You know how sometimes
You wake up and
For a second feel
And then realize
It sinks in
And you know
That it wasn’t a bad dream
And you’re lost
Ship out at sea
Tumbling on a rocky ocean
Wanting to come back
To love, maybe
Looking up at the sky
The only thing
You want to see
And it is you
Guiding the way
Better then a map
Or the stars
You see the light
People have romantic notions of lighthouses–their spare-as-a-bone-ness and white isolation drawing loners; their beacons, their reaching-out compelling romantics; their literary associations stirring poets. I never much liked them. Too disruptive. Too deliberate and showy. I spent my childhood summers on a foggy stretch of the Maine coast, away from the human world–no telephone, no television, no neighbors– a place where no lighthouse flicked its rays, but where a deep-throated, invisible foghorn on the far point sang plaintive harmonies with the mesmerizing gray. A child with a fiery imagination, I would fall asleep lulled by those thick melodies, cushioned, in-between, weightless.
Across the street from my house is a long road that leads to the beach. When I was younger my friends and I would chase each other down the road, running or biking, until we reached the end. There’s a long boardwalk-type of wall that’s about two feet wide. To get down to the sandy beach you have to climb down the rocks that lay against the wall- it was always such a challenge for us. If we walked far enough down the wall we could get a perfect view of the lighthouse, about a ¼ mile away from shore.
There’s a lighthouse at the end of Baxter Road. It’s tall – red and white striped – and sits on a piece of earth that is ready to fall. The ocean is too close – red with tide, its waves big but only crashing on the shore, and dangerous. Dad told us not to go in unless he is there because of the undertow. The seaweed is all over the place and gross – red. It is flimsy and rubbery, spiked in areas – acting like a shark or a scary fish. We ride our bikes to the end of the road – looking up, forgetting the ocean.
To the Lighthouse. Another one of those books I’ve started (twice) and never finished. I could divulge additional titles from the never-been-completed list, but I fear that that would betray more about me as a reader than a catalog of my favorites ever could. They sit in good company on my bookshelf, though, rubbing shoulders (spines!) with my more treasured books. I like to keep the unfinished rogues hidden among literary successes; I feel better about having abandoned the more insufferable ones when I don’t have to look at them all in a row. I can almost forget about them.
My father has always said that he would love to be a lighthouse keeper, but I don’t believe him. He says that he likes being alone, that he would just need a room of books in his lighthouse to be happy. He wants to row a little boat to shore so that he can buy groceries, not talk to anyone, and hang out in the middle of the sea somewhere doing light-housey things. “I don’t like people,” he says. He doesn’t know himself. He makes friends with the man who pumps gas in New Jersey, where it’s all full service.
Maine = lighthouses. Those cool, spring mornings gave me the chills. The excitement of youth. A car ride, not too long, but just long enough to create that feeling of leaving home for a brief adventure. Rest stops, always a line it seems, but worth it to wander into a building full of passersby, stopping in the gift shop for a sampling of kitschy souvenirs. Lunchtime, fast food – a treat, but one I wouldn’t dare eat anymore now that I’m conscious of its lack of nutritional value. Finally, pulling into the hotel parking lot, the excitement peaks! We’re here.
The summer reminds me of sailing. I spend most of my summer on my family’s sailboat. It is interesting to compare the idea of a lighthouse from those who spend their time on land and those who spend their time at sea. When we stay at Block Island we bike the island sometimes and go over up to the lighthouse. From land the lighthouse seems like a proud building standing tall for all the ships; it looks like it is full of hope. But from the ocean, at night, the lighthouse often times feels less like hope and more like a warning.
We drove along the coastline, tracing California’s plummeting cliff line. The lighthouse shadowed us in the breezy shanty house. The sea blew through the house and mist splashed the air with salt. Sticky in the morning. Sticky at dusk. My arms squelched, skin pealing off of skin, when I wiped crusty wisps of hair from the corner of my mouth. Seagulls flocked below the tower’s guiding light, too high for even their timid wings. But I climbed the steep cinderblock stairs to the sailor’s lookout. The tiny peninsula jutted out all alone and fog wrapped around to conceal my bedroom.
I remember sitting in my 7th grade English class. I want to call it a poetry class because that is what my teacher, Mr. Skeljbread loved. But it wasn’t. We met in a tiny room that was too hot most of the time but it had a couch so people put up with the cramped space. There were all sorts of posters on the wall. I remember one was a photo (real, I do not know) of a lighthouse with an open door and a man standing in the doorway. An enormous wave is about to engulf the entire structure.
I have blurry memories of seeing soaring lighthouses perched atop the sunny shores of the Black Sea. With a dry, tanned hand serving as a sun-shield above my eyes, I would stare intensely at the stately towers in the distance, marveling their endurance and timelessness. However, I have never had a close look at them, nor have I ever been in any one of them. Is their surface rough and crumbly as you touch it? Once you are inside, is the roaring sound of the splashing waves intensified or is it muffled, lulling you to sleep? Do you feel alone?