Adventures of A Lightkeeper: A Memoir by Barry Porter is, quite simply, a romantic recounting of the maritime lifestyle of light keeping on the rugged northeast coastline of Newfoundland. Written with passion and great respect for the solitary life such a profession brings, Porter's book opens the door to these beautiful beacons of light and provides an exclusive tour of these lonely behemoths and the mystique for which they have become famous.
Born to a farming family in Porterville, Newfoundland, Barry Porter was a young welder who started his career in Alberta, as a lot of young Newfoundland trades people do. He interviewed for an offshore welding position on the prized drilling rig the Ocean Ranger but quickly made the decision to leave the offshore life and the welding profession on February 15, 1982 after the tragic sinking of that drill ship. As one would say, the rest was history. Porter applied to be a relief lighthouse keeper with the Canadian Coast Guard and would devote the next 23 years living and working near the sea as lightkeeper in four different locations.
I observed Mother Nature at her finest and sometimes at her most wicked. Every day, I would walk out on the helicopter pad nearby or onto the rocks, anchor my two feet, and just breathe, taking it all in, standing on the very edge of the cliff, binoculars gripped in hand, with the wild ocean churning below me. Scanning over the turbulent seas, I let the salt air blow over every inch of my skin and my soul. The endless sky, the clouds, the sea conditions, the wind direction and it's strength, the visibility, the colours - my senses were on overload. Most days I could see for endless miles, right to the horizon, where the sky would drop into the sea. It was so beautiful and so peaceful but also wild and dangerous.
The recounting is a well balanced combination of intricate details and facts combined with beautifully written descriptions and thoughts, allowing the reader to gain a complete and full understanding of the time and place in which the author is describing. Whether it is the light station on historic Exploits Island or Long Point Lighthouse on beautiful Twillingate Island, Porter's life consisted of more than just operating a light and fog horn. Maintenance and upkeep of grounds and buildings were paramount and aiding in search and rescue operations were expected. Not to mention the administrative tasks of maintaining logbooks and weather reports. Readers will come to enjoy the many photos throughout the memoir that chronicle Porter's life as a lightkeeper. However, it was not all work and no play. There were many entertaining CB radio chats and opportunities to meet interesting people like Dr. Jon Lien, Geoff Stirling and Captain Peter Troake. But some of the more poignant memories recounted by Porter were of the intense moments of loneliness. Maintaining traditions like a freshly cut and decorated Christmas tree or a hot home cooked meal as well as frequent communication with home helped to ease the homesickness. It would be remiss of me not to mention Porter's canine companion and lighthouse beagle, Gypsy, who was by Porter's side 24 hours a day through three different lighthouses. This book was a relaxing and easy read, often enjoyed with a fresh hot brew, that opened my eyes to the adventures of remote living.
I was three-quarters through my lengthy shift on Bacalhao Island when I started to count off my days. I would hardly look at a calendar until I was a few days over the halfway mark. That was in my constitution out there. Winter months were always the longest, especially on this remote island. Sometimes, if you were lucky, the Marine Aids Office would send out a couple of technicians to repair the furnace or install a new Lister motor. In that case, the men would usually have to stay at the lighthouse for a few days. To have company and another person to talk to was always a pleasant change.
Adventures of a Lightkeeper by Barry Porter is a great book that will whisk you away to another life, during another time when lighthouses were manned by adventure seeking, brave young souls who didn't mind being keepers of the light. It is a Flanker Press publication.