Food, Glorious Food: Then and Now

Shortly after we accepted FOSILS’ offer to return to Seguin as keepers again this year, Chris and I decided to purchase enough food staples that would, supplemented by the garden, allow us to remain on-island all summer versus going off weekly for groceries and laundry.  So we purchased large-for-us quantities of canned tomatoes, cheese, chocolate, dried fruit, eggs, nuts and peanut butter from a wholesale club.  Then in another level of bulk buying, we purchased huge quantities of beans; non-instant dried milk powder for drinking, baking and yogurt-making; cornmeal; flour; oats; more nuts; and seeds from a restaurant supplier. To these voluminous stocks, we added coffee, tea, honey, and a single pound of brown sugar for our entire 12-week summer (read more on sugar allotments below) plus a wide variety of spices from our existing pantry, and packed it all up for helicopter transport to Seguin.

In the post entitled Seguin Solar Panel Update, I shared a chronology of the May 20 helicopter lift from Popham Beach State Park to the island, including the transport of all those food stuffs along with the solar equipment and materials to be installed.

As I was contemplating this particular post, Chris shared with me a book he discovered here.  It’s a photo reproduction of the 1902 edition of Instructions to Light-Keepers and Masters of Light-House Vessels. Chapter V. is entitled “REGULATIONS IN REGARD TO PROVISIONS FOR LIGHT-HOUSE KEEPERS, OFFICERS AND CREWS OF LIGHT-HOUSE VESSELS.”  In addition to the overall diet, take a look at the weekly and annual allowances “per man,” including two pounds of sugar per week!

And here’s the invoice from our bulk purchase.  Longtime readers will know that Chris is an accomplished baker and that we prefer vegetarian fare, plus fish!

We have shared our “food” story with visitors who ask how frequently we go to shore for supplies.  When we respond that we’re here for the season, they ask if our supplies will hold out until the end of the summer.  That’s when we reply, with smiles on our faces, “Ask us in another six weeks!”  As this post “goes to press,” we are halfway through our planned time here.  We’ve gone through half of some supplies – e.g. all-purpose flour; about a third of others – e.g. coffee, lentils and sunflower seeds, while others, like our baking chocolate remains untouched.   Our current plan is to leave the island mid-September. I’ll provide a brief usage update just before we leave.  As for drinking water, that’s another post for another time!

The Fresnel Lens

Picture this:  a bowl of uncooked oatmeal, covered with a saucer and placed on the dining room table to be prepared and eaten shortly. Envision that same bowl ten minutes later, relocated halfway across the table with the saucer resting askew to one side of the bowl and oatmeal strewn all over the floor like confetti.  Also on the dining room floor, assorted bottles of spices and containers filled with rice, nuts, and seeds…in from the kitchen, and one apron literally hung-up in two rooms!

The rotor wash from a USCG HH60 Jayhawk helicopter is truly formidable, deconstructing a screen door, rearranging the keeper’s kitchen, even behind closed doors, and “harvesting” kale leaves and an entire nasturtium plant from our garden!

When this happened, we were outside watching the helicopter’s arrival on its second run from South Portland, and the front door to the house, the one that faces to the northeast and onto the porch, was open, as usual.  We closed that door and stayed inside to “batten down the hatches” for their third and final run that day, and nothing happened, of course.  We need to do some research to understand the physics of the rotor wash-driven air coursing through the otherwise closed up house that created oatmeal rain and sent our foodstuffs flying.  It was amazing, and still…

all trifling inconveniences in light, and I mean light, of the reason it happened!

The USCG was delivering via helicopter, the crew and materials for the solar installation that three short days later, re-illuminated the Fresnel lens!  The crew was safely deposited on the helicopter landing pad, but everything else was delivered in a net immediately adjacent to the keeper’s quarters; hence, the unintentional havoc wreaked. For those who’ve been here, that’s the mowed area that extends south towards the sunset bench overlook.  If only we’d thought to check the wind speed read-out during the helicopter’s comings and goings!

On the ground installation:

In the tower installation: 

Can you see the light?

Fire in the Cove!

Intentionally set and monitored until out, the Wednesday Warriors and keepers burned accumulated wood scraps and debris from the Whistle House and Boat House.  The impetus, in part, was to clear out the front of the Boat House ahead of the imminent replacement of the front sill which has deteriorated over the years. More on that project next post!

At the same time, three members of the USCG came ashore to address the recently inoperative fog whistle.  Their temporary fix was to set it to the “on” position ahead of a scheduled return three days later, to replace the controller and return the whistle to radio-initiated operations. So yes, in the meantime, it was on 24/7, an appropriate hedge against a real need versus not having it available if it is needed. After all, Seguin Island Light Station is renown as the foggiest on the East coast.  As if to reaffirm that claim, there was fog some part or all of every day between the temporary fix and the intended installation of the new controller.  Thanks to a combination of weather and redeployment of the helicopter “asset” to accommodate a search and rescue mission, that will happen this coming week.  Best-laid plans are reliably bound to be changed!

Now, the helicopter transport of the crew, equipment and materials for their solar installation that will power the First Order Fresnel lens in the lighthouse is scheduled for this coming week.  Their seafaring colleagues did return Friday, delivering now goose-guarded conduit and the fuel that will be used to power the generator/tools used for their solar installation.  FAA regulations prohibit fuel transport by helicopter.

