• March 31, 2023

A Mighty Light goes Dark

What do you do when a storm comes thrashing at you? When the water pounds the shore like thunder and the waves look like they’re threatening to pull you under?

It was getting dark, it was barely 1:00 in the afternoon, but the clouds were gathering off the Oregon Coast and the sea was looking very angry.

Ever since visiting that sturdy lighthouse on the Heceta Head bluff a few years ago, it had been my dream to be there for Christmastime.

The lighthouse itself is fascinating to me. I love lighthouses because I am drawn to light but also because they are rich with symbolism. Guidance and strength through a stormy journey, comfort to know you are not alone.

Heceta Head Lighthouse was first lit in 1894. I cringe at the thought of how hard life could have been back then on stormy days. It would be easy to think it was a bucolic time with nothing but peaceful views should I have only made one visit on a beautiful day.

A closeup of the Fresnel glass. Completed in 1891, the structure stands on a bluff 205 feet above the ocean, it’s built of rock masonry. The tower itself stands 56 feet high. The beam shoots through an intricate Fresnel lens and can be seen for 21 miles.
We visited Heceta Head Lighthouse and roomed in their bed and breakfast a few years ago. It truly can be a relaxing experience. The image in the top right is a group of seals “rafting.”
That visit a couple years ago was a much more playful adventure.

Having grown up near Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, I have a background of wanting to live history and it is especially wonderful to experience history at Christmastime. Something about that feeling of all those souls who have experienced Christmases past and the traditions of how they celebrated is very inspiring.

Check-in time at the Heceta Head B & B is 3pm, there were no refunds for cancellations if the room could not be refilled in our absence. The weather predictions were somewhat dire. We reached the lighthouse about 2pm, running about an hour or two ahead of what was going to turn out to be a very menacing storm.

I knocked on the door and a woman answered, she was very kind hearted although she didn’t appear to be too happy with me being early (usually I’m late and still get that same annoyed reception). I asked if she could please turn on the Christmas lights outside so we could take our long planned photo (I think I was mentally planning this picture for 2 years). She grumbled a bit but she understood the storm that was coming and obliged. We got our shot and then left and got lunch.

Knowing we were taking this trip, my goal was only 2 pictures that were “must haves.” One was Mike and I in front of the decorated house for our Christmas card (which I will post after I mail the cards. hehehe) and the other was for a shot of the beams against the night sky, which I posted twice because it is an incredible shot. It was my assumption that I would have lovely weather for these pictures and then in the morning, get shots of everyone there once day broke, breakfast would be served and we would all be freshened up from traveling. Yes, what a wonderful plan that was.

The keepers quarters is a classic Victorian styled home that has been turned into a bed and breakfast. Originally built to house two or three families to tend to the lighthouse as well as take care of each other with farming and education needs. We made reservations to be at this bed and breakfast for the night of December 17 for some Christmas cheer.

When we got back for check-in, it was about 4:30pm and raining pretty steady. After we brought in our bags, I wanted to quickly get my second must-have shot out of the way before it got completely dark. It was dark enough to see the beams pretty well and so armed with golf umbrella, flashlight, tripod and camera, Mike and I hiked off to the end of the bluff where the weather felt much more intense. We hunkered behind a utility shed beneath the mighty tower. In the driving rain and wind, Mike held as steady as he could with two hands onto that umbrella as it pulled him upward, we huddled best we could trying to keep the camera dry. The rain was whipping us hard in our faces pricking like pins and streaming down the backs of our necks. I worked as fast as I could, although it felt like it took an hour, I think it was only 20 minutes. I setup the shots, trying to focus through rain speckled glass and darkness, I took only 5 and only two of those were any good. We were soaking wet and I did not want to wear on my husband’s patience.

In the wind and driving rain, determined to get the shot.
In the wind and driving rain, determined to get the shot.

However, God had a much different plan for this shot, not nearly so plain and simple as what I had in mind and not nearly within the lengthy time frame I was planning on.

