Archive | July, 2013

12 Steps

13 Jul

Oak Island Lighthouse from across the street

Oak Island Lighthouse in NC

Now that I’ve been labeled a “pharologist” (see the post from July 1, 2013), I thought I would share my most recent lighthouse “adventure” on my blog. Okay, so this probably doesn’t qualify as an adventure for MOST people, but hey, sometimes getting out of bed in the morning and making it to the kitchen for coffee is an adventure for me!

This week, with my dedicated travelling partner Professorgrrl, I got to see and “climb” the Oak Island Lighthouse in Caswell Beach, NC. When it comes to lighthouses, this one is a baby. Its construction was completed in 1958. I thought it might not have the charm of other really old lighthouses, since there’s no lighthouse keeper’s cottage, no stories of nautical adventures on the high seas, and no ghost stories. I was wrong!

The docent said that, as far as he knew, it is the only lighthouse in the WORLD that has, instead of a spiral staircase, a series of ship’s ladders to ascend to the top for maintenance of the lighthouse. When the design was being considered, the Coast Guard specifically requested this style of steps, so that they could quickly get to the top. Otherwise, there would be a LOT of steps spiraling to the top. As it is, there are 131 steps. Here’s a photo of the first 12 steps, the only ones I climbed.

Looking down the 12 steps of the Oak Island Lighthouse

Looking down 12 steps.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays of each week in the summer they give free tours to the lower level of the lighthouse. This means climbing 12 ship’s ladder steps up. The full tour, all the way up to the top on 131 ship’s ladder steps, has to be booked a minimum of 2 weeks in advance, and those tours are on the other days of the week. I found this out too late to book a climb to the top, but didn’t mind, because those ship’s ladder steps looked a little daunting anyway, given my below-average height. I thought that climbing the first 12 steps would be a good primer and determine if I’d be able to climb all 131 at a later date. When I got to the top of the landing after climbing the 12 steps, and looked down, I felt something in the pit of my stomach that I will interpret as “Banjogrrl, if you make it back down these 12 steps without falling, you will promise yourself not to ever climb the entire 131 steps to the top.” Gulp. A lighthouse volunteer told me later that occasionally they have folks who climb to the top, but then have to be “talked back down” due to panic attacks. I believed her.

The view from this lower level was nice, though. Here’s a look out the window of the lower level. I am impressed with the spectacular shadow this lighthouse creates. This lighthouse is 153 feet tall, and the tip of it is 169 feet above the water, since it sits up a small hill.

View from lower window of the Oak Island Lighthouse

The town of Caswell Beach, as viewed from the lower window of Oak Island Lighthouse

In the shadow of the lighthouse, is Professorgrrl with her camera taking a photo of me staring out the window. She has an incredible zoom lens. I told her to take the picture of me as “proof” that I went up. Sure wish I had known that I needed to smile for the camera. I don’t think Photoshop can fix that, either.

View from lower window of the Oak Island Lighthouse


This clearly illustrates how each of us has a different perspective in life!

Do I have any great insights to share about this most recent lighthouse adventure? Nope, sure don’t. Well, except for those of you who also have bad knees, or even mediocre knees, (which certainly includes a much large group than the XLH-ers) expect to feel some pain for a day or so afterwards, even with just 12 (rather steep) steps. But I do have some more photos to share, so here they are. I’d like to make a special dedication to my fellow pharologists, too, since you will enjoy them more than the average person.

Inside looking up the Oak Island Lighthouse

Looking up at the remaining ship’s ladder steps to the top. I will NOT be climbing those steps, but they sure do make a pretty photograph.

Oak Island Lighthouse with sunburst

Lighthouse with sunburst. This lighthouse is tri-colored. The pigment was mixed into the cement when it was built, so that it would never have to be painted! 

Old Baldy

Across the street from the Oak Island Lighthouse, you can look over the water and see “Old Baldy,” which is the oldest standing lighthouse in NC.  Two lighthouses in one day! That really was icing on the cake!

Airplane flies by the lighthouse

Woodpecker flying out

These two lucky shots together make me smile! The first one is an airplane flying by the Oak Island Lighthouse. The second photo is a red-headed woodpecker flying by a dead tree, near where I stayed this week. Humans vs. Nature.

