In the moment, in the presence of a lighthouse
Peter Matthiessen, the celebrated author of The Far Tortuga and The Snow Leopard sought the Zen goal of being completely in the moment. His descriptions avoided metaphor, preferring the single observed characteristic that put the reader in place and time where his story was set. The traveler’s search for authentic places resonates with this immersion in the location and in the appreciation for everything your senses tell you about the actual place, “like” nothing else.
Perhaps this is why lighthouses are so compelling.
Their isolation helps focus the senses on the observable. The distractions – the lapping waves, screaming gulls and tangy scent of saltwater and seaweed – contribute to our being in the moment. If we’ve scrambled ashore to a dock, walked a breakwater or clambered over rocks to reach the lighthouse, we have invested physical effort in the sense of place. And now close-hand, we can appreciate the builder, the challenges of wind and weather and the sheer immensity of the task as the light rears its head and its rotating beam high above us. When we can climb to the top the view brings a new perspective on the place – and observation point that is generally reserved for birds and plane windows. Even that view is often focused through a tiny window in the brick, piercing the gloom of a spiraling stair with sunlight and the expanse of blue and green that surrounds the lighthouse.
Burnt Island Light is the lighthouse closest to Spruce Point, the subject of many photographs (and the focus of one of the day-trips during the David Marx photography workshop in June). Other reasonably nearby include the Rockland Breakwater light and Pemaquid Point Light in Bristol (which you can climb). On occasion, we can partner with Cuckholds Light, the 1892 Light Station on the National Register of Historic Places, now under community ownership. The light signals the location of The Cuckolds, two rock ledges (at 43.46.8 North and 69.39.00 West) on the southern tip of Southport Island named after a piece of land in the middle of London given to appease a man whose wife had had an affair with King John. Called the “front porch light” for Boothbay Harbor, the light station is being stabilized and restored and is currently operated as the ultimate “get away from it all” guesthouse.
Some see lighthouses as symbols of refuge and strength, literal beacons in the night. One visit to an actual Maine lighthouse can provide the sort of “in the moment” memory that gives temporary refuge on the most hectic of days. Close your eyes, smell the ocean, and hear the waves.