We were four strangers meeting at Pier 3 early on a Thursday morning. The sky was overcast and you could see the fog rolling in from the distance. Bags were strewn around, waiting to be place in waterproof bags to protect them during the trip. The Rocket power boat of Superior Sail was being prepared for the voyage including coolers of food to feed us for four days.
I was the last one to arrive and stood awkwardly off to the side silently willing myself to take the first step and introduce myself. However, before I could act she moved forward with an outstretched hand “I’m Jean” and with that we all introduced ourselves. Momentarily it was time to talk about safety on the boat and then the best part – squeezing into the bright orange one piece safety suits. Once we were all waddling around like penguins we boarded the boat and were off to Porphry Island.
The wind whipped across our faces and we watched as islands went by. Periodically we would stop to hear about local lore and settlements. Jean helped us to understand how these settings were represented in her book “The Lightkeepers Daughters” and read short excerpts from her book. Overall it was an enjoyable ride to the island without too many waves.
Once we reached the dock we disembarked carefully, shed ourselves of the hot suits and immediately wished we had put on bug spray. It was quite the walk to the Lighthouse though we were thankful our baggage was transported for us. We walked along the well travelled path with various dips and turns along the way. Julie, one of the other writers stopped periodically to take pictures of the local fauna including old man’s beard – a pale grayish-green lichen that grows like tassels anchored on bark or twigs. As we walked we would catch glimpses of the water crashing over the rocks on the right. Finally we could see a red and white building in the distance. As we grew closer it was revealed there were two houses (the lightkeepers house and the other for the assistant), the light and another smaller building closer to the water. Right at the water’s edge was a helipad should anyone need to be lifted out in an emergency.
The lightkeepers dwelling, where the four of us were staying, was well worn and rough around the edges. Overall it was clean and there was lots of space. The large table in the living room would serve as our work space for most of the weekend. We divvied up rooms and settled in just before lunch was served. The meals over the weekend would be simple as there was no refrigerator and the oven wasn’t working well. Our cook Donnie did a great job pulling each meal together and presenting it nicely. After lunch it was time to introduce ourselves and complete some activities. Throughout the weekend Jean would present us with information and tips and then help us bring it to life by doing writing exercises. The three of us soaked up what she had to offer and there were many rich discussions as well as sharing of our own works.
Over the next four days the power was only put on briefly, as Paul (the keeper of the island) wanted us to have an authentic experience of what the lightkeepers lives were like. This was not ideal for four women who typically write on laptops and tablets. But we managed without power and in between writing classes/workshops we would split up and go for walks, read or work on our writing. I spent the first few days mulling over a topic in my head and then putting it down on paper on the last day. I felt accomplished after that long weekend. I had pages and pages of notes and ideas, of books to read and websites to go to.
Finally it was time to walk back to the boat dock, don the orange jumpsuits and make our way back to Thunder Bay. I left the island a changed person. I hope to be able to go back.