Lighthouses are such wonderful beacons of light, both figuratively and literally. Last week I was lucky to visit the land of lighthouses—Maine. I was there to perform a wedding so my husband Andy and I took advantage of the trip to explore the mid-coast area near Rockport, Maine. Exploring the lighthouses was an obvious choice because with all the craggly edges of Maine, there is a great need for many lighthouses. We only got to visit a few of the beautiful lighthouses in the area, but each visit was really magical.
The first lighthouse we explored was the Breakwater Lighthouse in Rockland. To get to the lighthouse you have to hike out a long, long, long breakwater—almost a mile long. At first, I was actually a bit tentative as I took each step because the jetty is made up of many different size slabs of granite and I needed time to determine if the shiny look of the granite meant it was slippery. It was not slick, so I kept an eye on my footing and in no time I was completely comfortable walking out into the harbor to reach the lighthouse. The views of the distant lands and the shore were wonderful out there and I understand the draw of being a lighthouse keeper.
The second visit was to the Owl’s Head Lighthouse. The walk was much easier than to the Breakwater, but the setting was just as magical. It was situated on a bluff that gave us a 360-degree view of the area. We could see the Breakwater Lighthouse in the distance. The view was so lovely that we sat on the edge of the promontory looking out to the sea for several minutes. As we contemplated life while staring into the distance, a friendly man said hello and told us that in a few minutes the volunteers would be there so that we could go up the lighthouse. What a wonderful surprise—we hadn’t expected that opportunity. While we waited we struck up a conversation with the man who we learned was Coast Guard Bob. He turned out to be the technical guy who maintains all the lighthouses in the area. He even goes by helicopter to service some of them. That seems like a magical job if you ask me! When the two volunteers arrived we went in the lighthouse—of course—and after climbing a short winding stair and then a ladder, we made it up to the light in the lighthouse. I love the lamps and lenses in lighthouses. They are mechanisms that appeal to my design sense. And I also appreciate their purpose—helping boats to navigate.
The third lighthouse on our short tour was the Marshall Point Lighthouse and Museum in Port Clyde. The museum was in the lighthouse keeper’s house that had the keeper and family living in it as recently as the 70s. Once the mechanisms for managing the light were automated, lighthouse keepers were no longer needed. I imagined the life in this house was awesome—I wouldn’t mind that view every moment of my day. The front door of the house opened up to the wooden walkway that made its way over large rocks (when the tide is out as it was when we were visiting). I imagine when the tide is in and on a rough day, that plank would be pretty frightening to walk. But it is well worth it for the magical views out on the water and the knowledge that the lighthouse is making it safe for people to sail along the coast.
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.
Even at this distance I can see the tides,
Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
In the white lip and tremor of the face.
And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
Through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light
With strange, unearthly splendor in the glare!
Not one alone; from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.
Like the great giant Christopher it stands
Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
The night-o’ertaken mariner to save.
And the great ships sail outward and return,
Bending and bowing o’er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn,
They wave their silent welcomes and farewells.
They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.
The mariner remembers when a child,
On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink;
And when, returning from adventures wild,
He saw it rise again o’er ocean’s brink.
Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!
It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace;
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.
The startled waves leap over it; the storm
Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
And steadily against its solid form
Press the great shoulders of the hurricane.
The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within,
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.
A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
Still grasping in his hand the fire of Jove,
It does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
But hails the mariner with words of love.
“Sail on!” it says, “sail on, ye stately ships!
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse,
Be yours to bring man nearer unto man!”
What lighthouses have you visited?