Hi Hilary, welcome to Royal Reviews. Could you tell us about Georgian Bay?
Author Hilary Scharper at Georgian Bay.
For much of my early life I spent my summers at a family cottage on southern Georgian Bay (near Lake Huron), about 2 hours north of Toronto, Ontario. At a very young age, I took long strolls along the Bay’s crystal clear waters. The area became part of me and I fell in love with Georgian Bay. Sadly, when I was nineteen, my parents sold our cottage and for many years I was unable to visit my beloved Bay.
Have you ever been separated from a place you love? To me, it was like the ground of my being had somehow shifted. I felt a deep sense of loss and alienation.
Happily, however, about a decade later I was able to reconnect with Georgian Bay. My husband, Stephen, while reading a nature magazine (in a place I won’t mention) saw an ad for a “lighthouse-keeper in a remote location on Georgian Bay.”
“Hey Hilary,” he said from the unnamed area, “Do you want to spend a month as a lighthouse-keeper in the wilderness?”
“Huh?!” was my first (albeit silent) response. This was going to be my vacation? Taking care of a lighthouse? As if I didn’t have enough “keeping” to do with a new job and a five-year-old son.
“It’ll be fun!” he assured me.
Next thing I knew we were in a packed car heading along a gravel road with the dazzling waters of Georgian Bay on our right and a thick cedar forest to our left. No donut shops. No rest areas within a 30-mile radius. (Oh, and did I mention no wi fi or cell phone reception?)
Once we stepped out of the car though, and stood on the grassy bluff overlooking the vast expanse of the blue sun-swept waters of Georgian Bay, I knew again that I was home.
What was one of your most unusual experiences at the lighthouse?
Author Hilary Scharper and son at Cabot Head Lighthouse. (Photo by author.)
One night, during a terrific electric storm, my husband and I were gazing out across Georgian Bay. The waves were over 15 feet high and lightning brightened the sky every ten seconds.
All of a sudden, half way across the horizon, we saw the lights of a sailboat bobbing like a cork in the storm. It looked the skipper was searching for the entrance to the inlet right next to us, but it was very risky business in that kind of turbulent weather. We quickly threw on rain ponchos and ran outside with our flashlights, heading for the shore. There, straining our eyes into the darkness, we alternated shining our beams on the two buoys marking the entrance to the inlet and then sweeping them back to the boat. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the boat made it safely into the channel, but it was listing at an incredible angle owing to the waves and remarkable wind.
We realized then that something was lost with automated lighthouses and we were reminded of the heroism of lightkeepers who, in the past, who would venture forth in such storms with only row boats to rescue survivors from the multiple shipwrecks that had pockmarked these shores.
More on the writing of “Perdita” HERE
Seven hours passed, and the waves were—Mr. Thompson said they were fifteen feet or more in front of the Lodge. The rain had not ceased, but the sky had turned an evil gray, and we heard thunder far off in the distance….
“The storm is moving fast,” said Mr. Thompson, and he shook his head glumly.
I began to pray fervently. It was but three o’clock in the afternoon, but the entire sky had turned a livid gray, and it seemed as if night had dropped upon us like a curtain falling. Now we could see lightning blaze across the horizon….
The rain came down in sheets, and the waves took on an even more ominous and angry aspect. My heart sank as I thought of the boats in that water.
Then—“There,” shouted Mr. Thompson, gesturing toward the eastern skyline.
And appearing suddenly from around the Point, we could see the outline of a large boat. Its foremast was rolling horribly—up and down, back and forth—and we could see, as it neared, that the first jib sheet was ripped to pieces. The mainsail was shredding rapidly in the wind, and the waves were pushing it toward the shore, where it would surely be smashed into pieces against the rocks. We saw the men lowering the lifeboats and then push off, desperately making for shore.
“Allan,” I cried. He had run out into the storm without warning toward the boats, and I leaped out after him.
PerditaBy Hilary ScharperSourcebooks LandmarkJanuary 20, 2015$16.99 Trade Paperback“Stunning… richly complex and unpredictable.” —Historical Novel Review
Marged Brice is 134 years old. She’d be ready to go, if it weren’t for Perdita . . .
The Georgian Bay lighthouse’s single eye keeps watch over storm and calm, and Marged grew up in its shadow, learning the language of the wind and the trees. There’s blustery beauty there, where sea and sky incite each other to mischief… or worse…
Garth Hellyer of the Longevity Project doesn’t believe Marged was a girl coming of age in the 1890s, but reading her diaries in the same wild and unpredictable location where she wrote them might be enough to cast doubt on his common sense.
Everyone knows about death. It’s life that’s much more mysterious…
About the AuthorHilary Scharper, who lives in Toronto, spent a decade as a lighthouse keeper on the Bruce Peninsula with her husband. She also is the author of a story collection, Dream Dresses, and God and Caesar at the Rio Grande (University of Minnesota Press) which won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award. She received her Ph.D. from Yale and is currently Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto.
Don’t forget to stop by and check out my review of Perdita on Wednesday.
3 signed copies of Perdita by Hilary Scharper (open December 15, 2014 – February 7, 2015)