Book Review — Light Years

I rarely do book reviews because most of the books I read have been out for several – or many! – years. But when the book has just been published and I like it as much as I do this one, then I want to pass on the good news.

Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper, by Caroline Woodward, was published by Harbour Publishing this year and became available a few weeks ago. This non-fiction hardcover is beautifully designed and the cover, a photograph of the Lennard Island light off Tofino on Vancouver Island, is one I will always enjoy looking at.

Working on the lights was a mid-life move for Woodward and her husband (he is responsible for the wonderful photographs in the book) and she details the pros and cons of living a fascinating lifestyle very different to that which most of us experience. She provides splashes of history for the lights on our Canadian west coast, including the past (we hope) controversy over whether or not lighthouses need to be manned. Or womaned, of course!

Woodward tells some stories about Native history, as well as her own growing-up years in the Peace River country. Her life as the child of pioneer farmers, full of hardship and hard work, gave her an excellent preparation for life as a lighthouse keeper. She and her husband must maintain equipment, mow lawns, plant gardens and conserve precious water as well as attend to radio reports of weather and watch for ships and boats in trouble.

Since one or both partners sometimes do relief work at other light stations, so that the resident keepers can go “out” for holidays and medical attention, they must be able to pack clothes and food and organize themselves so they all can be picked up by helicopter or Coast Guard boats. Woodward says she makes lists about everything. 

Woodward is an accomplished writer, with a sense of humor, as I’ve discovered in reading others of her books. I love the new word she taught me – ‘kelpvine’ – the news grapevine of the lights. Her descriptions of the food she cooks make my mouth water, and the descriptions of the coast, the sea, and the animals who live there make me want to move to a lighthouse myself.

In a way, the life Woodward describes is a lot like my ideal of living in “a solitary cabin in the wood.” But with wifi!

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