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Song of Anacapa - fiction short story (lighthouse, historical)

Updated on August 30, 2015
Anacapa Island Lighthouse
Anacapa Island Lighthouse

Salt and sand mingled in the ocean breeze, and the last remnants of fog dropped a light mist as it meandered east along the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island. Anna recognized the unmistakable smell of fish being prepared for market. Fishermen, weary from their voyage at sea, wanted nothing more than to be done with the tedious chore so they could make their way to Tanner's Lodge, or Miller's cafe, and depending on the time of day - chow down sausage, biscuits, gravy and eggs, or oven-baked roast and potatoes and gravy - anything other than fish. They might mosey to the tavern, tip a few, chuckle and snort, share tall tales, then head off to private quarters, close their somber eyes, and surrender their dreams to the night.

On the wharf, men scurried about with ropes, making last minute checks on The Sea Mariner, a 64-foot schooner moored at Prisoner’s Harbor, while Captain Phelps issued orders, pointing here or there. His tattered black trousers were a little too long and gathered at the ankles, part of his gray t-shirt slipped from his belted waist, and his black cap tipped forward, hovering over his left eyebrow. His face was stern, but he was kind.

Anna's father, Antone Brown, assisted in the checking of tools, books, sugar, flour, coffee, soap, grains, and other supplies needed, especially supplies for the lighthouse on Anacapa Island for whom Anna's grandfather was the keeper, and her father, his first assistant. Keeping vigil of the supplies was important to Antone, for on more than one occasion, they had returned to Anacapa to find a necessary supply or item had been missing. He, having only a rowboat, found that making a return trip from the direction he had just come,was not only inconvenient, but also, annoying. To him, assisting in the supply check was a must.

Meanwhile, Anna peered out at the sun-glistened waves, watching them as they diminished onto the shoreline. The vast ocean was impressive here on Santa Cruz, as it was at Anacapa. How many times had she caught herself in a dreamy state when she should have been studying? The ocean view from her small desk near the window teased her mercilessly as if to say, look at the me, how much more grand am I than those school books? Often, near Frenchy’s cove, the resting or sometimes playful sea lions entertained. In the winter months past December, Anna watched carefully for migrating whales, and, if she happened to look at the right time, she would witness dolphins at play. How could she live anywhere else than here, she wondered?

Former fresnel lens of Anacapa Island Lighthouse (California, USA).
Former fresnel lens of Anacapa Island Lighthouse (California, USA). | Source
Dolphins at play, Anacapa
Dolphins at play, Anacapa | Source
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island | Source

Though sometimes it grew wearisome, she had also become accustomed to the foghorn and its deep, somber bellow, assisting the lighthouse as a navigational aide to wayfaring mariners. It was like clockwork, sounding early in the morning when the fog first appeared, then often, again in the late afternoon, and into the evenings as the fog rolled in from the northwest.

Best by far, however, was the lighthouse, and Anna was privileged because of her grandfather being the main keeper. She was able to explore its nooks and crannies, and to traverse the winding staircase, even though sometimes its wide spaced steps unnerved her at times. As she grew older and her legs grew longer, she found them less intimidating. The climb was worth every effort, for up in the watch-room, she could talk with her grandfather, and sometimes they would peek through his powerful telescope at the marine life or stunning sunsets.

On the wharf, The Sea Mariner rocked gently with the waves at her moor. The crew began to clean the deck, and Anna's father stocked boxes. He was deep in work, and Anna grew weary while waiting, so as she often did at this point and time, she let her father know she would be leaving, and made her way along the narrow, blacktop road leading towards the village.

Back home on Anacapa, there were only four families, three of them associated with the lighthouse - her grandfather, her father, the third assistant keeper. There was also her friend Huan Lin, and her mother and father, who owned a sheep ranch. Only two years ago, there had been two other Chinese families sharing the same remote dwelling on the middle islet of Anacapa, one of them being Mr. Lin’s cousin. They had preferred living further away from the lighthouse since their occupation was harvesting abalone. Abalone had become scarce since the late 1800’s, a fact Anna knew because Mr. Lin frequently complained, “They take, and take! It’s bad! Soon, no more abalone! No good, no good!”