On the drive down, as I imagined how these pictures should look, the weather was somehow beautiful in my mind and these two images I was setting out to get were supposed to be a cake walk. Even if the weather had been clear, I had no idea what exposure settings I would need for such bright beams against a night sky but assumed I would have all the time I needed to figure that out. However, God had a much different plan for this shot, not nearly so plain and simple as what I had in mind and not nearly the time frame I was planning on. “Beams against the night sky? That’s baby stuff! How about instead we add driving wind and rain and just for ambiance, a thundering surf beneath your feet to scare the living tweedle out of you?”

My skill level honestly isn’t anything to brag about, it’s my risk-to-reward ratio that I’m most proud of. Risk-taking that feels beyond what I know I’m capable of doing has always been a driving force, ambition over brains, that’s me! Photography has pushed that for me to an even higher degree. The more difficult the shot seems, the more determined I am to get it. I don’t realize who, what, where or how but I am simply lost in the frame – of mind.

It was time to settle in, have a drink, play a game, visit with new friends. We stayed up and talked and played cards until 11. When we got to our room it was difficult to fall asleep. The wind howled and with gusts recorded near 70 mph! The walls shuddered with every blustering gust. The surf below our window reverberated in thunder upon thunder pounding the beach and lightning illuminated the entire sky. About 3am the hum of the heater in our room stopped and the ambient glow of the night lights went out. Through the window, we watched with some comfort as the beams from that mighty lighthouse searched across the shore.

Then to our shock and disappointment, sometime around 4:30am, the mighty lighthouse went completely dark.

How can this happen? Not now, this is the storm of storms! This is the time of most need! But it happened, everything had gone cold and dark. Everyone inside the keepers quarters that morning reacted differently to the circumstances.

The highlight for this stay, for my husband, was the gourmet seven course breakfast expected to be served by 8:30am. Mike was looking forward to that the most and it was talked about until bedtime. When it was ready, they were supposed to ring a bell for us to gather around the table. Aromas would arouse our senses, coffee would be ready, Christmas trees lit to greet us good morning.

However, at 6:30am, I was the first one to wander out of my room, buzzing around the main floor looking for clues as to how or who would be coming to help us and if breakfast was going to be a reality. There were no caretakers to be found. There was a nice gentlemen we met the night before that was in the capacity of grounds keeper, he said he stayed in the basement and there was an emergency contact for us to reach him if needed, but the fellow never came upstairs that I could find and he didn’t answer his phone. I knocked on the door to the basement but there was no answer. It crossed my mind that he had either left for his other job or he had died of fright in his sleep. I began turning on all the battery operated candles that were scattered about the rooms. Then I used the bathroom and discovered a new surprise, no running water. There were two fireplaces, but no logs to burn. No water to heat, no power to heat it, no heat to heat us, no coffee to brew. No leadership to be found.

An older couple in the room next to ours packed up immediately and left. There were obviously going to be bathroom issues and no one was happy about that, especially them apparently. By 8 o’clock, there were six of us left and some caretakers had shown up. I heard one speaking to the fellow downstairs, the one I thought that may have died. He had stayed holed up down there not knowing what to do and so he didn’t do anything.

I had assumed a place that can host up to 10 guests per night, a place that was apparently vulnerable to weather, would have backup generators. I assumed that once staff arrived, things would normalize. My assumptions here exceeded their abilities.

By 8:15am, still no coffee brewing and breakfast couldn’t possibly be the stunning spectacle that it appears to be on their website. Realization of the incompetence here was overshadowing my already lowered expectations.

What do you do when a mighty light darkens, there is no leadership and those around you are running around like chickens with their heads cut off? What we did was go into town and talk to others who have just experienced the same storm, overcoming their circumstances while keeping their wits about them and powering through. Be it with their own challenges or helping others or continuing to run effectively their own small business. These are the survivors of life’s storms.

When the light dims in my life, I talk to others that know what I’m going through, tell them my story and they tell me their’s. When I look back at what I have been through and I have kept my head, then I know it was not just a difficult journey but a learning adventure and that is when I really know that I have experienced something of true value, a building block for my life. Now I’m not saying I want my next trip to go this way, no thank you! But I can certainly appreciate more the ones that go well and I can accept the ones that were unexpected even if I can only find a tarnished silver lining.