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New Books >> Light Years

BC Bestseller!
Light Years

Caroline Woodward photo by Jeff George

Description

Author photograph
by Jeff George
Dust jacket photograph of Lennard Island Lightstation, Tofino, BC,
by Mark Jurkovic / All Canada Photos
Dust jacket design
by Anna Comfort O’Keeffe

Reviews

Caroline is interviewed by Kirk LaPointe about her life as a writer and lighthouse keeper

November 15, 2015 - Caroline is interviewed by Sheryl MacKay of CBC Radio's NXNW about her life as a writer and lighthouse keeper

Audio clip of CBC’s Gregor Craigie has Caroline Woodward on his Radio Show On The Island talking about her novel Light Years

Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper
ISBN 978-1-55017-727-5 • Harbour Publishing • 2015
$29.95 Hardcover available at fine bookstores everywhere.
E-book is available from your favourite online store.

Light Years has a colour insert and over two dozen black and white photos throughout the book. Photographs by Jeff George.

BC Bestseller and finalist for the Bill Duthie Bookseller's Prize 2016!

Book Description

Caroline Woodward was ready for a change. With a demanding career and four published books to her name, she yearned for adventure and to reignite her passion for writing. Her husband, Jeff, was tired of piecing together low-paying parttime jobs and, with Caroline’s encouragement, applied for a position as a relief lightkeeper on a remote North Pacific island. They endured lonely months of living apart, but lighthouse life rejuvenated Jeff and inspired Caroline to contemplate serious shifts in order to accompany him. When a permanent position became available, Caroline quit her job and joined Jeff on the lights.

She soon learned that the lighthouse-keeping life does not consist of luxuriously empty hours in which to write. Beginning with a 3:30 a.m. weather report, the days are filled with maintaining the lightstation buildings, sea sampling, radio communication, beach cleanup, wildlife encounters and everything in between. As for dangerous rescue missions or dramatic shipwrecks—that kind of excitement is rare. “So far the only life I know I’ve saved is my own,” she says, with her trademark dry wit. Yet Caroline is exhilarated by the scenic coastline with its drizzle and fog, seabirds and whales, and finds time to grow a garden and, as she had hoped, to write.

Told with eloquent introspection and an eye for detail, Light Years is the personal account of a lighthouse keeper in twenty-first-century British Columbia—an account that details Caroline’s endurance of extreme climatic, interpersonal and medical challenges, as well as the practical and psychological aspects of living a happy, healthy, useful and creative life in isolation.


Reviews

Light Years: Memoir of A Modern Lighthouse Keeper by Caroline Woodward
By Desiree Baron - VPL librarian

How many of us have ever fantasized about starting fresh with a new life, in a new location? Caroline Woodward’s Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper, gives readers that vicarious experience. A chance encounter with a wayward Jack Russell terrier gave Woodward the idea of the perfect new start for her and her husband – working as relief lighthouse keepers on the West Coast. Tired of Woodward’s grueling schedule as a publishers’ representative, her husband’s motley collection of part-time work, and feeling sad about their newly empty nest, she sees this move as the perfect chance to write in solitude and gain inspiration from the isolation of the coast. Spliced through the stories are lovely short poems and haikus celebrating the islands and their climate, and their animal inhabitants. Beautiful photographs, most of them taken by her husband, document their life as lightkeepers and the stunning vistas of the coast.

Anyone interested in creativity—writing, homesteading and gardening, for instance—would appreciate the author’s resourceful journey. Woodward is someone who has followed her creative passion for writing throughout her life, working various temporary, seasonal and part-time jobs to pursue her craft instead of a steady, “sensible, well-paid career with a fat pension”. In many ways, this is also a travel book which celebrates the bleak but wondrous landscapes of our West Coast. We are introduced to the various flora and fauna inhabiting the coast. Woodward’s detailed descriptions of birds, whales, and the dreaded crows and deer foraging in her garden gives the reader the sights and sounds of the place. We learn about the author’s youth spent on a farm in Peace River, her life with her husband and son, and of course, about the islands on the coast. The reader gets a sense of the struggles that the pioneer lightkeepers have lived through, including the one who towed a cow on a raft from Oak Bay to Trial Island with his rowboat to provide fresh milk for his family. Filled with historical details, and suffused with Woodward’s dry wit and evocative prose, this book is a perfect armchair getaway and gives great insight into a writer’s life and creative process. At the end of the book is a lovely gift for bibliophiles – a reading list to build ones’ own lighthouse library, with an annotated list of books about lighthouses, writing, and “watery wilderness”.

