Coastal Voices: Being a Battery Point keeper mystical, magical experience

By Karen Ferguson
My name is Karen Ferguson and I would like to address the Jan. 17 article, “The keepers: Buttoning up Battery Point is not all charm and romance.” I disagree with the depiction of the life of a keeper.

You see, my husband and I have also had the great honor (and I emphasize “honor”), of being the lighthouse keepers at Battery Point Lighthouse this past year for three different months. My husband and I were selected as volunteers to serve as keepers of the light for nearly the entire month of May and then again in August and October 2008.

The majority of lighthouses in California and Oregon are non-operational and even fewer recruit volunteers to serve as keepers. The tradition of lighthouse keepers throughout the Pacific Northwest, in and of itself, is worthy of syndicated press coverage. Your article neither took into consideration the rich history of Battery Point’s keepers nor did it present the real purpose of a keepers’ responsibilities in the Pacific Northwest, especially one as special as Battery Point.

Very few lighthouses allow curators of the lighthouses, let alone live-in keepers as curators. If you wanted to be a keeper of the light in most lighthouses that do allow live-in curators, you are put on a list and charged a sizable fee for this honor. The Del Norte Historical Society has made it possible to live a dream and be part of history at the same time. The historical society pays for 100 percent of the cost of living at the lighthouse while  you are there (except for your personal needs and food). Can you tell me where else you can go to be involved in such an awesome part of 152-year-old history, not to mention be such an integral part of your own community’s history for that kind of a deal?

Your article seemed to miss the fact that this is a volunteer position and you go into it knowing that you are living with the conditions and responsibilities of being a lighthouse keeper. Furthermore, your article depicts the lighthouse as an arduous chore that is not only highly demanding but equally mundane. This just is not the case. Sure, there are everyday chores and maintenance needs that must be done, but no more so than you would with your own personal home.

Also, there is more than one room in the lighthouse where you can live, or simply pass the time while taking in one of the most incredible views in our county, not to mention being wrapped in the walls of a 152-year-old history lesson. For example; the upstairs captain’s bedroom has a television and DVD player as well as a radio and a charming wood stove to enjoy. If one feels the need to be more connected with “real time” society, there are two computers connected to the  Internet in the gift shop and radio room.

Personally, I felt being completely immersed in one of the many historical books, photo albums and copies of keeper’s logs much more interesting.

I am sure you must have seen the view from the tower. At certain times of the year you can observe a variety of indigenous and migrating mammals including whales. Harbor seals often sun themselves on the rocks to the north of the island and sperm whales frolic just to the west of the island during the evening hours of fall. Brown pelicans and seagulls drifting effortlessly on unseen wind currents buzz the tower in curious fashion in search of an easy meal.

My husband and I often found ourselves having morning coffee with two resident seagulls on the picnic table and bench just beneath the kitchen window. I might add the sunrises and sunsets are nothing short of breathtaking, accenting silver-tipped clouds laying upon the horizon.

As far as modern conveniences not already mentioned, there is a four-wheeler (ATV), to help you to get your groceries and supplies from the parking lot to the lighthouse. It is especially useful when the isthmus is slowly being covered by the precipitous tides.

As far as the phone that “rings all too often with questions,” this is, after all, a historical landmark that offers tours to the public. What an honor to be a part of educating tourists and community members with regard to the legend and magnificent history of Battery Point.

My husband and I have cleaned the tower windows, swept the stairs, replaced a light bulb or replaced weather-beaten items, chopped fire wood, mowed the lawns, pulled weeds, picked up trash dropped by visitors, gave tours (even after hours) … all of these things we did with pride because we loved being able to do it. As you can see from this simple list, none of these things are more than one would do in their own home. Why should a resident keeper feel, or want to do any different?

During our three months as resident keepers, my husband and I met several very special individuals who strive to maintain the integrity and aesthetics of the building and grounds that are knows as Battery Point. We would not trade this for anything.

The historical society has attempted to make the keeper’s life at Battery Point as comfortable as possible. Piped in city water, Internet and cable, modern phone lines, a microwave oven, coffee pot, excellent stove to cook on refrigerator, security lights and alarms, an ATV for transportation to and from the main-land, and even a pellet stove as well as an array of electric heaters. Fortunately because of the historical society’s efforts to preserve historical facts and an attempt to emulate as much as possible the real world of a keeper in the 19th century, many historical nuances have been given precedence over the modern alternative. For this I applaud the historical society.

Without question, when people accept the duty of being a keeper of Battery Point Lighthouse, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature in some respects. One great example is paying attention to tides; meaning you have to get on and off of the island with the tides. If you have a regular job from 8 to 5 and need to get to shore, you have to plan your life around the tides. For this reason, the historical society has gone to extensive efforts to find the right permanent keepers who are up to the task.

The historical society has done a wonderful thing by opening it up to the community by asking for help from those who would like to be part of history and help to keep our light alive until they find permanent keepers. Who knows how long it will take to find the right one, but I do know that until they do I am blessed for the times that I get to be the keeper.

Battery Point is a mystical and magical place full of charm, yet calming, peaceful, inspiring and at times intoxicating. The people that you meet and the stories that you share you might never get anywhere else. And If you think the view from the radio room is good, you should take the tour and check out the view from the upstairs bathroom that was added on facing the west. On a good day you can see the Saint George Reef Lighthouse from the tower.

The current rotation system of lighthouse keepers is working out well. Dottie Nuszkiewicz is on top of everything and always has the volunteers and the lighthouse’s best interest at hand and heart. When everyone chips in to help out where the help is needed it works really well and is kind of like having a big family with many talents that help to keep things flowing.

In closing, I am saddened at the fact you failed to understand the importance and overall significance that Battery Point plays in our community. I also am concerned with the fact your article may have damaged the necessary interest from community members in keeping this active, private aid to navigation an important icon in Del Norte County. The historical society takes great efforts to promote and maintain the structure’s historical integrity to ensure locals and tourists experience and understand the great sacrifices and passions necessary to keep this light alive.

I implore you to write a follow-up article and take the time to experience and understand our community and the importance of this lighthouse to our community and ecumenical importance with respect to tourism in this county. Battery Point has been visited by individuals from around our nation and around the world because of its historical significance. It saddens me that you failed to recognize this fact.