I did realize one thing, when I looked at my photographs later. What made the scenes beautiful, to me, was not the lighthouse, really. Photos of that admirable cement structure standing tall on a low-light, overcast day probably wouldn’t have gotten as many “oohs” and “aahs” from me as these photos with their gorgeous backdrop of sky and clouds. Wow, what a beautiful day for photo-taking! No human can take credit for that! In photography, it’s really all about the light. And the light was spectacular. Even the photos of the inside of the lighthouse are nice because of the play of light inside a rather dark structure. Since this particular lighthouse is still in use, it made me want to go back and see it at night, too. Because, really, in photography, in lighthouses and in life too, it’s all about the light.

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2013-2018


I Can Dance, Part II

5 Jul



I have finally finished the Limberjack Cow that I started making, as I mentioned at the end of my June 9th post, “I Can Dance!” She was truly a challenge, too. I felt like an orthopedic surgeon, with all the issues I faced making her. Legs fell off, knees got stuck, and she also suffered a broken knee from vigorous dancing. She had a genetic disorder, though…there was a weird little knot or something in part of the wood of that particular area of one of her lower legs. I repaired it, with wood glue, CA glue and a paper splint. So far, so good. Too bad repairs on human knees aren’t that easy! Medacow paid for it…ha!

I’ve been inspired to name her “Dolly” because of her signature song, “Buffalo Gals,” an American folk song that is over 100 years old!

I danced with a dolly with a hole in her stocking, and her feet kept a-rocking and her knees kept a-knocking

Oh I danced with a dolly with a hole in her stocking and we danced by the light of the moon.

So, Dolly the Limberjack Cow, now shares the spotlight with Charlie (short for Charlotte) the Limberjack Chicken and Corky the Limberjack Dog. She’s a little imperfect and though her maker (me) intended for her to be perfect, the materials used were imperfect, so, I got a cow with a few physical challenges. Her dancing is not very good, either. We have a strong connection, Dolly and I.

It brings to mind a quote that I saw someone share on Facebook last week.

Everything you do is based on choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period [sic]

First of all, I thought it was funny that the quote had “Period” at the end of it, but no period after the word “Period.” Yes, I am the grammar police.

Second, it sent me into a mini-rant. I’m small, so everything I do is mini-sized. Professorgrrl wisely told me that I take these kinds of posts and quotes way too seriously. She said that most people on FB don’t consider who is “in the room” when they make broad generalizations in their posts. In person, this person might have thought more carefully about what she was saying if she saw that there was a physically disabled person in the room, or a mentally challenged person in the room, i.e., people who had no choices in things they were born with that do influence everything they do, and every choice they make if they do have any choices at all. And had she said it with me actually in the room, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my mouth shut and would have probably said some things that I regret. But since she posted it on FB, I was able to contain myself and not make any comments. So far, anyway.

I am certainly not suggesting that most people have no choices in their lives. But the quote insinuates that we have many choices, and it’s up to us to make the right decision based on our array of choices. It’s a very America-centric view of decision-making. Here in the U.S.A. we have almost too many choices about many things. If you don’t believe me, go to WalMart to buy an apple or look up directions to anywhere on Google Maps. (I always get three routes to choose from.) However, I have been to countries where people were born into abject poverty and have no choices about most things, even survival. Are they “responsible for every decision and choice” they make? In a situation like that, making a decision or choice might be either an impossibility or a luxury. The same goes with mentally challenged people or many physically challenged or disabled people. If a person gets rheumatoid arthritis, did they choose to become disabled? Or collect disability payments IF they’re available? And the person with a genetic disorder, like XLH…what choices does that person or the parents of that child have? Pretty limited, if you ask me. In the real world, there are many people who do not have a wide selection of choices from which to make the “right” decision.

I had an interesting conversation with my father yesterday, as a matter of fact, regarding choices. As he has gotten older, he asks me more and more questions like, “How are your legs? How are your knees? How are your hips?” He’s worried about me, and I think worried about my future. Yesterday, he said he wondered if he and my mother had done enough for me when I was diagnosed as a one-year-old child. My mother has told me that the orthopedist told her to exercise my legs everyday and she did, she says. I wore leg braces when I was four and wore them for about a year. I took a high dosage of Vitamin D (50,000 I.U.’s daily) until puberty. My father, in our conversation yesterday, said he has often wondered if they could have chosen another doctor who possibly could have done more. He was even tearful when he said this to me. I reassured him that they did the best they could do, and from what I can tell, that was the standard treatment in the early 1960’s. That is definitely not the treatment today, because we now have discovered so much more about this genetic disorder. But in the early ’60’s, my parents had two choices…get the only treatment for me that was currently available or do nothing. And, to be good parents, they really had one and only one choice, and one doctor in town who even knew anything about this disorder. So, they chose to follow that doctor’s orders. In a lighter moment in the conversation, he said that it was so very hard for him to see me in those leg braces, but that I had quickly learned how “to fly” in those things and he was amazed by that. I had no choice as a child but to follow my parents’ orders…wear the braces. Eventually, I also chose to not let them inhibit me from running, too. (His statement reminded me of that moment in the move Forest Gump, where he runs right out of his leg braces…that was my favorite part of the whole movie!)

Yes, sometimes our choices are limited, and for some people, there might not even be the luxury of any choice. We are not all dealt the same hand, that’s for sure. Even in the XLH community, there are some who have very debilitating and extremely painful manifestations of the disorder and others, like me, who can still get around unaided and get by with less meds. My heart goes out to those whose choices are so limited or even non-existent and I think of them when I read those inane posts on FB. Sometimes I just want to say to those FB friends, “Look around and consider who else is in the room when you say that.” It may be a limberjack cow like me with a bad knee who can’t dance very well, or worse, someone who can’t dance at all.

So, who is “in my room”? I’d like to honor some people who have had few, if any, choices about their circumstances in life and who have made the best decisions for themselves that they could, given the limited choices they have had. A young friend of mine with cognitive disabilities comes to mind. She’s made some terrible decisions in her life and I am not sure she has been able to understand that she could have made different decisions that would have made her life easier. I do not hold her completely responsible for her bad decisions, either, given her inability to carefully think through things before she made these poor decisions. My dear uncle, whose body is racked with pain from arthritis and gout and several other medical problems, has shrunk from 5’10” down to 5’2″. Whenever the doctors or nurses have asked him, “Do you drink?” he has answered wryly, “Not yet.” The “choice” to suffer was not made by him, but passed down through his genetic code. His current choices are extremely limited–try to live or not. I would not judge him for whatever decision he made regarding his quality of life. He certainly didn’t ask for this circumstance. There are other people “in my room.” I honor and admire and respect them for doing the best they could with their lot in life and the limited choices they have had. I certainly honor both my parents for making the only choice available to them in regards to my treatment. There was only one decision to make–to be a good parent. No other choices were possible for good, loving parents. And, as it turned out, administering 50,000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D a day until puberty was NOT the correct treatment and some have even suggested it was a really bad idea. But it was the early ’60’s and there were no other “standard” treatments at that time. Are my parents “responsible” for making that decision? I certainly don’t think so!

Who is in your room?

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

I Can Climb!

1 Jul

Last week I went to Michigan for my nephew’s wedding.  I’m not crazy about flying, so I usually prefer traveling by car. My brother’s offer to ride with him in his van didn’t really appeal to me, either. When he gets behind the wheel, there’s no stopping. In fact, they did the entire 14 hr. trip in one day on the way back from the wedding. If I had done that, I would still be in recovery. So, Professorgrrl, who was also invited to the wedding, drove us there in a more leisurely fashion. We travel very well together. She drives, and I tell her how to drive.

I really wanted to see some sights while on this trip. Michigan is almost completely surrounded by water, so, I thought, why not see some of the Great Lakes while we were there? In fact, when I discovered that there are over 100 lighthouses in Michigan, I decided we should at least go see one of them, preferably one that could be climbed.

My orthopedist told me a couple years ago that I still have a few years remaining on my left knee, so I thought, let’s put it to good use! (You won’t find me wasting the last few years of my knee walking in a shopping mall!) In my mind, I am still a spring chicken and felt like I should try this climb. So, we went to see and climb the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse on Lake Huron in Port Huron, MI. It has 94 steps. Yikes!

94 Steps

Looking up the 94 steps of Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

These steps wind up in a very tight spiral so I climbed them like a monkey—grabbed the handrail with one hand and grabbed the steps with the other, with a backpack of camera equipment on my back. We were rewarded with a beautiful view of Lake Huron, looking into Canada, seen just beyond the Coast Guard Station in the photo below.

View from Fort Gratiot

View from the top of Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Port Huron, MI

Fort Gratiot is the oldest standing lighthouse in the state of Michigan. When we arrived for our tour of the lightkeepers cottage and the light house, it was around 2 PM. Our climb up the lighthouse steps was our tour guide’s 7th climb of the day, and he was retired from the Coast Guard and certainly not a spring chicken! I was very impressed with him. I am sure my knee could never do what his knees can do! But I was pleased with myself that I climbed it one time, though my knee wasn’t too happy about it for a couple of days.

Port Huron Lighthouse

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron, MI

The next lighthouse we visited was after the wedding, on the way back home. Fairport Harbor Lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, OH is a little shorter and has only 69 steps. For this climb, I got smarter and removed several unnecessary items from my camera backpack. Hindsight is 20/20. It was an overcast day, so the view wasn’t quite as stunning overlooking Lake Erie. However, with a zoom lens, you are rewarded with a view of another lighthouse, Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light. It is privately owned by someone who is in the process of renovating it. Our $3 admission tickets got us 2 lighthouses for the price of one! I love a deal! So does my knee.

Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light

Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light as viewed from the top of Fairport Harbor Lighthouse

View of Fairport Harbor, OH from the top of the lighthouse

The town of Fairport Harbor, OH, as viewed from the top of Fairport Harbor Lighthouse

I really liked the folks who ran the lighthouse museum. They asked us to please shut the door at the top before we came back down, since we were the last visitors there. They didn’t want to have to climb the 69 steps to shut the door at the top. It kind of gave us a sense of “this lighthouse belongs to all of us” feeling.

Fairport Harbor Lighthouse

The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse overlooking Lake Erie in Ohio

My knee didn’t mind too much the 69-step climb up to the top of this lighthouse. I climbed it the same way as at Fort Gratiot—like a monkey—since it had the same tight spiral staircase. Perhaps removing a few pounds out of my knapsack helped. I am getting smarter with age, too.

In a week or so, there’s another lighthouse that I hope to visit. Professorgrrl proclaimed the other day that I am a “pharologist,” which is one who studies or is enthused by lighthouses. I’ve been called a lot of names, but that’s a new one for me. The lighthouse that I may visit soon has 131 “ship’s ladder” steps; however, you have to make reservations well in advance to climb this one, and it’s booked up for most of July already. Anyone can climb the 12 steps to the first level, though, without a reservation. I am hopeful I can handle that, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” as we say in the South. We will see.

I guess maybe I am one who is enthused by lighthouses. Climbing them is a challenge that I have been able to handle up to this point in life.  A couple of years ago, I walked down (and back up) the 200+ cement steps of the path leading down to Point Reyes Lighthouse. Now, that was a workout! I had to rest on the way back up, due to the steep nature of the hike. I know that I probably have a shorter (no pun intended!) life span on some of my body parts, like the knees and hips, due to XLH, so I want to get in as much physical activity as I can. And lighthouses are fun to me. You’re rewarded with a beautiful view at the top, and they have such an interesting place in our history. Some stood as warnings that a ship might be too close to land and some were lighting the way to a safe harbor for travelers. Nowadays, people have GPS systems and probably don’t have a need for lighthouses. But many lighthouse keepers, men and women, risked their lives to keep the light burning in these old beacons. Some lighthouses are short and squatty and others are tall and thin, but all of them provided light to those who passed by.

People come in all shapes and sizes too, and I have had some friends and relatives who have been lights in my life, shining the way to a safe harbor. I hope that I can do that for others too, even if I am one of the short ones!

Self Portrait on the Backside of the Fresnel Lens at Fairport Ha

Self-portrait on the back side of a lighthouse Fresnel lens in the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse Museum

Copyright S.G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017