On this particular day, Denis and I were north of the mouth of the Columbia River. The Columbia is beautiful and one of my three favorite American rivers, the other two being the Colorado and the Mississippi. The mouth of the Columbia is a particularly deadly section of the Pacific Graveyard, not just because of the weather, but because of a large sandbar on its northern side.
|Cape Disappointment Lighthouse|
There were also other problems. The foghorn often couldn't be heard above the wind and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. Captains of ships approaching from the north complained that its light could not be seen in time to avoid running aground on the sandbar. The solution? In 1898, North Head Lighthouse was built two miles to the north. When you're standing at North Head Light, Cape Disappointment is clearly visible to the south, as you can see in my photo above.
North Head is one of the windiest places in the country. The lantern room windows were equipped with handrails for keepers cleaning the glass. Winds of 126 miles per hour were recorded in 1921 before the instrument blew away. Birds have also been known to be blown through the glass, chipping the lens. Fortunately, it wasn't very windy the day Denis and I visited.
|Keeper's residence from the parking lot|
We walked up the gravel drive to the keeper's residence, which is a very substantial-looking building that looks as though it can withstand any wind that Mother Nature decides to throw at it. The house also makes it plain that being the lightkeeper here was a position of some importance.
|Assistant keepers' lodgings|
I wish we'd been able to go inside both houses. I would have loved to have seen the rooms. On this very pleasant summer day, I thought this could be a wonderful place to live.
|Overgrown gardens at North Head Light|
|The mouth of the Columbia River|
In a way it reminded me of equally beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert. Both places may be in entirely different climates, but both inspire awe, both are beautiful, and both can be very unforgiving. As I drank in the salt air and absorbed the view, I also felt danger lurking in the shadows.
|First view of North Head Light|
I began to wonder how much further the lighthouse was when I suddenly saw its lantern room peeping above the waving blades of tall grass. I don't know why, but even a glimpse of a lighthouse makes my heart beat faster.
Perhaps in another life I was a sea captain who'd been done a good turn by a lightkeeper? It makes me wonder because I spent the first part of my life living in the middle of fields of corn and soybeans in central Illinois, and the rest living in the middle of a desert. Yet the sea and its lighthouses make my blood pump faster.
My grandfather and father may have been in the U.S. Navy, but I don't think that has anything to do with the way I feel. My grandfather wasn't drawn to the sea; he was drafted in World War II. My father went to sea in hopes of learning skills in the SeaBees what would stand him in good stead on dry land. He was going to put in his time and come home. But I... I've often felt a yearning for the salt air and the open sea.
|North Head Lighthouse|
If you happen to see a man wearing a navy blue t-shirt and denim shorts in the foreground of the photo to the left, don't tell anyone-- that's my darlin' Denis, the best traveling companion a lighthouse lover like me could ever have. Neither one of us really wanted to leave that day, but we had to.
Memories are wonderful things, aren't they? I'm certainly glad I could share this one with you.