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Shedding light on a lonely job: Lighthouse keeper offers a ‘remarkable eavesdrop’ into a coastal calling
By Jules Torti, Special to The Sun - January 15, 2016

Who doesn’t fantasize about downsizing to the bare essentials and exchanging familiarity for a solid dose of cedar, salt and “loads of sulphuric sea lion urine floating in” with every southeasterly gust?

Doesn’t everyone muse about the romantic notion of life as a lighthouse keeper on the West Coast? For Caroline Woodward, a chance encounter with a runaway Jack Russell on a ferry bound for Alert Bay was serendipity in four-legged disguise. Stirred by a conversation with the dog’s grateful owner, Woodward found herself innocently head-locked into an epiphany.

After yet another stiff-backed commute as a publishers’ sales rep, delivering book orders to clients, Woodward left a hasty message for her husband, Jeff: “Get some white wine chilling, honey. I’ve found out what we’re going to do next with our lives.”

The couple have resumés that read like pages ripped out of What Colour is Your Parachute? Jeff was a tree planter, snow surveyor and chairman on the board of the Emily Carr School of Art and Design. Caroline has eight published books.

Readers won’t be surprised to learn that she was also a sound effects maker for a horse-drawn theatre company or a group leader for Canada World Youth in Sri Lanka and India. Together they founded The Motherlode bookstore in New Denver, working bleary-eyed back-to-back shifts with five-year-old son Seamus in tow.

A pastoral Peace River childhood without electricity, telephone or running water was the likely foundation of Woodward’s non-traditional career path. Her constant undercurrent has been writing and adventure was always mandatory, even “if somewhat grey around the muzzles.”

Disenchanted with the physical sacrifice of her job and the distraction from her true matrix, Woodward was easily consumed by the visions of solitude and uninterrupted wilderness that lighthouse keeping would offer. She envisioned baking bread; learning Spanish and maybe a musical instrument in the idle hours; kayaking home just-caught Dungeness crab; and writing like mad. Jeff had been in a similar dissatisfied trench of low-paying, part-time work. They’d soon learn that lighthouse keeping was the lowest paid civil servant job of all, but, the riches would lie elsewhere.

As new-found lighthouse keepers, pillow talk for Caroline and Jeff shifted to drifting fog patches and low-level stratus clouds.

Caroline’s childhood, deeply steeped in resourcefulness, proves indispensable on a few occasions.

Her early cosmetic dentistry attempts (using cotton batten to plug a cavity) as a child were echoed when Caroline lost a front crown and found herself making dental impressions with a couriered kit from her Victoria dentist and a YouTube tutorial. A northbound Coast Guard helicopter eventually delivered the temporary tooth. Yes, Light Years has a comedic streak and surprises throughout.

Passages of her writing are nearly edible: “We hustled ourselves and our leashed dogs back home on the beaches all the way, even though it was like walking on slopes made of ball bearings.” The antics of their aging but versatile lighthouse cat Woody and their SPCA Special rescue, Molly Brown, are warming and nerve-racking in equal parts. (Molly travels on the coast guard choppers with her own specially designed “Mutt Muffs” for ear protection.)

List-makers will love Woodward’s chronic magnet for learning as witnessed in her lists of “interesting and enlightened people to investigate.” The suggested list for creating your own lighthouse library is hard to resist falling headlong into and the colour and black and white photos throughout are like an open love letter to the career.

Light Years, Woodward’s first book-length non-fiction work, is a remarkable eavesdrop into the secret lives of lighthouse keepers (nine of the 27 lighthouse stations in B.C. are run by couples).

It’s all attractive — especially donning gumboots and walking a few minutes along the beach to pry mussels off the reefs for lunch. Gardeners will nod along, reading about the battles with banana slugs (“we’d have to start a brewery to have enough beer to drown them all”) and necessary re-purposing (watering plants with leftovers from boiling pasta).

Of course, living on the lights isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There are wintry “nostricles” to contend with; fox sparrows that decimate just-planted gardens; navy-short showers; lurking wolves; insomnia.

There are dark shadows to the job, and the responsibility can be haunting when lost lives are remembered: a child swept off the rocks; a sinking boat in the dark; a pilot and crew on a crashed float plane; a dying whale gouged by a boat propeller.

After seven years of living and working in a dozen different B.C. lighthouses, Woodward would do well to anchor to her talents. She admits, “I write like a glacier, compressing and releasing rare and ancient layers of water ever so slowly.”

It’s worth waiting for the next thaw.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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"This is one of the best modern-day memoirs I've read. I wish I had read something like this when I was young."

From a CBC Radio listener and reader.
CBC Radio's Cross-Country Check-Up Winter Booklist

"It's a memoir of a very unique life experience - manning a lighthouse. It's also a great love story. Love of life, of books and writing, and of living your dreams, and of people and the environment. The book is a great example of following your passion. Caroline is a role model to young men and women. It's about the importance of keeping our lighthouses manned rather than automated. This is one of the best modern-day memoirs I've read. I wish I had read something like this when I was young."


Caroline Woodward's new book shines light on the view from Lennard Island
By Andrew Bailey - Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News

Caroline Woodward’s new book gives readers a peek through her lighthouse’s window.

Woodward watches over local and visiting mariners from the Lennard Island Lightstation spending seven-day weeks putting out weather reports and keeping up with maintenance and communications.

“82A is our channel if you need to know what the seas are doing beyond the calm harbour in Tofino or coming in to Templar Channel,” she told the Westerly News.

She recently completed a non-fiction book on her experience entitled Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper.

“It took me all my life, in one sense, to write this book,” she said.

“Or seven ferociously focused months of writing, rewriting swaths of my journal and essays into chapter form, working with a substantive editor, a copy editor and a proofreader as well as a designer and, with my husband, Jeff George, selecting photographs, colour and black and white, to suit the chapters.”

The book was published by Harbour Publishing earlier this year and Woodward was thrilled to see the result of her collaborations.

“I am delighted with the rigorous editing and fact-checking and working with the publishing team, the colour quality of Jeff’s beautiful photographs, the way the designer used my Japanese poems at the beginning of the chapters, and the cover is just a knockout,” she said.

“I’m still at the stage where the new book is like a beautiful new baby, very happy with it.”

Woodward has been published in a broad range of genres but this is her first non-fiction work and she suggested Clayoquot Sound requires many mediums to be captured.

“This place inspires all forms of writing and storytelling, fiction and non-fiction. Some content is better shaped as a poem,” she said.

“Other stories need more space, the heft of non-fiction history for example. The beauty of wild animals is conveyed better with photographs than any kind of writing can do justice...and then there are children’s stories, requiring just the right illustrations to carry the intent of the story, reading after reading.”

Woodward first visited the West Coast in 1973 when she and her sister hitchhiked over Sutton Pass after heavy rainfall forced them to abandon their bicycles in Parksville.

“The road hadn’t been open long and I have memories of relentless rain, a Volkswagen van, a white dog belonging to the driver of the van, a lively pub night in Ucluelet and then camping on a beach, don’t ask me which one,” she said.

“We were woefully, totally, utterly inadequately dressed for the rain. There weren’t any hot showers or clean Parks Canada facilities or anything like that of course. I still can’t believe we thought we could bicycle over that road and back on a long weekend on ordinary ten speeds.”

She has since fallen in love with the area.

“There is something profound, something immensely powerful about being on the edge of British Columbia and looking out on the reefs and rocks and beyond to just the Pacific Ocean,” she said.

“Add to that living on a tiny island with a spruce grove sheltering us from the winds coming from the north and the Coast Guard buildings and lawns, the helipad, and the creative mind goes outward and inward, fed by the storms, the quiet, the noise, the voices of birds, the spouts of the whales, the boats heading into Tofino Harbour or out to sea, all of it. No distractions, just the beauty and power of Nature, this grand, watery world.”

Woodward had taken a hiatus from writing until recapturing her love of journaling, which brought her back into a daily writing routine that quickly blossomed.

“I started writing Japanese form poems, inspired by Clayoquot Sound, by the world I’m living in,” she said.

Her journey to completing Light Years started with an essay assignment from Adrienne Mason as part of the Clayoquot Writers Group.

“I came up with a short fiction story, except for one true bit about me at the hair salon, about lightkeeping women on Lennard Island over a century, each of them looking at Chesterman Beach for hours,” Woodward said.

She said the essay collection was postponed but her short story found its way to a publisher at BC Bookworld who asked her to contribute to an online magazine in 2014 about her experience living and working as a relief lightkeeper.

“Howard White, the publisher at Harbour, read the completely revised piece I sent in about first meeting a relief lightkeeper on the Alert Bay ferry and the rest is history,” she said.

The daily writing habit she developed through her journal helped her complete the project.

“I have to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write something, anything, every single day. That’s where the journal habit rescues me from self-loathing,” she said.

“My schedule changes when I’m working as a lightkeeper and it’s actually very good for me to have shift work as it forces me not to dilly-dally and waste my life, my time. I have to get to work or nothing will get written. Simple as that. I do not intend to waste this precious time, these “light years” I have before me.”

She’s enjoyed touring with her book and hopes it inspires readers to pursue their passions.

“I’ve met some wonderful people like this on my book tours on Vancouver Island especially this fall,” she said.

“I want all sorts of people to read it and relate to it, of course, whether they want to be professional writers or just love reading about making my decision to choose love and adventure and to join my husband on the lights over security and a great job in the publishing world.”

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse
by Caroline Woodward
Harbour Publishing

Review by Sheila Peters for BC Bookworld

Caroline Woodward begins Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper by telling us about meeting a middle-aged man on the Alert Bay ferry. He’s on his way to his job as a relief lightkeeper, work that gave him an escape from his dull civil service career in BC’s interior to a new life on the coast.

On her drive home, Woodward “remembered how his face lit up when he said how he felt truly, deeply alive upon arriving in Port Hardy.” She writes, “And wasn’t that exactly how I missed feeling? And wasn’t that even more the case for my husband, who had dutifully worked at all kinds of low-paying, part-time jobs with awful hours…for years on end?”

Like any good storyteller, Woodward runs many threads through this rich collection of history and memoir. One takes us back to her childhood on a farm in BC’s northeast and forward to her breakthrough writing year at David Thompson University where she met her husband, Jeff George (the book’s wonderful photographer). We travel back to the early days of lighthouse keeping in BC and forward to the heated battle to keep at least some of those lighthouses staffed. Connecting them all is the powerful story of a writer’s determination to reclaim her and her partner’s creative life.

“Here we were, in our late middle-aged phase of life when most people are at the pinnacle of their chosen careers. We, on the other hand, were feeling trapped and powerless.”

Woodward’s irrepressible curiosity and enthusiasm turned that chance encounter on a ferry into a life line. With George giving it a try first, and liking it, Woodward packed in her job as a publishers’ sales rep and joined him at Lennard Island offshore from Tofino. “The lightkeeping life was going to be our next Great Adventure….It was time for me to climb the rope ladder, get on the ship and head out to the lighthouse.”

Woven into Woodward’s narrative are stories of the dozens of jobs she’s held, from her childhood on the farm and her teenage days writing for Ma Murray’s Alaska Highway News to planting tea in Sri Lanka and later running a bookstore in New Denver (to mention only a few). As well as providing fodder for her writing, she says, they also made her a good fit for the varied tasks of a relief lighthouse keeper.

The sixty-something, five-foot-two Woodward doesn’t shy away from the difficulties (like the time the lawnmower backed her into the blackberry thorns), but she has little time for the naysayers.

“…when anyone has the colossal nerve, as one lightkeeper’s prissy wife did, to tell me that lightkeeping is really Man’s Work – well, I’ve been far too polite to such presumptuous, sexist individuals to date. But I will state here that I had likely done more hours of hard labour by the time I reached fourteen years of age than most contemporary adult Canadian males have done in their lives.”

She sticks up for the lights just as strongly as she sticks up for herself. Light Years is full of stories of lives saved, disasters averted and comfort brought to people caught out by wind and waves. The excerpts from keepers’ letters reveal some of the challenges they faced as tsunamis destroyed their homes or supply ships couldn’t get to increasingly hungry families. And if you’ve ever wondered exactly how visibility, the height of the waves, or the wind speed are determined, Woodward reveals the tricks used to compile the daily weather reports keepers file daily, beginning at 4:40 a.m. and finishing at 10:30 p.m.

She rarely misses an opportunity to throw in arcane facts. For example, it was Robert Louis Stevenson’s (well, it would be a writing fact too) engineering father who invented the Stevenson screen, a slatted box still used to house maximum/minimum thermometers.

“The Stevensons and their crews of skilled tradesmen achieved feats of engineering in North Sea conditions that would be utterly forbidding even today using no cordless DEWALT power tools whatsoever.”

Light Years is as exuberant as any wild coastal landscape. The sections on gardening are a how-to for managing extreme coastal climates or soil contaminated with diesel spills, babying seedlings shared with other keepers and pruning a beloved David Austin tea rose. In spite of the complications of shipping food to such remote locations, the celebrations of good eating are epic (if Woodward ever invites you to dinner, accept!) And any writer looking for ways to restart a stalled career would do well to consider her strategies: she has published three books since she moved to the lights in 2008.

Best of all, she slips her sense of wonder into every chapter.

“I slept and slept on Egg Island, with only the sounds of the wind in the evergreens, the cries of the sea birds and the comforting push and pull of the ocean swells. One night humpback whales circled the island, singing their eerie whale songs, some basso profundo, others swooping up into the heldentenor range. I had to pinch myself. Imagine falling asleep to whales singing deep sea lullabies.”

Woodward’s need for solitude combined with her powerful sense of connection to people and place has stood her well on in her work on the lights and as a writer. Light Years is a passionate and generous celebration of both endeavours and the people who do them.

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“What is it like to run away and join the circling lights?”
By David Leach, Hakai Magazine

Over the centuries, lighthouses have become the quintessential symbols of our not-quite-domesticated coasts. Perched on wave-swept clifftops, the beaming icons suggest resilience, guidance, wisdom, and lend their glow to brand everything from insurance companies to craft beers.

Radar and GPS, the Global Positioning System, have diminished the navigational necessity of lighthouses, most of which have been automated and de-staffed. And yet, for artists and other dreamers, lighthouses remain the maritime equivalent of Henry David Thoreau’s pondside cabin or a forestry fire-watch tower: a romantic fantasy of escape and solitude.

A chance encounter with a lighthouse keeper aboard a ferry in British Columbia inspired Caroline Woodward. The Canadian author coaxed her husband to break free of their middle-aged rut and apply to work on one of the 27 light stations in the province that survived de-staffing by the federal government.

Internet access and helicopter resupplies make life as modern lighthouse keepers less lonely than it was for their 19th-century forebears, who risked madness from the isolation and poisoning from the mercury baths in which the prisms floated. The Woodwards discover more modest challenges on their remote island off Canada’s west coast: growing vegetables in fog-bound gardens, retrieving dogs that wander away with passing hikers, and maintaining cordial relations with eccentric fellow keepers.

The joys are many. Spotting peregrine falcons, humpback whales, and super-pods of Pacific white-sided dolphins make the author feel “like I’d stepped into my own personalNature of Things documentary.” By tracking the weather every three hours and recording bird sightings to help biologists, Woodward learns the nuances of coastal ecology and microclimate at each station. The Zen-like discipline helps Woodward weather the isolation of being both a lighthouse keeper and a writer.

As a memoir, Light Years might not appeal to hardcore “pharomaniacs”—named for Pharos, the lighthouse of ancient Alexandria—who are obsessed with technical minutia and historical factoids. Guiding Lights and Keepers of the Lights, by former lighthouse keeper Donald Graham, remain the must-read historical accounts of life (and death) on Canada’s wild west coast, chronicling the lighthouses’ architectural histories and the keepers’ adventures.

However, anyone who has fantasized about giving the heave-ho to their nine-to-five job for a life of coast-watching will enjoy a vicarious (and often humorous) tour of duty as a modern lighthouse keeper provided within the pages of Light Years.

Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper
By Caroline Woodward
221 pp. Harbour Publishing


Lennard Island lighthouse Memoir Sparks Events
The Westerly News October 14, 2015
By Susan Lee / Literary Voice column

It’s been a long while since I’ve written a book column. Just coping with this record-breaking summer season took all the energy I had.

However, this new book written by the partner of the Assistant Lightkeeper of Lennard Island Lighthouse and member of the Clayoquot Writer’s Group, has given me the motivation to take up the pen again.

Because that is the driving theme of Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper (Harbour Publishing 2015) - a writer just gotta write. And a writer has to find the place and the lifestyle that lets her do that. many of us can relate to that sense of one’s life dream slipping away on us as our time passes, and for Caroline, modern “life on the lights” became the way and means to refocus on her true vocation.

Though alluded to, this is not a book about the heroic deeds, hardships and employer abuse that many Lighthouse books document.

It’s all in the mundane, the accurate and detailed accounting of lightkeeper duties, including the Christmas bake-a-thin that I personally sampled as an ex-MCTSO (read the book to find out!)

She even explains the coded meaning of the daily weather report that is radioed to Coast Guard.

But the beauty of her book is that she can turn a phrase to make the mowing of a lawn into an entertaining exploit.

I particularly enjoyed her poems, digressions, humourous bits, personal and political viewpoints unabashedly expressed throughout. And for us locals, the fun of catching the inside references.

In short, a personable book, describing equally the life of a writer and the life of (a) light keeper; and in no small part a touching love story.

In my previous CG (Coast Guard) job I have heard Caroline’s voice many times on the VHF (sic-ALN) radio receiving those aforementioned weather reports, so I’m truly looking forward to meeting her in person. I’m sure she’s as vibrant in life as in words. She is in our area for three special events:

Slide show and book signing at the Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre (380 Campbell Street, Tofino) on Friday, October 23rd at 7:30 pm. Enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks, and book sales courtesy of Mermaid Tales Bookshop.

Slide show and book signing at the Community Centre in the George Fraser Room (500 Matterson Drive, Ucluelet) on Saturday, October 24th at 7:30 pm. Enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks, and book sales courtesy of Blackberry Cove Marketplace.

Writers workshop -Writing Your Own Memoir: the Light & Dark Years- at Main Street Gallery & Espresso Bar at the Kayak Shop (320 Main Street, Tofino) on October 25th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 pm. Cost $40.

See www.carolinewoodward.ca for more information

Susan Lee is a Ucluelet bookseller and reviewer.


“more than anything, Light Years is a book about the dream of writing”
By Stacey May Fowles, Quill & Quire

When we embark on dream-chasing, life-altering decisions, we often look for signs and signals to guide us on our way. We imbue the smallest things with meaning, giving our choices purpose, attempting to prove, despite risk, that they are sound. For publishing professional and writer Caroline Woodward, that sign is a runaway Jack Russell terrier on the deck of a West Coast ferry. When she returns the lost canine to its owner, the grateful stranger tells Woodward something that changes everything for her: he’s on his way to do a stint as a relief lighthouse keeper.

