Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In the Lighthouse

Connecting With the Past

How do I begin to describe it? The feeling of walking through what could be a portal to times past, a gateway to a long ago era when courageous men and women endured unimaginable loneliness and hardships unknown to most in their day. Some say there is romanticism to lighthouses, those proud, aging protectors of coastlines worldwide. Others feel apprehension in their shadows, a sort of unidentifiable uneasiness, as if the beacon’s searching white beam could lay open one’s innermost secrets.

I tend to fall in with the former. Lighthouses are romantic, mysterious and intriguing. From the first time I set foot inside Admiralty Head on Whidbey Island, Washington, I was entranced, staring upward at that marvelous nautilus stairway, dizzy at the prospect of climbing the iron steps to the top. But oh! The reward. Stunning does not begin to describe the view from the top.

From that time on, I was hooked. I began collecting all things “lighthouse.” Facts, stories, models, photos. I became somewhat of an expert within my sphere, and I sought entry to as many light stations as I could in my limited travels. Very nearly got thrown off the grounds of one, too.

My brother and his wife own and operate a lovely Victorian era bed & breakfast in a small, historic seaport near the northern entrance to Puget Sound, Washington. Port Townsend was once destined to be the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad, but later lost their bid to the more conveniently located town of Seattle. Still, Port Townsend remains a delightful relic of what could have been, with its stately nineteenth century estates, parks and small inlet.

There are two lighthouses located in Port Townsend. One, Point Wilson, is a traditional white tower on low ground, not open to the public and jealously guarded by its caretakers. “Photos from afar,” if you will. The second lighthouse is in town, built on a small bluff that overlooks the ferry landing to the north and the paper mill to the south. Built in 1990 and fashioned after the popular 1906 Mukilteo Light, Dimick Lighthouse does not have a 3rd order Fresnel lens or a foghorn, but it is “real” nonetheless, and as a friend of the Dimick family, I am invited to stay in their lighthouse whenever I visit.

A few years back, my romantic mystery, Point Surrender, was foundering. Stubborn, tucked deeply away in the black hole of my laptop, my novel steadfastly refused to come to life. I figured I needed some time away and possibly some inspiration. Port Townsend seemed like just the ticket, and to my delight and good fortune, Dimick Light was available for a short stay.

Dimick Lighthouse is a small house consisting of one large living area, a bathroom, and the light tower. The living area provides a double bed, separated from the sitting area by an antique, leaded glass folding screen, and the small kitchenette pretends to be a room behind a small bar. The steps leading to the gallery are wooden, and there is one small window half way up.

Immediately upon arriving, I raced to the top, through the lantern room and outside to literally gulp in the fresh air as I explored again the gallery. Worked “like a tonic” on me, as my grandmother might have said. I sat down there, my back against the lantern room glass, my knees drew up as I contemplated the view of Puget Sound, the Kitsap Ferry and a smattering of sail boats crossing to Marrowstone Island. Breathing actually felt different. Better. Clearer.

So did my mind. With the exception of a couple of meals and one afternoon of Port Townsend jazz, I did not leave the lighthouse for 3 days and nights. The keys on the laptop open on the small kitchen table drew my fingers like magnets. I didn’t know I could type that fast. Words traveled like electric currents from my brain to my fingertips, even as my eyes grew red and swollen. Climbing the steps at Dimick Lighthouse, I could “see” through the eyes of my heroine, Amy Winslow, as she forced her feet to move up Point Surrender’s curling staircase, fearful of what she might find at the top; could “see” just how Liam Jenner’s body might have looked at the bottom, twisted into an unnatural shape from the violence of his fall…

Point Surrender came to life that weekend in Washington, as my connection to lighthouses became a bond that will always remain. So much so, that I felt the urge, the demand, to write a second book wherein one of the main characters was a lighthouse. Cape Seduction was that story... to be continued.

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