Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Key to the Light Keeper's Cottage is Under the Mat

At the tip of a long finger of windswept coastline sits the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Off the tip of the point is a large white rock, for which the lighthouse is named. 

Have you ever realized just as a week is ending that it has been perfect? That's how this past week has been for me. The sun shone, the garden called me into it each morning, and I had a chance to revisit a life I lived joyfully many years ago.

The old lighthouse is now open for tours.

Work was good. I finished 24 pages of my bird book for children and sent them to my editor, revised my novel manuscript, and I got a chance to take a day off with Jeff to explore the coast above Cambria. My one wish was to drive up to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, where my faithful white shepherd dog Una and I once lived.

Una was always so excited to arrive at the lighthouse's locked gate. She sat behind me in my VW Cabrio convertible, howling and jumping (that is a big deal for a 100 pound dog) until we entered the gate and locked it behind us. Then it was the "BIG RACE." We zoomed down the long, dirt road, clouds of dust behind us, and Una raced me to our cottage. Soon she learned that by cutting across a big patch of ground she could make it to the cottage ahead of me. I swear that dog smiled as she waited, tongue hanging out and tail wagging.

Entwined in my earliest memories is a deep passion for lighthouses. Years ago we were visiting family in San Diego and took a trip to the Old Point Loma lighthouse. I'd dreamed of lighthouses, seen them in movies, but never thought I'd get to go inside one.

I think that the way I live and the way I've always furnished my homes grew from the Sara Orne Jewett and Celia Thaxter books, which I cherished in my teens, and from that first visit to a lighthouse. 

This is a tiny, hidden lighthouse on a private island off the East Coast.

I remember how my heart beat (like it did on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house) as we entered the doorway to the little white washed 1855 lightkeeper's cottage. I was at home. Bright sunlight broke through the fog and shone on the shining floors, the brass lamps, and an old sea chest at the foot of a quilt covered antique bed. A narrow staircase, spiraled like a whelk shell, curled up the tower. The rooms felt simple, spare, yet filled with life. The brilliant indigo sea and the azure sky glimmered through the small paned windows. It felt like a sky island, a sea island, an island of peace.

I never deliberately tried to imitate the feel of a lightkeeper's cottage, but on that day, the images and the sensations of that place seemed to seep into my bones. 

During the early 1980s, my friend Bob, who was a marine biologist living in one of the lightkeeper's homes at Piedras Blancas, asked me if I minded house sitting when he traveled. "You'll be all alone there because the other families are away." I was overjoyed.

Una and I felt jittery at first. But soon we became used to the many voices of the sea and wind, and the constant flash of the lens. Late at night, we walked the cliffs above the lee side of the point where the fishing boats sometimes gathered. And east of us, high atop the "Enchanted Hill" in the Santa Lucia Mountains, sat Hearst Castle. It would be more accurate to say that the castle looked like it sailed across, rather than sat atop, the hill. It reminded me of a glittering blown glass schooner.

On our days off from my Heart's Ease Herb Shop, Una and I explored the cliffs and the shoreline. We found shells, moonstones, and bits of jade. Offshore we watched dolphins, whales, sharks, and endless black clouds of sooty shearwaters skeining above the sea. Those days and nights with my Una were magical times for me. I can still see her smiling her victorious grin.

I know you can't go back and I don't want to. I love that somehow Jeff and I have kindled a similar dream and kept our shared passion for the sea alive in our little Maine cottage. In there, we have shiny, sunlit wooden floors, old sailor's chests, handmade quilts at the foot of our bed, and in every room, small paned windows that frame the many colors and moods of the sea.

Pemaquid Lighthouse

 And best of all? Late on foggy or cloudy nights, as we curl up in bed, the flash of the Pemaquid Light plays off the clouds and shines into our room. Maine, our sky island, our sea island, our island of peace.

Love to you all.


