Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Chandeleur Light

As someone with a lifelong passion for lighthouses, I've been thinking about posting a blog on this lighthouse for some time - the image of Chandeleur Light has lingered in the dusty recesses of my mind since last autumn, when it became a silent casualty of Hurricane Katrina. I'm not sure why the beacon captivated me as it did - it may have been the name which means "Candlemas" in French; it may have been the gently rounded and flowing contours of the Louisiana barrier islands, which have been described as being "shaped like a crescent moon in its final phase"; it may have been the metaphor conjured up by such beacons, but most likely it was the lonely and dignified tenure of this splendid old structure in the waters off now vanished Chandeleur Island, Louisiana.

Chandeleur Light was a nine legged "Sanibel class" skeletal tower one hundred feet high, constructed in 1895 to replace an earlier brick structure which had begun to list precariously (whether to port or starboard I don't know) and which had become unstable. From its location on the northern shore of Chandeleur Island, the new lighthouse provided valuable service for nearly a full century, weathering countless hurricanes and tropical storms while serving as a navigational aid on the Louisiana shipping lanes around the north end of the Chandeleur island chain. Night after night, year after year, the high metal tower beamed its steady guiding light from a big third order clamshell Fresnel lens, out over the murky and shallow waters separating the fragile Louisiana barrier islands from the mainland.

In the beginning there was a lighthouse keeper's cottage, outbuildings and a boardwalk attached to the lighthouse, but these structures are long gone, removed, or more probably battered into splinters by the overwash of slow moving tropical storms and hurricanes. Little by little, the sandy land mass which lay beneath the lighthouse was obliterated, and after Hurricane Georges struck the Chandeleur Islands in 1998, the lighthouse stood proud and alone in open water.

Another (and much older) historic Louisiana lighthouse, the stalwart old wooden West Rigolets beacon also vanished forever beneath the waves during the dark days of Hurricane Katrina. Both lighthouses were pummeled to a "fare thee well" by Hurricane Katrina's epic winds and storm surges, and they lie at the bottom of the straits they once kept watch over. May they rest in peace - they have earned it, but oh, how I shall miss them.

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