Between Tuesday and Friday, and ahead of Tropical Storm Fay, we experienced a stupendous storm and a rainbow to follow!  I was able to capture the warning clouds and, following the torrential rain and spectacular lightning, a fully arced rainbow from horizon to horizon.  A special thanks to Captain Ethan who provided an end-of-the-rainbow perspective of Seguin from the Maine-land.  Searching for a pot ‘o gold!

All that July brings

Thanks to an entirely unexpected “fly-by” as we were sitting on the front porch, followed by subsequent sky sightings and finally, Chris’ good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, we now know that the ravenous raptors are a pair of Peregrine falcons!  In deference to those who may feel squeamish about birds like I do about snakes, I am posting only this one example of their talon-work, giving a new, singular meaning to the tern (term) “head shot.”  This was taken “on location” where found on the ground by the tower.  Multiply this single example tenfold plus and you can imagine what the tower catwalk, where they dine al fresco, looks like.

Warning: bird head up ahead

My apologies to anyone who is squeamish.

Some of you may not like spiders either, but I still hope you can enjoy the beauty of their fog-accented, water-droplet-laden weaving in the “web-cam” shots below:

We experience a horizon-wide range of weather here, often in the same day:  hot sun; cool, damp, and enveloping fog; wind gusts up to 25mph and sometimes higher; and you-could-drop-a-pin stillness, as if nature has gone on pause.  Each of these conditions, individually or in combination, brings their own beauty to the island.

For those of you who haven’t made it out to the island yet this summer, here are some photos of the new, off-grid, 14K solar array.  A BIG THANK YOU to everyone whose contributions made it possible!  As I write this post, we have had ten straight days of sun-sublimating fog, and we still have all the power we need, and then some! 

Speaking of solar arrays, the USCG will be here mid-July to install a solar array to power the lighthouse; specifically, the 163-year-old First Order Fresnel lens that has been dark for 20 months! Watch for the long-awaited return of the illuminated lens!

All is normal on Seguin Island!

Shortly after the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic – on March 11, 2020, more than three months ago already, can you believe it? – I started reading/watching a number of pieces about establishing new routines and patterns around spending most of our working and non-working time at home.  One piece in particular struck me: an NPR article with “tips” for living in isolation from a man who has lived alone for 50 years in Gothic, Colorado, an abandoned silver mining mountain town.  One of those tips was to notice and record what goes on around you, giving you the potential to observe and track related patterns, above and beyond “just” filling part of your day with “to-dos.”

With our routines and plans pulled out from under us, like everyone else, it seemed to be an opportune time for me to progress from merely “recording” my day’s activities, to giving additional thought to the things happening around me, near or far; to consider their implications and import; and to contemplate if they are short-term reactions or if they’ll become a part of the fabric of our daily lives going forward.  

With all that in mind, I started to incorporate this “Notice and Record” element into my personal daily journal.  Now, I’m bringing it into this year’s Seguin blog, specifically to share my observations about what hasn’t and has changed on Seguin from summer 2019 to summer 2020.

We left Popham Beach for Seguin Thursday, June 18, the day after FOSILS’ solar installation had been completed.  We saw seals bobbing alongside our watery path, flocks of mostly gulls soaring around Pond Island, not far above this summer’s researchers’ tent abodes and, upon our arrival, moored boats in the cove.  Shortly thereafter, we greeted our first visitors, from last summer no less: a couple with a deaf, leashed cat named, “Seguin.”  Save for “solar school” with some FOSILS board members & Cyndy; quiet solar vs noisy generator-provided electricity – hurrah!; that it was a warm and sunny T-shirt day in mid-June; that the garden was already growing dill; that new leaves of kale were sprouting from stems the size of my forearms, planted as seedlings last June; and that Chris and I were back on Seguin under a waived no-repeat-keeper policy, greeting visitors we’d met last summer, nothing has changed.

We enjoyed another two days of warm and sunny weather, greeting more than 40 visitors on the first and second days of summer who arrived under motor, paddle or sail power.  Several were mutually remembered from last year, including one from Hermit Island Chris and I’d just wondered about out loud to one another barely an hour before he appeared in front of the keeper’s quarters.  The cove was full all day, as captains of varying crafts jockeyed for optimal position to snag a mooring as soon as they became available.  One visitor dropped anchor, which I mention as a reminder-request for future visitors not to do so, in keeping with FOSILS policy and the large, longtime sign posted in the cove: “Do Not Anchor In Cove.”  Seedlings and seeds were planted, including a “fresh” crop of kale.  Another discovered bounty of Neptune’s sea glass plus a small pottery shard, too small for my untrained eye to determine its provenance.  A brilliant hot pink and orange sunset, beribboned with mulberry-colored clouds was seemingly observed by twin thunderheads, two hands-widths to the north, their steel blue-gray silhouettes rising above the horizon.  Excluding daily monitoring of solar stats, the warm June temps, and being able to enjoy the garden’s unexpected bounty, including chives, upon our June arrival versus waiting until mid-August like last summer, nothing has changed.

Sunday’s early morning sun quickly gave way to fog by 6am as the wind shifted from the SW to the NE, and Seguin was rapidly enveloped in fog…for the next two days, penetrated only by the not-so-dulcet tones of the foghorn sounding warning blasts.  This was the weather we’d expected upon our arrival, though happily not as cold as last June, nor a deterrent to a handful of visitors who shrugged through the rolling mist.   The ground is visibly drier two months earlier than last summer, and so we appreciated nature’s moisture-laden fog as a welcomed source of water for the garden coupled with the water we’re saving and recycling from in-door use.  Other than the shift in weather and wind, and our retention of household water for the garden, nothing has changed.

A stupendous beach sunset!

Thank you for your support!

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