… by Elizabeth and John Delemarre
Elizabeth has a walking route that takes her along Neck Road in Madison to the State Boat Launch area at the end of Circle Beach. That route takes her past Fred Farnsworth’s house. One day in early February 2008, Fred stopped Elizabeth while she was on her walk and asked her if we would be interested in spending the month of September on Faulkner’s Island as the Island Keepers for Fish and Wildlife. For us it was a pretty simple decision. Elizabeth has loved the island since she first came to Madison in 1952. When her family bought an Amesbury skiff, Elizabeth and her brother would visit the island, often bringing cookies, fresh fruit and reading material for the Coasties. The opportunities to explore the island from the tide line and along the top cemented her strong feelings for Faulkners. I was fortunate to become acquainted with the island when family friends purchased a cottage in Madison in 1943. I was invited to stay at the cottage over the years and I think it was the Faulkner’s foghorns, long gone now, that really caught my interest.
Fred advised us to contact Rick Potvin at the Fish and Wildlife’s office in Westbrook and Rick asked us come in for an interview and bring a resume. Elizabeth and I started a training course with US Fish and Wildlife in late April that included: a Red Cross First Aid course, CPR for Adults and Infants, Motorboat Operator’s Course, and Water Safety. I had to take three on-line training courses: Defensive Driving, Creating and maintaining agency records, and Freedom of Information Act.
We headed for the island sometime around the first of September 2008 with a boatload of supplies and equipment – food, bedding, clothes, recreation stuff (books, craft supplies, music, etc.). We were prepared to stay there for the month since Fish and Wildlife did not have a spare boat for us to use. Rick and his crew, Cindy and Chad Beemiller did come out to replenish our fresh water supplies – they carried perhaps 20+ 5-gallon containers of water up the 36 stairs and three landings.
The photo of the flag was taken in 2008 during our stay. A friend, a WWII veteran, donated his old Hobi Cat 26 foot sailboat mast for use on the island since the old pole was long gone. The flag itself had covered a veteran’s casket and was donated for use on the island. It was the first flag to fly since the house was destroyed by fire in 1976. Pictured in the photo L to R is Board Member Don Zimmer and his daughter, Board Member Emeritus Joel Helander and Board Member Elizabeth Delemarre. Joel was given the honor of raising the flag on that day with a salute from a borrowed canon, fired as the flag was being raised.
We were pulled off the island toward the end of September 2008 due to a storm heading our way. That storm cut our stay short by close to two weeks – we were scheduled for 5.
Watching the sun set from Faulkners Island is a special experience. After dinner each night we sat on the front lawn of our generator shed residence. We turned our plastic chairs to face Goose Island, its brave flag silhouetted against the colorful sky. Flocks of young terns are still on the island in September after the adults have started for their winter quarters in South America. These younger terns circle Faulkners at sunset again and again flying lower each time. As the sun sinks, the birds settle down near the North end of the island to sleep until the sun rises. Bright or pale, red, orange, yellow, purple or even greenish, each sunset is different and each is beautiful. We watch the huge red-orange globe drop closer and closer to the horizon. As the sun’s lowermost edge seems to touch the water, we half expect to hear sizzling and see steam rise. It takes only a few minutes for the sun to entirely disappear from view beneath the horizon’s ‘water line’. There are always a few distant boats that stop to watch the sunset colors in the sky magnificently reflected in the water all around. The sky and water quickly fade to silver and then to grey. The boats start for home one by one. On the opposite side of Faulkners Island oil tankers bound for New Haven harbor anchor for the night with rows of brightly lit windows as if an all night party was taking place on board. The tower’s light starts to revolve and throw its beams into the growing darkness. Lights all along the Guilford coastline blink on a few at a time. There are twice as many stars visible in the island sky as can be seen from the mainland. The clear air cools off and we go back inside the generator shed.
At 8:00 A.M. on a September 2010 morning, we got a phone call from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Manager, Rick Potvin – a tornado watch had been issued that included Faulkner’s Island. Mr. Potvin told us to prepare for the storm by unlocking the lighthouse tower door and propping it open. A Fish and Wildlife Intern told us that during island thunderstorms the wind comes from all directions at once. Our NOAA radio did not broadcast a tornado alert until nearly 1 ½ hours after Fish and Wildlife’s warning call. The light tower was to be our designated “place of last refuge.” We would run there for shelter the moment we felt threatened by the weather. Faulkner’s Island light tower has been standing strong and tall for over 200
years. Still, I worried about sitting on the light tower’s cast iron stairs grounded though they might be during a lightning storm. I equipped our ‘place of last refuge’ with two plastic chairs, some bottled water, snacks, two books, and a flash light. The light tower has such small windows that you need a flashlight to read even in full daylight.
We spent the morning in our generator shed residence listening to the weather reports on our NOAA emergency notification radio and watching the grey-green sky and water that seemed empty of all boats. At noon, John developed a headache and left to take a nap. I did have a passing thought, “Here I am on a small island in the middle of Long Island Sound with a sick man, no boat, and there is a tornado on the way!” Hours passed slowly. I saw some distant lightning, some wind and a little rain but definitely no funnel clouds. Eventually, the tornado warning was cancelled without any sign of a funnel cloud.
With relief, we returned the light tower to its normal state. The predicted tornado did touchdown in Brooklyn where our daughter was working in a restaurant. She reported that the Café’s door suddenly slammed open and the force of the wind pinned people against the wall. Table clothes and dishes crashed to the floor as a big branch fell across the open doorway. If Faulkner’s Island had been hit, we would have been safe, dry, and relatively comfortable for a few hours in the lighthouse tower. We did not have to worry about losing our solar powered electricity the same way we would have if we had been on the mainland with landlubber electricity. If a tornado had touched down even within sight of Faulkner’s Island, it would have made a more exciting story. We are glad that nothing on the island, including us, was damaged.