*PLEASE JOIN ME & LISTEN to Heritage Radio Network "We Dig Plants" interview on January 30, 2011. Carmen and Alice ask about the sense of wonder, my gardens, Comfort Found in Maine, our old Maine cottage, family, and more. A fun interview! Please leave a comment. They've developed a GREAT program for gardeners and cooks.
* THE WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY is Kay Niehaus of Kay's Flowers. Hurrah Kay. Please send me your mailing address and I'll get the Taber and Bellamy books in the mail tomorrow.
* VISIT me for gardening tips at my blog on Lowe's Creative Ideas.


Jim Longs Garden said...

Sharon, you paint such a lovely picture of the shore and lighhouse. I loved the picture of your windows and what you see through them. It must have been a joyful experience, house sitting a lighthouse!

Larkrise garden girl said...

Sharon that was a beautiful story I read today. No wonder your an author. I am lucky to live in San Diego county for so many reasons. I have been to The Point Loma lighthouse many years ago.I periodically visit Fort Rosecrans where family is buried and next time I am going to go just a little further and revisit it. There is such a beautiful view
of the Pacific at the tip of Point Loma.There are also great tidepools nearby. You gave such a wonderful picture of a life well lived, Cheri

Mozart's Girl said...

A wonderful, lyrical post dearest Sharon. Thank you for taking me with you xoxo Rachel

Marcie said...

Your shared memories are beautiful and serene. I feel like I went on a little scenic journey with you!

Erin | Bygone Living said...

Oh, what an absolute dream it must be to live in a light keeper's cottage... I, as you do, love to be as close to the sea as possible. I couldn't even begin to imagine living inland for a second!
My truest wish someday is to live in a salty New England seaside village, in an old rickety sea captain's home... nothing fancy, and just as close to the past as possible!

Someday... ♥

Thea said...

i don't know why this story made me cry. maybe i need a lighthouse to keep me from crashing against the rocks.

Pondside said...

I, too, have a soft spot for light houses - perhaps it's my Cape Breton birth place. In any case, we live not far from the Fisgard Light, which we see whenever we walk along the Esquimalt spit.

Kay's flowers said...

I can hardly believe it!!! Thank you so much Sharon. It's late for me on a Sunday night and I'm drinking my tea and I was checking my favorite blog and I didn't even read the whole post but went down to the bottom and saw that I had won! How exciting! How will I ever sleep tonight? I'll email you my address. Thank you, thank you, thank you!



Zuzana said...

Oh, what a beautiful tale. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to stay in a lighthouse or the keepers cottage close to. It must have been incredibly soothing to be left in solace with nothing but a pristine beauty of nature to keep your company.
I love lighthouses as well and there is one very close by to where I live. I have written about it a few times. I can see its light shine across the waters of the bay, like a small light dot each evening on my drive home from work, only during winter months. There is something very hopeful, safe and majestic about these structures.
Lovely images as always,

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Thank you for that wonderful story of just another part of your peaceful, adventuresome life. Your stories always seem to touch my heart, making me feel glad to be alive, and looking forward to living another day that we have been blessed with.

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your sweet comment. It meant a lot.

Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

Pom Pom said...

Yahoo! I was able to get freebies on my Kindle by both the authors you mention! Thanks, Sharon! I loved the old movie Pete's Dragon because of the lighthouse. Out at my parents house in Olympia, Washington, we'd lie in bed and listen to the fog horn. Oh, how this Colorado lady misses the sea.

Rebecca said...

Your words evoke a nostalgia in me for a place I've never been! TWO places, actually.

What peace, calm and serenity here. And there.

Marguerite said...

Sharon that was a lovely story and peek into your past. I'm so glad you have been able to find a place in Maine that captures those memories for you and holds them close.

Unknown said...

Hi Sharon!
I loved every word of your lighthouse tale!
It's so wonderful that you and the sea remain " soul mates "!
I understand completely.
Sending Love,
D and B
PS.Yes,I think we ARE related!