He also explained how abalone shells had become popular in the United States and in China,and how they were used for making vases, jewelry, and even buttons. But eventually, the interest in abalone subsided, and along with that, the abalone was becoming harder to find because they were being harvested so much, and a great deal of them went to China. Due to this, Mr. Lin’s cousin and his friends decided it was not worth their time to remain on Anacapa, and left for other coastal areas.


But here, on Santa Cruz Island, not only were there were many families, but also a small variety of places to patronage, and Anna enjoyed the amenities that she could not attain on Anacapa. There was the curiosity shop, a bakery, a blacksmith, a small hotel for tourists and workers who stayed on the island during the week, but returned home on the weekends. There were carpenters, a dairy, two ranches, a masonry, and even a small winery and saloon. Mostly, Anna enjoyed the large, square green grass knoll where two large oak trees provided shade. From one of the thick tree limbs, hung a large tire that the blacksmith had hung for the children of the island, and Anna always found time to make use of it

Anna passed Miller’s bakery, reveling in the scent of the sweet breads wafting from the front of the shop as she shuffled past. In the window of the curiosity shop, she saw small, delicate, porcelain jewelry boxes, and thought of her mother and hoped that maybe she and her father could buy her one for Christmas. Next to the jewelry boxes, Anna saw a gold plated mirror on a stand with colorful flowers embedded around the edges, their stems flowing down the length of the stand. Momentarily, she paused, glancing at her reflection. Her auburn hair, currently pinned back on the sides, was frizzy due to the ocean air. The few, scattered freckles across the bridge of her nose, stood out in contrast to her light skin, as did her pale, green eyes. My mother, Anna, thought, I look so much like my mother.

Finally satisfied with her walk, Anna made her way to the swing to rest a while before heading back to the wharf. She was sure that by now, the ship would be soon departing, but she continued on in her slow, uncaring pace, she was in no hurry. Then, she saw her father, and his quick motions surprised her as he urged her to move quickly, and in place of his usual smile, he was frowning.

“What is it,” Anna asked when she was within reach of him.

“There has been a terrible accident on Anacapa! The fishermen coming from there said there is much going on. We’ll need to be cautious in our return!” Her father replied.

“But what happened?” Anna wanted to know.

“From what I understand, a woman fell off a cliff. They radioed the nearest ship to assist in her rescue, but who knows when that will be…I want to get back as soon as possible in case I can be of assistance!”

“But, who is the woman?” asked Anna, heading to the wooden bench on starboard.

“Well, of course I don’t know yet! The fishermen could not say, they are not familiar with anyone on the island. They only know what they could hear over the radio.”

“It wouldn’t be Mama, would it? Mama knows not to go near the cliffs where she could fall off!”

Anna’s father assured her he did not believe it was her mother. Like Anna, he knew she would never endanger herself upon the cliffs. Anna’s mother, Mary, was fond of the sea, yet, she who was the one who preferred living inland over living on Anacapa.

Captain Phelps kept tuned to his radio, hoping to pick up as much information as possible. Intermittent crackling prevented clear communication, but Anna listened intently as Steven, the second lighthouse assistant spoke. The crackling from the radio began to annoy Anna, and she was about to tune out when she heard the name, Jia Lin.

Anna gasped. Mr. Li’s wife! Huan’s mother! Poor Huan, thought Anna, how devastated she must be! She would have to arrange to visit her as soon as she could. Huan, one year younger than Anna, had been her sole playmate since Anna was seven years old, and Huan, six.

“I can’t believe it,” Antone said, looking out at the sea and shaking his head. “All the years she has lived on the island…how?”

The captain cleared his throat, “Accidents do happen on these islands, they’re treacherous, you know that!”

“Yes, but I have often seen her often wandering about, even seen her wandering the cliffs, but she has never taken a fall!” said Anna’s father.

“Well, from what they are saying on the radio, she has made it. She is severely injured and in need of immediate attention, though. Your father’s assistant, Steven, has radioed an emergency.”

“And?” asked Anna’s father, anxiously.

“They say the U.S.S. California was the nearest ship, and was called to the island. It may already be there!”

“A battleship!” replied Antone. “That’s amazing!”

Anna stood up next to her father and asked about the battleship. Her father replied it was a large ship used for war. That concerned Anna, and she frowned.

“Don’t worry, it is coming to help. It will be able to provide a means to take Mrs. Lin to Santa Barbara so she can get to the hospital.”

As The Sea Mariner approached closer, Anna could see a huddle of people standing beside a tall, rugged, cliff jutted with rocks.

“That cliff must be at least 40 feet,” said Captain Phelps.

Anna turned, cupping the side of a hand over her eyes, and caught sight of the battleship approaching. She could scarcely believe what she was seeing. Never before had she seen a battleship. It was white and extraordinarily large. It appeared to have three decks with windows across the front, a large clock, and the United States flag.

“Daddy, what are those big things sticking straight out?” asked Anna, pointing.

“Those are called the main guns. They shoot out artillery shells," replied her father.

Anna shivered. She had been hearing her parents talk about war and invasions, and about a man named Adolf Hitler who was treating Jews badly and had just taken control of the country of Germany and had put his men, the Nazis, in charge.

Anna's mother told her that Hitler did not care if he harmed men or women, old or young, or children. Another country, Great Britain, she said, was trying to rescue Jewish children. If they were up to the age of 17, they would be transported from Germany, or other countries where Hitler had gained control. The thought suddenly occurred to Anna that children of her very age were being taken from their families, subjected to who knew made her shudder to think of being separated from her own parents! It caused her heart to ache. As if that weren't bad enough, this man, Hitler, was gaining more power and influence; there was even more talk about anti-Jewish riots in Poland. It was confusing and frightening to Anna. Would Hitler come here, to the United States, or her home state California, or even Anacapa? There was so much she, a twelve year old did not know.

KINDERTRANSPORT, 1938–1940 - Passport issued to Gertrud Gerda Levy, who left Germany in August 1939 on a Children's Transport (Kindertransport) to Great Britain. Berlin, Germany, August 23, 1939.
KINDERTRANSPORT, 1938–1940 - Passport issued to Gertrud Gerda Levy, who left Germany in August 1939 on a Children's Transport (Kindertransport) to Great Britain. Berlin, Germany, August 23, 1939. | Source

Captain Phelps and Antone asked over the radio if they could be of assistance, but Steven, the lighthouse assistant, asked them to remain at sea until Mrs. Lin was cared for. It was not either man's way to stand by and watch, but they respected the request and agreed to anchor at sea until the coast was clear.

They watched from a short distance as the battleship lowered a small boat from its dock. Three men entered it, pulled the motor, and made their way to the island. It went with great speed, but Anna was anxious that even that was not fast enough.

They watched as the men brought the boat quickly to shore and rushed toward the small crowd, carrying a stretcher and appeared to be shouting orders. The huddle of people dispersed, and Anna could tell someone was kneeling, and assumed it was Mr. Lin. The man suddenly leapt to his feet and pointed out to the battleship, but the men from the boat appeared to ignore him, keeping to their business of taking care of Mrs. Lin. Soon they were carrying her on a stretcher towards the ocean, with Mr. Lin in pursuit.

Later, when the ship carrying Mr. and Mrs. Lin had gone, when the battleship left, and Captain Phelps brought The Sea Mariner to the island, Anna followed her father home. Huan was there, sitting on a small chair in the living room reading a book. She looked up when Anna and her father entered, but said nothing.

“She is in shock,” said Anna’s mother, Mary. “And so she should be! What a horrid thing to witness! Poor thing! She was right there when her mother fell off the cliff, said that her mother was leaning over to gather flowers, lost her balance, was standing too close, and over she went! Huan said she ran to tell her father who ran to the lighthouse to radio for help.”

Mary reached out to stroke Huan’s head, and Anna attempted to console her friend as well, but Huan only nodded or shook her head at anything Anna said, and finally asked to take a nap.

After she had left, Anna saw her mother and father look at each other, and Anna’s mother said, “Have you told Anna yet?”

