Opinion: Looking toward the lighthouse
“My wife and I are going to keep a lighthouse in Lake Michigan this summer.”
Not only is that the best conversation starter I’ve ever had the pleasure of using at a cocktail party, but it’s also true.
And it usually draws the same list of questions from the (almost always) wide-eyed listeners:
"You can do that?”
“How did you find this opportunity?”
The answers to the first three questions are pretty simple:
►My wife, Ellen, and I are volunteering to live rent-free on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan and work as tour guides of the lighthouse there for a six-week period, starting sometime around July 4. There's a house on the island to accommodate keepers. It has running water and electricity.
►Yes, you can. Volunteers are welcome and needed, and programs exist to recruit them.
►I researched lighthouses in Michigan and found a couple that Ellen and I thought looked pretty. Then I emailed the people in charge of maintaining those lighthouses and asked them about their keepers programs.
The South Manitou Island lighthouse was perfect for us. Unlike other keepers programs along Michigan’s coastline, it costs the volunteers nothing but time and labor. That made sense to Ellen and me. It is a six week stint on an island, after all. We imagine that the folks running the place don’t get a ton of takers.
I mean, who our age has six weeks free?
The answer to the last question is a little longer:
Ellen and I got married June 1, 2019, in Oregon with plans to move to Michigan basically right away for a year-long gig I’d landed at The Detroit News.
But it was months before we got hitched that we got the wild idea to keep a lighthouse. One day, we’d been reading, or something, and she just looked up and said, “Did you know that people still keep lighthouses along the Great Lakes?”
I didn’t know that. But it sounded pretty cool.
We were scoping out ideas for our honeymoon at the time, so I looked into it. Ultimately, it wasn’t quite right for a honeymoon. (We went to Hawaii instead.) But with my job at The News lasting only a year, and with no plans beyond that, we thought that taking six weeks to slow down, unplug, read more and think about what we’d like to do next sounded like a great plan.
Ellen and I are both 24 years old. When else are we going to be able to do something like this? We’re only getting older, and the deeper we wade into adult life, the more responsibilities we’re going to shoulder, and the harder it’s going to be to get away for a single weekend, let alone six.
Maybe it’s escapism, but our decision is based on our belief that there’s more to life than jobs, money and striving for success.
We’re looking forward to putting our phones away — something we won’t have much of a choice about since I hear the only place you can get cell reception on the island is at the top of the tower.
When we aren’t giving tours to visitors, we plan on reading, writing, playing board games and hiking around our island.
Hopefully we don't lose our minds and eat each other.
Please do come and visit us.
Aaron B. Andrews is an editorial fellow at The Detroit News.