Lori ann said...

Dear Sharon,
i can't wait to tell Chuck about this, we love visiting lighthouses and Piedras Blancas is one of our favorites. We were there 2 years ago for a tour after driving by it many times (but the timing was off, there is only a small window of time to take a tour). How wonderful you stayed there! That would be a dream.

I loved this post, i've reread it 3 times now. Your life is so rich with experiances and memories (that you continue to make)and the very best part of all this is how deeply you appreciate all and everything.

It's always such a pleasure.


Claus said...

Such beautiful memories Sharon! Thank you for sharing. I wonder if there are lighthouses around Guatemala? I don't think so, though. It would be something nice to find out.
Have a lovely day!!

Kay's flowers said...

I have now read the whole post and the pictures you paint with words are so real. I can just see Una running to be the first to the lighthouse with a big smile on her face. What great memories you have.

Again, thank you so much for the books. I so look forward to getting them. What a great way to start my week!



PBoutilier said...

Dear Sharon-

Thrilled to hear of Celia's inspiration in your life! Please come visit Celia's restored historic garden on Appledore Island, Maine! I've been busy ordering seeds for her garden this year, and ew 2011 visit details can be found at:

the REAL girl said...

Sharon, That was absolutely lovely- I could see the quilts but more importantly, I could feel how they make you feel. Lighthouses are both mysterious and incredible and those who tend them are so unique. Your opportunity of being able to go there and stay/visit is a gift---so happy that God brought the two of you together to share a special bond and then for you to share your talents and wisdom with all of us! Blessings, Joann

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Jeff and I have been to Celia Thaxter's Appledore Island garden twice with Virginia, who was tending it at the time. We haven't been back for about 20 years.

Years ago I gave a talk to raise funds for an arbor over the entry gate to the little garden and sent it as a donation. I am hoping it is still there.

I often use shots we took of the garden and shots of my original Island Garden (white bridal edition) when I give talks about small, artistic gardens.

Thanks for stopping by!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful place and time for you. Thank you for sharing it with us. I have been enjoying the weather too. It has been wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon, this reminds me of my past life spending summers on Nantucket Island with our friends there . Have you read The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife by
Connie Scovill Small It is wonderful book about the adventures of a couple that moves into to keep Lighthouse together and some of the times she ends up alone while he is away . Wonderful story.

Lili said...

This was such a beautiful post Sharon that it ctually brought tears to my eyes. Oh my goodness, it was like I was watching a movie as I was reading it. How do you do that? I am so in awe of how you can do that. xoxo ~Lili

P O T A G E R said...

Sublime, Sharon. Absolutely sublime!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Sharon, I adore lighthouses and where ever I travel I make a point of seeing them if they are within vicinity. You are so fortunate to see the beam of the Pemaquid Lighthouse from your home! I find the flash of a lighthouse as comforting as the heartbeat of a loved one. I've visited Old Point Loma and I also loved visiting the Portland Head lighthouse in Maine. One of my favorites in NY is the Montauk Lighthouse on the eastern end of Long Island where I've climbed to the very top to take photos.
I am enjoying your blog very glad to have found it!

Nina Suria said...

Such a sweet stories. I wish I could read one of your book. I cant find one here in Borneo Island.

p/s I love Pemaquid Lighthouse picture, make me to paint one


Suzanne said...

Oh how I loved these pictures! We are currently being buried with snow...LOL! I can't wait to see this new book Sharon:-)

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Oh, how I love the way you write.
I feel as though I have been on a trip with you.
I have never seen a lighthouse - only pictures.
Love the water and the ocean calls me - but - here I am in the woods.
Thank you for this post. You are better than reading a novel :)

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Dear Kay,

We mailed off your two books yesterday and I did sign them to you.

I also included a little stack of my antique garden tools cards, which still have my old Heart's Ease address on them. Jeff found a box of this stationery in his office and I wanted you to have some.

