The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, a Poet, and a Bookstore Cat

Most people love lighthouses. And what’s not to love? They are usually found in beautiful locations, feature attractive buildings, and include an element of romance. Their location is part of the romance, but even more so, I find the life of lighthouse keepers romantic. I picture them living on the edge of the ocean, facing ferocious storms with towering waves, and working heroically to save lives in areas that are often remote, far removed from the lives most of us lead. While such a life might not seem attractive to most, I like remote. I’m not so sure about the long hours, repetitious work, and being tethered to a 24/7 job.

I’ll never have the opportunity to find out, however.

The possibility of being a lighthouse keeper in the US today is close to zero. Of the 700 lighthouses presently functioning in the country, only one has a lighthouse keeper. It is located on Little Brewster Island overlooking Boston Harbor and has been in operation since being repaired after the British blew it up during the Revolutionary War. It had originally been built in 1716 on a pile of rubble stone with candles providing the light.

The rest of America’s lighthouses have become automated. When our son, Tony, was flying helicopters for the Coast Guard off of Kodiak Island in Alaska, one of his jobs was servicing the lighthouse in Cordova. As I recall, the salmon fishing was great in the area. He loved the assignment. And we benefited at Christmas with yummy halibut and salmon. (BTW… this past week he was flying a helicopter over Antartica in his new job.)

Today, many of the original lighthouses have been turned into museums. That’s the situation with the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse which is now part of the California State Park system. The lighthouse got its official start with a party in 1909. The head lighthouse keeper invited all of the neighbors within a mile over for its official opening at midnight. It was a pea soup night with the fog so thick that the light couldn’t escape. That wasn’t a problem for the loud new fog horns that started blasting out their warning on the dot at 12, probably waking up everyone who lived further away and wasn’t invited to the party. The lighthouse operated happily until 1961 when one of the towering waves I mentioned above rolled over the top. The third order Fresnel lens wasn’t damaged, however, and the lighthouse was returned to working order until 1973 when the US Coast Guard replaced it with a rotating beacon on a metal stand and the original lens was covered.

It was volunteers that brought the lighthouse back to life. With permission from the state and approval from the Coast Guard, they rebuilt the lighthouse and other structures including the homes of the lighthouse keeper and the assistant back to their 1930 condition when electricity was brought in. The Fresnel lens was cleaned, updated, and returned to service, being one of 70 that still operate in the US.

An attractive trail leads from the right side of the parking lot to the Lighthouse. You can also hike the road, but why would you? This is a view of wind-sculpted brush along the way.
Our first view of the Lighthouse. A bit of morning fog still hung over it. The Fresnel lens was shining. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It didn’t last long. A few minutes later the sun came out and burned the fog away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The trail took us over to the ocean on our way to the Lighthouse. Sun lit up the waves.
The Pacific Ocean crashed into an inlet. Can you spot the Cormorant?
It was hiding down among the rocks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We wandered around the lighthouse, admiring it.
A side view included the fog horns located on the back. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy focused in on the lens. It can be seen 22 nautical miles out to sea. The third order Fresnel lens is made up of four panels which contain 90 lead glass prisms and weighs 6800 pounds. It is maintained by the volunteer Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Keepers’ Association. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We entered the small store and museum at the lighthouse and found this. Do you know what it is? It is whale baleen that whales use to strain their food out of ocean water.
We followed the road out since it led by the attractively refurbished lighthouse keepers’ homes. One serves as a museum. Visitors can rent the other for an overnight stay.

And this brings us to the bookstore cat. The attractive, historic town of Mendocino is located a mile and a half south of Point Cabrillo. It is another one of our favorite coastal towns. One of the reasons is its excellent bookstore: The Gallery Bookshop. The store’s logo is a cat reading a book. We went there to buy books, meet friends, and visit with the cat.

Every nook and cranny of the bookstore is filled with quality books. We could spend hours there.
The owner’s philosophy was posted in the window…
We hadn’t seen our friend David McElroy for quite some time. David is an Alaska bush pilot and a talented poet, a combination that has always fascinated me. He was traveling with his friend Susan, who among her many accomplishments, had been the first director of the Nature Conservancy in Alaska. They originally met in 1979 when Susan had hired David to fly her while she filmed the Iditarod, the first film of the event to ever be televised nationally. They met again after David’s wife of many years (and one of Peggy’s best friends from high school, Edith Barrowclough) passed away from cancer. Susan and David were on their way to Paris and then Portugal for a few months.
This sign greeted us at the bookstore door.
Catsby was sitting on the counter next to the cash register when I snapped his photo.