Atone shook his head, “No, I haven’t. We should tell her together.”

Anna grew anxious. “What do you have to tell me?”

“Well,” Antone said, and took off his cap. “Anna, come sit down.”

He went to the couch and patted the seat beside him. “Look, things are changing around here. The lighthouse board is not going to be in charge of the lighthouse anymore. It will be taken over by the Coast Guard.”

Anna knew what the coast guard was, how they often rescued lost mariners or shipwreck victims, but why would they want to take over control of our lighthouse, she wondered?

“So,” continued her father, “they have decided not to use a lighthouse keeper on duty anymore. That means your grandpa will come live with us. And, because he will not be the keeper anymore, I won't be the assistant, and because of Grandpa’s age, we have decided to leave the island. We are moving to Santa Barbara…you will go to a public school. No more home-schooling, isn’t that exciting? You will meet others your age, and will be able to go to so many places!”

Anna, stunned, did not know what to say. Her mother reached out and patted Anna’s leg. “Won’t it be wonderful to have a change? I know you love the ocean, dear, but think of all the things you will have - even the movies!”

The realization of leaving Anacapa was becoming clearer to Anna. “I don’t want to leave here, I really don’t!”

Her parents glanced at each other, and back at Anna. Her mother gave a small sigh, and her father wrapped an arm around Anna’s shoulder. “Butterfly, we really have no choice. With your grandpa no longer working the lighthouse, that means I also have to find new work. We need to go where I can find it.”

The afternoon’s chaos and the news of moving made Anna feel weary. She wanted to be alone, and asked for permission to go for a walk.

“Yes, dear, of course,” replied her mother, kissing the top of Anna’s head. Anna thought she saw a smile, but chose to ignore it.

It hardly seemed like the same day. Only hours ago, she had been happily roaming about on Santa Cruz Island, never dreaming of what was going to happen later. The sun glimmered on the waves as they rolled in, one after another, seeming to chase each other to shore. Her lungs savored the ocean air, and the light breeze tantalized her skin in velvet-like caresses. She came upon a knoll of bright, yellow coreopsis, beautiful, summer blooming flowers, and kneeled onto the ground where she could continue to gaze at the ocean. All she wanted to do was take in the lullaby of the waves and to revel in a mesmerized state.

She thought first about Huan, and wondered if she were still napping, or had she awoke to find Anna missing? Then she thought of Mrs. Lin, wondering if she had been transported quickly enough to the inland hospital, and how Mr. Lin would be coping. Then she thought of her beloved island and the dreadful thought of leaving it - especially for the town of Santa Barbara where she had been on some occasions, but had always been glad to return to Anacapa. There was almost too much going on there. Santa Cruz Island had more things to do than Anacapa, but it was still simple, and homey.

Anna thought about the lighthouse, reminiscing about all the years of helping her grandfather. He had always told her how important it was to uphold a top level of security and maintenance of the lighthouse, for people’s lives depended on it. He said it was always, always, necessary to make sure the lights were on at dusk, and kept on until sunrise. He used a large manual that Anna had seen many times, Instructions To Employees of the United States Lighthouse Service, that helped him solve certain issues that would sometimes arise. Because her grandfather had assistants, they divided the watches among them. Sometimes, in the mornings, her grandfather would allow Anna to turn off the fuel that had kept the wick burning throughout the night. This in turn, would turn off the light by stopping the weights that worked the Fresnel lens, so it would stop turning. Anna also helped in cleaning the lens by preparing a soft cloth with polish and handing it to her grandfather to polish the glass after he had first wiped it down with a dry cloth.

These tasks, and various others, Anna had enjoyed, even though she knew her part was so small compared to what her grandfather, father, and the other assistant did. Yet, it had all become a part of her, a part that she felt she would miss greatly.

It was no use, she finally decided, to stay in the moment and fret. She would indeed, miss her island, but she would hopefully be allowed to come back for visits. Maybe she could bring a friend, as well. Maybe Huan and her family would move to Santa Barbara, and remain close by.