This chance meeting, which forms the opening scene of Woodward’s memoir, Light Years, plants the seed that allows her to entirely revamp her life. Jaded, exhausted, and frustrated with the daily, occasionally thankless grind of her industry, the author gives up the task of pushing paperbacks in favour of reinvigorating her own passion for writing, something she feels she’s long neglected. She convinces her husband, Jeff, to take a job as a lighthouse keeper, abandons decent pay, regular holidays, and extended health benefits and joins him.

Light Years is the memoir of the pair’s experience “on the lights” together. Its appeal lies partly in the suggestion that deciding to make that tempting major life change doesn’t mean the world will fall apart. Woodward learns the job doesn’t entail gloriously empty stretches of uninterrupted time to craft prose, but she still lives happily on the Lennard Island Lightstation today. Things might not work out exactly as planned, but there is always potential for positive results, especially if you’ve pulled out of a life you’ve come to feel is not your own. The book also looks at the importance of reacquainting with nature, and contains thoughtful, detailed descriptions of the landscape and the beasts that inhabit it.

But more than anything, Light Years is a book about the dream of writing: how we romanticize it, chase it, and serve it, and what we’re willing to sacrifice to make it a part of our daily lives. Through all the struggles that life in the lighthouse brings, its seclusion and isolation give Woodward exactly what she was looking for: her voice back.

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" the reader is lucky to be journeying alongside for awhile"

Caroline Woodward is author of Singing Away the Darkwhich is one of my favourite picture books of all time, a book in rhyming couplets with just a few hundred words that has actually given me great strength more than once at times when I needed it. It’s based on Woodward’s own rural childhood: “When I was six, and went to school, I walked a long, long way…” and recounts her journey in the dark through the woods to meet her school bus each day, facing down fears, shadows, and actual cows. And so her latest book, Light Years: Memoirs of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper, is not such a departure, another book about lighting the darkness, being audacious and daring, and about the deep and complex relationship a person can have with place.

From the back of the book: The very TRUE STORY of a WRITER who always chose ADVENTURE over security, LOVE over logic, and who (naturally) quit her best job ever to go off with her equally peripatetic  husband to LIVE at a LIGHTHOUSE and WRITEall the stories she always wanted to write, including THIS ONE.

(I don’t usually include descriptions from the back of books, but I particularly love that one.)

Woodward’s memoir is as meandering as her life has been, and I mean that in the best way. I mean that instead of a straightforward narrative about days in and days out as a lighthouse keeper (days that begin at 4am for the first weather report), we’re permitted to a broader story about how she and her husband came to live “on the lights” (after previous careers as booksellers and Woodward’s time spent working as a publishing sales rep up and down Vancouver Island, and throughout all of this wanting to make space for writing in her life), her own childhood spent homesteading in Northern British Columbia, in-depth lessons on meteorological geekery, about baking in a lighthouse kitchen (with enough cookies to feed the Coast Guard at Christmas), about how not to be decapitated by a helicopter propeller-blade, and gardening in challenging climates, and how lighthouse keepers cast their votes (Elections Canada officials arrive by helicopter!). It’s also a fervent defence of manned lighthouses, which are always under threat of budget cuts, and the role the lighthouse keepers play in keeping boaters safe, rescuing lost hikers, monitoring weather conditions and documenting the composition of sea-water for scientific data.

Somewhat incongruously, this book about remote and lonely places is not about loneliness at all, but about one finally finding her place in the world after decades of searching. And it’s a love story, Woodward and her husband’s devotion to each other a constant throughout and one of the chief delights of the memoir. They both work as relief lighthouse keepers, this involving separation for weeks or months at a time, and they find ways to stay connected through these periods. When they’re home, however, they live together at the Lennard Island Lightstation on the West coast of Vancouver Island, and Woodward knows she is privileged to live this remarkable life.

At the end of the book, she writes, “Remember this, memorize the pitch and rise and fall of these sounds because you will not hear them once you are far away from this life, this wonderful, amazing adventure.” And the reader is lucky to be journeying alongside for awhile.

Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This


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