Soundscape: Sentinel Over the Water

  • Volunteer lighthouse keepers at Big Sable Point appreciate the allure of these historical buildings.

Lighthouses used to guide ships to safe waters. These days they mainly beckon to tourists. The Great Lakes are a popular destination for lighthouse buffs because of the lighthouses lining the shores. All summer long at Ludington State Park in Michigan, visitors walk two miles from their cars and campers to visit Big Sable Point Lighthouse. When they get there, the tourists are greeted by volunteer lighthouse keepers. The keepers have been through a lengthy application process for the privilege of living at the lighthouse for two weeks. During that time they clean the port-a-potty’s, sweep the sand off the stairs, and show visitors around. But each volunteer lightkeeper is also getting a sense for why lighthouses are such an attraction. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney prepared this audio postcard:

Transcript

Lighthouses used to guide ships to safe waters, these days they
mainly beckon to tourists. The Great Lakes are a popular destination
for
lighthouse buffs because of the lighthouses lining the shores. All
summer long at Ludington State Park in Michigan visitors to the park
walk
2 miles from their cars and campers to visit Big Sable Point
Lighthouse. When they get there, the tourists are greeted by six
volunteer lighthouse keepers. The keepers have been through a lengthy
application process for the privilege of living at the lighthouse for two
weeks. During that time they clean the port-a-potty’s, sweep the sand
off
the lighthouse stairs, and show visitors around. But each volunteer
lightkeeper is also getting a chance to try to figure out for themselves
why lighthouses are such an attraction. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tamar Charney prepared this audio postcard:

(sounds of waves)

Harold Triezenberg: “We’d like to welcome you to the Big Sable Point
Lighthouse. Does anyone know why its called big sable? No. No. No.
What
does sable mean? Sable means sand.”

(sounds of waves)

Shirley Mitchell: “It’s a beautiful area lighthouses are in with
the water and that always attracts people. They think of the loneliness
and in a lot of books it’s the source of a lot of adventure. You’re out
here by yourself and have to do for yourself with what you’ve got.
There’s
the thrill of maybe rescuing someone off of a ship. Being the one that’s
responsible for keeping the light going to make sure the ships won’t
crash
into the rocks or into the shore. People are trying to capture a lot of
that We’re not in control. It’s mother nature that is in control.”

(waves fade out)

(sounds of steps being climbed)

Harold Triezenberg: “There’s 130 steps from the bottom to the very
top.”

(steps)

“I think lighthouses are a very important part of our American heritage.
What they stand for. What they’ve done. What they mean. Even though
they
are not necessarily used to guide ships because of global positioning, I
think
a lighthouse is a symbol of mankind. A symbol of us as citizens to be
also
lighthouses to be guides to people to those around us.”

(walking outside & wind)

“When you look out here you’re looking at the same very same scenery,
the
people who built this tower seen. They seen the very same thing the
same
water, beach same probably the sand dunes and the same forest in the
background.”

“Those are little markers that tell us the distance to cities around here
Chicago 160 and as we walk around we see other markers, Ludington 7
miles,
Grand Rapids, 85, Lansing, 130, and as we keep going around we see
more
stickers that tell us the direction and how far the cities are… (wind)
It is very remote.”

(sound of waves)

(wood steps)

Phyllis Triezenberg: “This is one of the bedrooms it happens to be the
bedroom I’m staying in. Very nicely furnished. Lots of closets in this
place and we assume it’s because they had to have lots of supplies for
a
long period of time.
The keepers quarters were built the same time as the
lighthouse, 1867. Their main job was to tend the light back before
electricity they had to keep the lamp burning.”

“I’m very nostalgic. I like history things that people did a long time ago. I
like to see things where other people have been just to think that now I’m
experiencing what they’ve experienced.”

(waves)

Julie Koviak: “It would have been a very hard life – especially the nights
the
fog horn was running cause it would run sometimes for 4 days at a time
and they couldn’t talk. They’d have to time their conversation to speak in
between the blasts of the fog horn.”

“I think I got totally interested in them when I saw this one walking out
here. Just because of the beauty it was almost a religious experience
seeing
that sentinel stand over the water. You know, ‘I am the light, I’ll show you
the way. Know what I mean?”

(Waves)

TAG: Shirley Mitchell, Harold and Phyllis Triezenberg, and
Julie Koviak are volunteer lighthouse keepers at Big Sable
Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan.