Digest>Archives> December 2002

Lighthouse Children's Diaries Series

Tyler's friend

By Janet Bauer


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Illustrations by Christopher Amick - age 11

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My name is Tyler and I live in a lighthouse on a remote island of rock off the coast of Washington State. We came to Cape Flattery Lighthouse one month ago and I already miss the friends I had before we moved. There are a few other children on the island but no boys 8 years old and I'm not very excited about making friends with girls. My younger brother is 4 and he is fine, but most of the time I have to watch him so he doesn't get into trouble. Mom is really afraid he will wander away and fall into the ocean. Since I am so lonely, my mother suggested I keep a diary and start by recording all the things that have happened to me since we came here. I suppose it is better than feeling sorry for myself, so I will begin.

JULY 10, 1930: We landed on the island one month ago. My father was very happy to be assigned as assistant lighthouse keeper. My mother was pleased that my father had a job where we could finally have a comfortable house to live in, even if it is on this lonely island.

It was quite an adventure to travel here on a lighthouse tender that was used to deliver supplies to the island. The water was rough and my little brother became seasick but we arrived safely. When we came close to the island we had to transfer to a canoe paddled by Indians to get to shore. I had never seen Indians before and couldn't believe that they wore clothes just like ours. They had been taught by missionaries so they could even speak our language. After we were settled I spent my first weeks exploring the island and discovered that the pounding of the sea had formed strange rocks, and caves. There was a beach covered with driftwood, and I imagined how much fun it would be to have someone to play with in this strange new place. I've been so lonely that I'm even beginning to think that playing with the girls might be better than having no one.

July 16: Time has passed very slowly until today. Today I found a friend. He is a Makah Indian boy who lives on shore. His name is Daniel and he is a little older than me. He helped his father paddle their canoe to the island to deliver the mail. He showed me their dugout canoe and told me how they had made it from a cedar tree. He knows how to fish and paddle the canoe and said he would teach me how to do both. We only had a short visit today but he will be back with his father each week. Now I have something to look forward to.

July 18: My father allowed me to climb up to the light with him today. I watched him polish the lens. I was really excited when he told me that he would teach me how to polish the lens and do other chores. In the meantime, I did help him clean the windows. It was very windy and I couldn't go out on the catwalk so I worked on the inside while my father did the outside work.

July 24: Daniel told me about his people today. They were not very happy when the strangers came to build the lighthouse because this island was one of their favorite fishing spots in the summer. The Makah even tried to fight them but when they did the white men shot at them from the supply steamers off shore and wouldn't leave. They had other more serious problems when many of their people died from smallpox that was brought by the white men. After a while they became friends. I was really sad to hear that the Americans took their land, and caused so much trouble but was happy that they now live together in peace. My friend said that if the white men had taken the time to learn the Indian ways that there probably wouldn't have been so much trouble in the beginning.

I lived in town before coming here and had heard about Indian wars but I didn't realize that there were Indians in this part of the country. I suppose if I were a little older I might know more. It is a lot more fun learning these things from the people who live here than reading them from a book and besides, there aren't many books here to read. I wish Daniel could come more often.

August 1: I waited anxiously for Daniel yesterday but the ocean was too wild and he could not come until today. It was worth the wait as he told me more about this island. The Indians call it Tatoosh, which means Thunder Bird. A long time ago their people thought the island looked like a large bird and Makah legend tells that when this mythical bird was angry it flapped it's wings and made thunder and threw snakes from it's claws to make lightening. A long time ago it even brought his people a whale when they were hungry. He drew a picture of the bird in the sand. They really must have had quite an imagination to come up with this magical creature. I suppose when people didn't understand anything about the weather they had to explain it the best way they could.

It is so good to have a friend who tells me about what this land was like before the white men came. I wish he could come more often. After I finish my chores, I go and sit on the rocks and look toward the coast where the Makah live. I want to learn more about how their lives were different from ours.

August 8: Today Daniel was able to stay overnight because his father was helping with some building on the island. This allowed him to spend more time with me. He told me how the elders of the tribe handed down stories of how important whaling was to the Makah people. Only special whaling families hunted the whales and spent much time in preparing for the hunt. They followed special rituals that were passed down only in their families. The preparation sounded difficult and I thought that these people must have been very strong and brave. They bathed in cold streams and lakes during the winter. The thought of that made me shiver. Not only that, but they toughened up their skin by rubbing it with twigs until it bled. They dove under the water and practiced holding their breath for long periods. They even fasted and prepared in other ways that he said were secret.

He told me the Makah knew when to hunt because a whale would come in a dream to the head of the whaling family. When this happened they would go into the ocean in their cedar canoes with lots of supplies and wait for the whale. When it appeared they would harpoon it. The harpoon had a rope attached to it with special floats like balloons made of sealskin that prevented the whale from diving. The whale would tow them until it tired and died, then the crew would jump in the cold ocean water and sew the whales lips closed so it wouldn't sink. They would then tow the whale to the shore and there would be much celebrating. The whale gave up its life so they could live. The meat was their food and the whale oil was used for lamps and traded for supplies they needed.

I don't know much about how other people catch whales but this certainly was more dangerous than anything I had ever heard. I can't wait to share this story with the other children and ask my father about how we catch whales.

August 9th: Today my father told me about whaling in the northwest. He said a long time ago it was more dangerous when they had to use whaling ships with sails and float the captured whales long distances to shore. Now there are fast steamships that shoot the whale with a dart gun that kills the whale instantly. They then fill it with air so that it will float and pull it back to a nearby shore station where oil is taken from it's blubber and sent to be made into soap and bones and other parts were used for fertilizer. He said they used to use whale oil for lamps and even used it to light the lighthouse lamps before we had kerosene. Some people even liked the meat from the whale. By this time they tried to use all parts of the whale like the Indians did. In the past they had not been as careful and many more whales were killed than were needed.

August 12: Not much exciting has happened since I last wrote. I look forward to Daniel's return so I can share how Americans hunt whales and he still needs to show me how to fish and row a canoe. School will begin on the island soon and I am anxious to learn more about the world beyond the lighthouse and our island. Father says we won't be here forever and I long to see other places and learn about other people. Listening to Daniel has taught me many things and increased my curiosity. It is a good thing we became friends as I don't know what I would have done if I had been stuck with the girls.

This story appeared in the December 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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