Saturday, March 27, 2010

A voice says, ‘Go to the light’

Part of our spring ritual is thinking about summer vacation. Thinking about it, mind you. The planning itself, including making reservations? That’s for summer—perhaps a week or two before the trip itself. Counting on rooms available at such late dates, in fact, is the closest we come to a gambling habit.

If past years are any indication, though, wherever we end up going will satisfy a pastime of mine: visiting and photographing lighthouses. While Elena does the heavy lifting of looking through guide books, making lists of interesting towns, museums and other sights, I’m doing my own vital research. I’m staking out every lighthouse within the vicinity, not only on the way to where we’ll stay but also en route to places on Elena’s list. (See, I do read it!) We won’t necessarily get to every one on my list; I’ve already been to some of them, after all—just with my old camera. But the 100-plus we’ve seen over the years tells me I’ve a pretty good track record.

The easiest for the family are those you can drive practically right up to from a major road; Maryland’s Concord Point Light, about a mile off I-95, is one such example. And then there are some along the coast of Maine, which would measure 3,500 miles long if you could pick it up and straighten out the myriad coves. The upshot, for us, is that a lighthouse “down the road a few miles” from Route 1—yes, I’m quoting myself—is actually 15 miles or more to the ocean, where ships needed lighthouses. Pemaquid Point, the one on the Maine state quarter, is like that. Fortunately for me, a gift shop and luncheonette await nearby.

It’s one thing for me to drag the family along on these escapades. Putting the coordinates into the GPS has helped, especially after the years I used printed website directions that always seemed to screw up one little detail. (GPS improves the search by screwing up one big detail.) No, the big question for Elena and the kids is rather when pastime crosses the line into obsession. More plainly, when Daddy becomes a lunatic.

I haven’t yet stolen anyone’s boat to get a better shot at a lighthouse; I have some scruples, after all. But on land itself, rights to property tend to be, um, subject to negotiation. Single-party negotiation. You see, a century or more ago, these structures I find so beautiful and inspiring came into being through public funds. For many of those years, the Coast Guard (my former outfit) ran them, before LORAN and now GPS made most of them obsolete, and the government began to unload them. Sometimes it was to towns or foundations intending to keep them available to visitors. Other times, the property fell into private hands. So on two counts, taxpayer and Coast Guard veteran, Possessed Ed feels entitled.

Got a “Keep Out” or “Private Property” sign in your driveway? I might not see it, not even through the camera’s viewfinder, if a few steps up the driveway gets me a better angle of "your" lighthouse. And if you come out and holler at me—like that Connecticut gentleman who lived next door to a lighthouse with a good watchdog—I’ll apologize and leave. Yes, really. Because by the time you got your behind out of the lounge chair, Bub, I was taking the last shot I needed.

Only one neighbor really made trouble for me. At Provincetown, I let my family visit the neighborhood while I began the 1.7-mile trek to the Race Point Light. The day was blazingly hot, and hiking was slow in the sand. But what made it worse were the terns, which nested in the nearby beach grass. Signs I’d seen had warned that terns could get aggressive if you walked too close to the grass. Alas, there was no sign for the terns saying that if a human were walking close to the surf as possible, he had no interest in their blasted hatchlings. So besides the sun, the heat, my tiring feet and more than a little dehydration, I was getting strafed by birds—flying close to my head, one at a time, with an occasional rap on my head. Ultimately, I would turn around without reaching the lighthouse.

I like birds. Birds are cute. I feed them every day and talk to ones I see or hear in the yard.

That day I wished for a tennis racket.

The irony of all this lighthouse hunting is twofold. First, since no points of interest (other than Elena) are visible from my property alone, I can’t fathom the notion of one of the kids coming over and saying, “Daddy, there’s a creepy man in the driveway taking pictures.” Second, where was all this interest while I was in the service and, while on Guam, climbing up to the very top of two lighthouses that had no public access?

Eventually I suppose this pastime will run its course. I’ll have all the pictures I want, and I might even get a little bored with lighthouses. Vacations will get carefree—and stay that way.

But you know, bridges also look awfully picturesque.


  1. Dear Ed,
    Looks like you took a "tern" for the worse! They can be a bother, but they are just beautiful in their form and function. Often when fishing they would circle my boat and keep me company, and their cries of "shir-lee, shir-lee" were a wonderful change from the raucous herring gulls. But I guess it's not a good idea to get too close to their nests.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I'd seen them once before during a whale watch out of Bar Harbor. The boat stopped near the Petit Manan light, where hundreds of terns and puffins nested. I thought the puffins adorable--who woudn't?--and enjoyed seeing the terns, too! But the boat's captain was keeping his distance for a reason besides the rocks.

    Maybe once they finally find Shirley, they'll settle down, huh?

  3. Glad to see you're still seeing the Lighthouse at the end of the tunnel, or path, or whatever. As obsessions go, it's a lovely, benign one, after all, who are you hurting? If they didn't want visitors on their property, maybe they should have purchase something a bit less ostentatious, not something like, say, a LIGHTHOUSE! Kinda asking for visitors, if you ask me. So keep it up, that'll teach them! Great blog!

  4. Thanks, Jack! I guess I'm hurting nothing, since I didn't have that tennis racquet.

  5. now i know who s that guy taking the pictures --great fun piece -- btw there is one on mainland white plains in someones backyard

  6. Thanks, CFwBs! Sometime, drive down Rte. 121 in North Salem. There's a full-size lighthouse(sans light) attached to a barn; it's actually a silo.