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.

An Alaskan Poet and a Saguaro… Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

An “armless” saguaro at Organ Pipe National Monument is outlined by the sun’s setting rays.

David McElroy and his wife Edith Barrowclough came down from Alaska recently to visit Peggy and me at our home in Southern Oregon. Edith went to high school with Peggy in Port Clinton, Ohio. David is an Alaskan Bush Pilot and a published poet, which makes for an interesting combination.

In addition to the high school connection, our son Tony now flies helicopters for the Coast Guard out of Kodiak, Alaska and I once lived in Alaska. We also share a love of wandering. We told stories, visited a local winery, and ate Thai food in Jacksonville. Edith and Dave are good folks; we enjoyed the visit.

David left us a special present. He downloaded several unpublished poems from his computer to my MacBook. One, about a desert walk, reminded me of similar walks that Peggy and I have taken at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and other locations throughout the Southwest.

I decided to post David’s poem today (with his permission) and illustrate it with our photos from Organ Pipe. The National Monument is located in Southern Arizona on the border with Mexico. (My pardon for the skipped lines… I fought for two hours trying to turn off Microsoft’s paragraph function. Grrrr. Maybe one of  my readers can give me the solution. I am sure somebody will say, “It’s simple Curt…”

Desert Walk

Armless saguaro too young to wave

much less salute but old enough

for sex open their white flowers

to night and pollinating bats

that might, that must, come by.


Except for grasses, Mesquite

and most plants here hang seedpods,

a rich feed ripening for two kinds of doves,

these little rats along the trail,

cottontails, and ducks in the creek.


And so the need for hanging hawks,

owls that burrow, coyotes wafting

like dust through creosote brush,

and in the heat among cactus thorns

snakes sewing the needles of themselves.


Lush rock in low sun, green cattails,

the beat up tin of water over gravel,

hopeful saguaro ruler straight–

over a hill, around a bend,

the land composes a scene of itself.


And the woman on whom nothing is lost

aims her camera with one hand,

and with the other in complete confidence

passes the cup she’s been holding

over her shoulder to the hand


in the desert behind her which is mine.

A saguaro “ruler straight.” Note the thorny protection. Peggy and I, and I am sure David and Edith, are quite careful when walking among cacti.

I prefer my saguaros with arms. It gives them more personality.

Check out the wild ‘gesture’ of the saguaro to the right and behind. The power lines are running to the headquarters of Organ Pipe National Monument.

A coyote went “wafting like dust through creosote brush.” I took this photo at Death Valley National Park.

The desert Bighorn Sheep is another inhabitant of Organ Pipe National Monument, although rarely seen. I caught this big fellow hanging out near Lake Mead.

An organ pipe cactus is on the left in this scene from Organ Pipe National Monument. The cactus in front is a cholla. The cactus behind it is a barrel cactus.

A view across Organ Pipe National Monument showing the desert and rugged mountains. Peggy and I were out on an early morning walk.

One concern from anyone traveling to the National Monument is its location on the Mexican Border and the drug issue. I pulled this photo of the border fence at Organ Pipe off of the web. There has to be a better solution than building fences between nations. It reminds me of the Berlin Wall.

On a happier note, I’ll conclude with another photo from our early morning desert walk featuring saguaro and organ pipe cacti. The cactus on the left with the skinny (and spiked) limbs is an ocotillo.