When we embark on dream-chasing, life-altering decisions, we often look for signs and signals to guide us on our way. We imbue the smallest things with meaning, giving our choices purpose, attempting to prove, despite risk, that they are sound. For publishing professional and writer Caroline Woodward, that sign is a runaway Jack Russell terrier on the deck of a West Coast ferry. When she returns the lost canine to its owner, the grateful stranger tells Woodward something that changes everything for her: he’s on his way to do a stint as a relief lighthouse keeper.
This chance meeting, which forms the opening scene of Woodward’s memoir, Light Years, plants the seed that allows her to entirely revamp her life. Jaded, exhausted, and frustrated with the daily, occasionally thankless grind of her industry, the author gives up the task of pushing paperbacks in favour of reinvigorating her own passion for writing, something she feels she’s long neglected. She convinces her husband, Jeff, to take a job as a lighthouse keeper, abandons decent pay, regular holidays, and extended health benefits and joins him.
Light Years is the memoir of the pair’s experience “on the lights” together. Its appeal lies partly in the suggestion that deciding to make that tempting major life change doesn’t mean the world will fall apart. Woodward learns the job doesn’t entail gloriously empty stretches of uninterrupted time to craft prose, but she still lives happily on the Lennard Island Lightstation today. Things might not work out exactly as planned, but there is always potential for positive results, especially if you’ve pulled out of a life you’ve come to feel is not your own. The book also looks at the importance of reacquainting with nature, and contains thoughtful, detailed descriptions of the landscape and the beasts that inhabit it.
But more than anything, Light Years is a book about the dream of writing: how we romanticize it, chase it, and serve it, and what we’re willing to sacrifice to make it a part of our daily lives. Through all the struggles that life in the lighthouse brings, its seclusion and isolation give Woodward exactly what she was looking for: her voice back.