Hope you love the books as I did. I think Andrea Bellamy has a fresh, young outlook on urban gardening, which can be translated to any garden space.

Love to you,


Courtney at SL's No Ennui said...

Your writing is just beautiful.

A bird book for children, you say???? I CAN'T WAIT for that one!

Your reason for unsubscribing to Cooks Illustrated makes a lot of sense. I didn't read that letter-- but would have felt the same way. I've been taught from childhood that bats are very important. I think they're cute, too :)

Kit said...

Wow! You make me yearn for the Oregon Coast, in the middle of our winter. But I will have to wait till June and then feel again, everything you described in your story. :) Kit

Vee said...

You're that close to Pemaquid? How wonderful. Well, we did stop in Damariscotta for sandwiches the last time we went to Pemaquid so I guess that would be about right. It wasn't computing there for a minute. I enjoyed reading about the time you spent at the lighthouse and about your amazing dog Una. What a wonderful week you've just enjoyed!

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Una was a lucky doggie! You're writing a novel as well, Sharon! Very intriguing! Looking forward to all of your new publications as always! That lucky Kay! She magically appears and disappears and wins! Congrats Kay! xxoo Nancy

Susan said...

Dearest Sharon,
The tranquility I felt as I read the passages of your story on your island was amazing. I felt transported to this peaceful place and it lifted my soul. Thank you, as always, for sharing your stories. Love, Susan xoxo

From the Kitchen said...

I've had a most pleasant visit with you this morning. I'm seeing you and Uma race down the dirt road to the lighthouse and it's a pleasant image. My daughter-in-law, for her master's thesis, translated a book written by her great, great (?maybe even one more "great") aunt. The book is a memoir of her time living in a lighthouse on the far northern shores of Newfoundland. Her father was the lighthouse keeper. When I read the thesis, I was pleasantly surprised at what an interesting life this young woman had in that isolated spot. The lighthouse is still there. My DIL visited it shortly before submitting her dissertation.


Anonymous said...

Sharon! Please check out my blog and tell me what you think of my newest fairy house. I am truly you biggest fan:) your creative energy and magical fairy houses are inspired by you! I would be honored for you to take a peek:)

Keep inspiring!! xo

The Red Umbrella said...

This was a joy to read. It takes me back to another time but also awakens the time we live in now.

kj said...

what a pleasure to read this in every way: descriptive passages, unbridled joy, wise appreciation.

i lived in scituate massachusetts for a time and often took my lunch to the minot lighthouse. i think there is a feeling of being lost and found at the same time around lighthouses. i loved that you and your 100 pound grinning dog lived in one together. that is a great story all by itself/

you appreciate living, sharon. it's infectious. ♥

Unknown said...

I have always wanted to live in a lighthouse, at least for a little while, but I content myself with living by the Bay of Fundy, in sight of the bay and in earshot of one of several lighthouses we can see from here. there is nothing better...

Comfrey Cottages said...

lovely imagery conjured up, of you and Una living at your lighthouse. so happy for you that today,you are able to have a similiar type living environment. I am a "water" person and have always loved lighthouses too:) Lucky you being able to inhabit one and weave your life there for a patch of it! just lovely Sharonxx

Donna@Conghaile Cottage said...

I find lighthouses so "Hauntingly Beautiful"...They are a treasure of our past and a sparkling gem of our future. It's so important that our next generations get the same thrill we get out of these and keep their legacy going...Thank you for sharing your beautiful story and experiences... Hugs to you, Donna

Debra Howard said...

Your description is stunningly beautiful! It gave me pause and increased my desire to one day visit Maine.

Vicki Boster said...

Sharon - what a wonderful opportunity to live out a dream - I have held that same dream also - to live for even one night in a lighthouse. Sigh~~

Such a beautiful story and the photos are stunning. You are so very blessed to be able to live your life and share your passions with others. I am maybe a little bit jealous over this one!