Port James lighthouse which proudly stood about three miles away. Even with all of this, the beach was not well-known and was a lovely little spot to swim. At night, it was worth the walk to the cove to see the lighthouse’s broad light beam casting miles out to the sea. As usual, Christine laid out their beach blanket on the sand. She placed a shoe at each corner so that an unexpected gust of wind would not take it into the air. After this was done, Christine pulled off her cotton cover-up and fixed her bathing suit straps. She looked at the water and saw it was a perfect day for a swim.”
Editor’s Note: Jay Diedreck’s authorship has been featured in magazines, newspapers, numerous bookstores and many special events. He recently was awarded by the Town of Ogden, New York, a Proclamation for his authorship and works. He has visited over 70 lighthouses and 40 or more ocean coast reprieves that have spurred his desire for writing. He even built a 14-foot replica lighthouse in his backyard that boasts a 4th order replica Fresnel lens.
Each of Diedreck’s books are published by Christian Faith Publishing and are available to order on the publisher’s website, and wherever fine books are sold.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2022 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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