After Anna had stayed awhile, she thought of Huan again and decided to return home to see her friend, and offer comfort. She was surprised to feel a slight giddiness as she made her way across the dirt path running parallel to the sea. She made it a point to keep glancing over at the great body of water, knowing this view would not be hers much longer. A few seagulls flew slowly across the sky, and a late afternoon fog began to roll in, accompanied by the deep bellowing of the foghorn.

Anna listened to the seagulls and the sparrows. From a slight distance, Mr. Lin’s sheep were bleating, and Anna did not worry because she knew her father would check on them as he always did when Mr. Lin was away. All the sounds she had become accustomed to were with her, like a friend.

The swelling of the waves roared like a lion, but subsided softly like a sigh. This, Anna said out loud, is the song of the ocean. She would always remember this, the rise and fall of the waves, her feet in the clear water at the tide pools, the sunrises, and oh, the magnificent sunsets painted in the sky by God's hand. This paradise would always be a part of her, yes, the perfect, melodious, song of Anacapa, her lighthouse, her island, the song that would remain hers forever. Sing, Anacapa, sing.

Source: California Digital Library, United States Historical Society, US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Historical Attributes

Both Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands are part of the chain belonging to The Channel Islands National Park, designated as such on March 5, 1980, which, along with Anacapa and Santa Cruz, include Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Anacapa, and Santa Barbara Islands were already designated as a National Monument in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Coast Guard took over the lighthouse maintenance in 1938. Over a period of years, The National Park Service purchased and/or managed the islands.

Anacapa’s current lighthouse, a 39-foot tower, and fog signal were erected in 1932. Maintenance of them was under jurisdiction of the United States Lighthouse Board until 1938 when the U.S. Coast Guard took control, automated the lighthouse, and thus, eliminated the need for lighthouse keepers.

Anacapa’s accessibility was not as easy as pulling up to shore and having instant access to the lighthouse. Supplies and anyone coming to the island had to be hoisted on a derrick to a platform at the top of the island. Once, a husband and wife on their way up, became stuck, looming at a frightening height above the ocean, when the giant crane malfunctioned.

In 1860, the Chinese established an abalone industry, and together, with American fishermen, they over-harvested abalone until it became scarce. In 1900, an ordinance prohibiting the gathering of abalone from less than twenty feet of water, was passed, putting an end to Chinese commercial abalone harvesting. In the 1920’s, harvesting continued by American and Japanese fishermen. In 1972, abalone harvest peaked at 144,000 pounds. In 2002, white abalone became the first marine invertebrate proposed for the endangered species list.

In 1934, a woman did fall off a cliff at Anacapa. She was the wife of the assistant light-keeper, Rex Coursey. The battleship U.S.S. California happened to be in the area and was called upon to assist in the rescue of Mrs. Coursey.

On February 4, 1938, Adolf Hitler took over Germany and administered Nazis to posts throughout the country.

On Febrary 12, 1938, “Kindertransport” took place, where refugee Jewish children were sent to Britain.

On March, 12, 1938, Hitler invaded Austria.

Ranches appear on SC island as early as 1853. It was in the early 1900’s that other ranches, The Stanton Ranch - livestock, and the Gherini Ranch (whose ancestor family, Justinian Caire owned a ranch in the 1800’s) - sheep. Caire's descendants kept the ranch, using Scorpion Ranch as their base, until the early 1990's.

It was in the mid 1800’s that Santa Cruz island had several ranch buildings, a blacksmith shop, a chapel and a winery. Justinian Caire kept European bees - reportedly on the island when he arrived. He introduced fennel, Italian Stone Pine, Eucalyptus trees. Wool and wine were the main, thriving industries of the island.

© 2015 Essie


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    • EsJam profile image

      Essie 2 years ago from Southern California


      I am not seeing the "reply" button, so I write this hoping that you will come across it.

      Thank you, thank you, for your support, your kind words and encouragement. Thank you for your vote and share :)

    • EsJam profile image

      Essie 2 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you, Alicia, so much!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting story and a great way to share some history! I love the photos of the island. They set the mood beautifully.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What a delightful and superbly written story, Essie. I enjoyed every word and how you wove historical facts into the story as well. Voted up and shared.