Sunday, November 20, 2016

To the Lighthouses

After my seafaring career had concluded, and when the children were still quite young, we often went to the seashore to admire the ocean.  We had a number of favorite locations that were reasonably close to our house, to my parents’ house, or to my in-laws’ house.  Several of these spots contained lighthouses, and in the seasons of the warmer weather, we visited them regularly.

As a mate aboard ship, I had always viewed lighthouses as strictly utilitarian objects, although admittedly, many of them looked quite attractive architecturally.  But I was using them for navigational, not artistic, purposes, and so I gave their aesthetic appeal little attention.  

Miss Patty held another view, however.  While recognizing the lighthouses as important navigational beacons, she also saw them as emblematic in a metaphysical and spiritual way.  For as they shone their lights through the nocturnal darkness to guide seamen on their voyages, they represented the supernal “light that shineth in [spiritual] darkness” (John 1:5) to guide all people everywhere on their voyages through life.  By displaying artificial illumination of impressive intensity visible for many miles at sea, they represented “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9).  In this sense, one might say that they were “sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:8).

In the daylight hours, the lighthouses’ distinctive appearance—tall and slender and often white, the traditional color of purity—caused them to stand out clearly from their surroundings as beacons for passing ships.  They served the same purpose both day and night; only the method changed.  We visited these lighthouses in both daylight and darkness, although admittedly more often in daylight with small children.  But day or night, their metaphorical value and spiritual significance remained undiminished.  They always bore mute testimony of “the true Light.”

These lighthouses were usually situated in secluded places, far from the madding crowds of summer tourists.  This serene atmosphere enhanced their spiritual value, and we spent many happy hours quietly imbibing the combined ambiance of the sea, the shoreline, and the lighthouses.  They were precious times.

I’ve selected several photographs from our lighthouse-hopping travels with the children, and I’m happy to share them here: 

One of our many visits to the Portsmouth area took place on Saturday, July 23, 1994.  Posing placidly on the seawall in New Castle, New Hampshire, are James and Steven, with the Portsmouth Harbor Light watching over them.  To the right lies the open Atlantic.  To the left the Piscataqua River leads to downtown Portsmouth. 
Miss Patty’s favorite lighthouse is Nubble Light in York, Maine.  Situated on a small island just across a narrow channel from Cape Neddick, the Nubble has long been one of New England’s most popular and most photographed lighthouses.  Access to the island and the lighthouse itself is prohibited, so even on a busy day the view of the structure remains clear.  In this late afternoon portrait from Saturday, June 28, 1997, the western sun illuminates the Nubble perfectly.

Several miles offshore from the Nubble lies a cluster of rocks called Boon Island.  A treacherous outcropping that spelled doom for several merchant vessels in the colonial era, it was eventually fitted with a light to prevent further disasters.  Like the Nubble , it is not open to visitors, but we came close on Monday, July 24, 2000, aboard the tour boat Oceanic.  A very interesting spot with a long and colorful history,
Guarding the entrance to Portland Harbor is Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  Merchant vessels arriving in and departing from Portland pass directly in front of Portland Head.  While a popular destination for summer vacationers, it does not become overly crowded but remains peaceful and quiet.  This is a noon time view on Wednesday, April 30, 1997.
A short walk from our house in Nashua lies the Merrimack River, and at the mouth of the Merrimack lies the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  The estuary where the Merrimack and the Atlantic meet is marked by the diminutive Plum Island Light, shown here on Friday, June 22, 2000.  As evidenced by the adjacent bird house, the light reposes in a bird sanctuary, a restful and quiet place to enjoy Nature, both maritime and avian.
Closer to my original home on Long Island, New York, the Fire Island Light stands on the barrier beach that separates the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.  For four generations this lighthouse has been an important landmark for my family, and we went to visit it every summer with the children and their grandparents.  After church on Sunday, May 29, 1994, the light tower stood up brightly in the strong southern sun.  A beautiful place to gaze seaward and contemplate the majesty of Creation.
Finally, at the easternmost end of Long Island stands the Montauk Light in Montauk Point State Park.  The family waded in the surf of the great Atlantic in front of the lighthouse on Monday, August 11, 1997.  Another outstanding location to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the sea and sky.

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