As I have noted before when I have blogged about my favorite independent bookstores, many of them have cats. I think that they all should. Here’s what the Gallery Bookshop’s website has to say about Catsby:

“The Great Catsby joined Gallery Bookshop in the fall of 2012. He was seen wandering on the streets of a neighboring town, darting in and out of businesses. One day, he found a car with an open window and hitchhiked (without the driver’s knowledge) to the village of Mendocino. There, he was picked up by a friend of the bookshop and offered the job of bookstore cat. His duties include sleeping atop card racks, greeting dogs with a glare and a flick of his tail, and occasionally allowing customers to scratch him behind the ears. He can usually be found sitting in the window, warming himself in a patch of sunlight.”

That does it for today. My next post will be on MacKerricher State Park, which is located just north of Fort Bragg. I should note: When I find time to do it. Our life continues to be insane as we rush into creating a new lifestyle for ourselves. More on that after the post on MacKerricher.

33 thoughts on “The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, a Poet, and a Bookstore Cat

  1. We have friends who made a point of visiting every lighthouse within their range. As you suggest, lighthouses have a special appeal, and I have them in several posts over the years, but unlike our friends aren’t fanatic about seeing every one. Some are now rented out, and the thought intrigues me, but we have never gone beyond the thought.

    • I’m not fanatic about seeing everyone, Ray, although I do think it might be a great excuse to wander down the West Coast from Canada to Mexico. 🙂 I’ll also confess that while I don’t devote my life to visiting them, I rarely pass one up. As for staying in one of the rentals, I’m also intrigued by the idea. Not sure I would want all of the tourists looking in my windows, however! –Curt

  2. I always felt a little sad that our lighthouses are now automated.
    I’m like you Curt, I find a bookstore and I can be gone all day (and made myself much lighter in the wallet.

  3. I hated the end to our foghorns, too. For my first years in this area, there was one at the end of the channel into Clear Lake, and it was the best sound — especially when the wind was out of the east. There are a few lighthouses around our coast that have been moved and restored; most are small, and resemble the one you’ve shown here, although there are a few towers with accompanying keepers’ houses. I keep telling myself I should hie me to our nearest one, next to the Texas City Dike now, and see if its worthy of some photos. Maybe your post finally will get me moving!

    • The foghorns of the Pacific Northwest keep blasting away, Linda, because of the modern heavy fog. I love the almost mournful sounds on a foggy day or night. I’ve never met an historic lighthouse that I don’t find photogenic. By all means, head over to the City Dike. –Curt

  4. Footloose and fancy free? The life of a lighthouse keeper has a very enticing aura. Good to see you two kids enjoying life on the road. A wonder you have time to post! 😉

  5. I think you’re right about the romance of lighthouses. I could live with the isolation easily. Peggy got some wonderful shots, I especially like the foggy morning photos. So picturesque. And thanks for the intro to the Reading Cat. He found a lovely home!

  6. I am also fascinated about lighthouses, although I’m not so keen to live there, some of them are very remote. Not sure if the volunteering program is still up in U.S., we met a couple in 2017 who were just moving in for the season to Au Sable Light Station, in Michigan to take care of the lighthouse for 4 months, to greet the visitors, and explain the things around, etc. I found it really interesting!

    • I am sure the volunteering continues in full force, Christie. Most national and state parks make good use of volunteers. It keeps costs down and provides volunteers with something to do and offers a valuable experience. Laughing. As I said, I like remote. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I’ll admit that the mention of your son flying helicopters over Antarctica has completed distracted me Curt. What an extraordinary job that must be! I have about 10 questions if to why and how and does he get to spend time there.
    As to the lighthouses I have long been fascinated. Perhaps always living in a landlocked location does that. I had no idea only one in all of the US still had a keeper.

    • Tony just returned from six weeks down there, Sue, absolutely thrilled. We just received a couple of videos from him. He is working for a very high-end cruise company that travels with a helicopter and a small submarine. Each suite comes with its own butler. Beyond our price range. 🙂 And I really don’t know how anyone can’t love lighthouses! –Curt

  8. You’re not alone in finding lighthouses enchanting! Pre-pandemic we were looking at visiting the East Brother Light Station right outside of San Francisco. They turned it into a B&B, remote and yet accessible 🙂

  9. I loved this post Curt! The photos, as always are beautiful. I too could spend hours in little book stores and most especially, those with cats! Also this: “While such a life might not seem attractive to most, I like remote.” Yes.

    • One of the first things we always do when we hit a new town is check out the bookstores, Sylvia. And the cats. 🙂 We are looking forward to camping in some of those remote areas and enjoying the solitude, as well as the beauty. –Curt

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