The Lighthouse between the Worlds
THE APPRENTICE GLASSMAKER
THE DAY BEGAN NORMALLY enough, for a Tuesday. Griffin and his father, Philip Fenn, ate breakfast (juice and apple-butter toast for one, coffee and oatmeal for the other). They buttoned up their thickest flannel shirts and stepped out into the gray morning. Mornings are almost always gray on the Oregon coast. But that’s what makes the green of the mosses and the ferns and the scraggly trees so very green.
Father and son tromped up the wooded path leading along the bluff toward the lighthouse. Griffin darted ahead, sucking in his breath and lining his skinny shoulders up with the rough bark of an obliging tree trunk. The seconds ticked by as he waited for his dad to catch up, anticipation bubbling up and threatening to spill over. Griffin leaped out just
as his father lunged toward his hiding spot—they both howled in surprise—and the chase began, darting and winding through the rain-spattered woods. When they broke through the trees, gasping for breath between fits of laughter, the stark red roof and tall white tower of the lighthouse stood out from the green-gray ocean and the blue-gray sky as if to say Look at me. Pay attention.
It was the Fenn family’s job to care for the aging building. Philip was a glassmaker who looked after the delicate prisms in the lens that swiveled high in the tower day in and day out, sending powerful beams of light sweeping over the mighty Pacific. The grassy landing also boasted two sheds that had once been used to store oil for powering the light above. These days, one held rakes, shovels, and a temperamental lawnmower, while the other had been remade into the family glassmaking studio.
Instead of a more traditional fifth-grade classroom, school for Griffin was here, right beside his dad. This morning’s lesson was on casting prisms. Philip wrote the equation for the ratio of silica, soda, and lime on the chalkboard, and Griffin moved through the steps, measuring out the ingredients, then melting, raking, and cooling the molten glass. The following day, he’d grind, measure, and grind
again until he’d gotten the angles just right. The two worked together, and father peppered son with questions all the while.
When the lesson was finished, they went for a walk on the beach. Philip skipped stones on the fan of waves receding with the outgoing tide while Griffin combed through the flotsam strewn across the sand, hunting for a piece of sea glass. Then they hiked up the bluff to his mother’s grave, the somber note that was always there, beneath the rest, rising to the surface.
Griffin clasped his father’s hand as they drew near. There was no headstone, only a suncatcher Griffin had made to soften the sunlight’s fall on that particular rectangle of earth. And then, like he did every day, he set the tumbled shard of glass he’d found on the beach below into the ever-expanding frame.
After lunch (SpaghettiOs for one and a tuna sandwich for the other), Griffin and his father oiled the ancient brass gears that rotated the lens high in the lighthouse tower. It was a first order Fresnel lens with eight panels of thick greenish glass that tapered up toward the domed ceiling of the lantern room and down to the grated steel floor. Around the middle, eight panels of concentric circles like bull’s-eyes channeled the light from a single bulb into beams
that shone twenty-one miles out to sea. It was magnificent! And right at that moment, the lens didn’t even need the clouds to part and let the sun through; all that glass sparkled and winked on its own.
Griffin and his father stepped out onto the gallery and squeegeed the windows. The wind flicked at the soapy bubbles and dribbled the wash water down their forearms. Philip carefully drew his wand down the glass, while Griffin swooped and squiggled over his dad’s straight, measured lines.
When they’d finished, father and son closed up the lighthouse for the day and tripped back down the path to the old keeper’s cottage, where they warmed their toes by the sitting room fire, sipping piping hot mugs of cocoa (with bobbing mini marshmallows in one and a nip of whiskey in the other).
Griffin licked a melted-marshmallow mustache off his upper lip and watched some nasty weather roll in off the water. The dingy furniture in the sitting room was angled so you could be warmed by the fire and take in the view at the same time. The walls were covered in nautical wallpaper dotted with a few dusty oil paintings, a barometer, an antique clock, and a shelf of books that listed slightly to the left. A dozen guidebooks were stacked on the shelf, containing more information than you’d need in several
lifetimes on things like mariner’s knots, tide pools, whale migration patterns, and seabird watching. On the shelf below the books perched an ancient weather radio that frequently emitted a low hum of chatter announcing Coast Guard dispatches and storm alerts. Beneath the radio was a small locked cupboard.
Griffin and his father hardly had any visitors, and they went out of their way to avoid the tourists who veered off the highway to get a closer look at the lighthouse. A just-the-two-of-them kind of quiet filled their days. It may have been a strange sort of life for a kid, but it suited Griffin just fine.
After all, he was doing important work; he was an apprentice in the family trade. It was glass that had brought his parents together—she a PhD student in anthropology, specializing in the impact of the material’s first contact with societies around the globe, and he a skilled tradesman working in restoration. The couple had moved to the coast so Katherine could study the effect of the Fresnel lens on maritime culture up and down the country’s western coast and so Philip could be on hand to tend the lighthouse and repair the glass panels if need be.
At least, that’s what Griffin had always been told. It never occurred to him to wonder if there was more to the story.