Writing Out Loud


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Something About Lighthouses

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Many years ago, I went to a local sidewalk art festival where there was the usual assortment of seashore art: paintings, drawings, shells with designs painted on them, and so on. Given that the state of Maine is known for its long coastline and all things associated with maritime living, booths displaying primarily lighthouse art are numerous at such events. After walking by several and spending the obligatory amount of time admiring the artists’ efforts, some more than others, I commented out loud, “There’s just something about lighthouses.” A woman standing nearby replied, “You’re right! There is, isn’t there? But you can’t put your finger on just what that might be.”

And she was right, of course. There is something decidedly attractive and appealing about a scene that portrays a lighthouse in some form or other. And here in Maine, we have plenty of them TO admire, from the southernmost town of Kittery to the easternmost town of Eastport. Here in the York County area alone, there are dozens of them that had served as the inspiration to many artists and photographers through the  years, yours truly included. And I’ve often wondered just why so many people are so in love with lighthouses.

I am not particularly so, but I have to admit that there is something fascinating about, not only how a lighthouse almost always stands out from its surroundings in a very dramatic way, but also the aura of steadfastness it exudes. Aside from the very urban Munjoy Hill Observatory, which is smack dab in the middle of a very busy Portland neighborhood, most lighthouses were constructed centuries as lonely outposts that cast light across the sea to get sailors and other seafarers safely to shore. Many of them have fascinating histories, and all, at one time or other, were home to keepers who kept the lights burning all night every night and during the worst weather. In time, as the properties that many of these lighthouses stood on was sold off, and modern technology crept in, ancient ways of illuminating the night gave way to electrified methods, and eventually to lights that no longer needed constant monitoring, which made the role of lighthouse keeper pretty much obsolete.

By its very design, a lighthouse can withstand tremendous oceanic energy, a fact attested to by the many that still stand in areas that have seen some pretty violent storms over the years. The sea can batter the tower endlessly, with no ill effect, embracing it with wave after crashing wave, that simply rush back to the sea for the next encore. The walls of houses are usually thickest at the bottom, measuring roughly 3 to 4 feet at their bases. This wall width decreases toward the top, where walls are generally a foot thick. The most impermeable lighthouses were built on solid bedrock, which made them even sturdier.

When I look at a lighthouse, different things come to mind. What was it like to live there during the days before electricity and automation came along and so isolated in most cases from the rest of the world? What must it be like to stand on the top deck and look out over the ocean, especially on a stormy day? Aside from all that, though, is this: when I look at a lighthouse, any lighthouse, I am drawn back to another time, another era. And the basic fact is that I just would love to be up there, and I suspect that this is what many, if not most, people feel when THEY look upon a lighthouse, either in a painting, on the side of a seashell, or in real life. Here in Maine, we’re very fortunate. For no matter where we live along the coast, there is a lighthouse within a reasonable distance to view.

A woman I know who lives in Colorado has never seen one. She has, in fact, from what I’m told, never been to either coast of the United States. I can’t imagine a landlocked life devoid of the experience of seeing and hearing the surf pounding on the rocks, smelling the salty air, feeling the sand between your toes, hearing gulls screaming high overhead, or seeing a lighthouse standing on its lonely outpost, its beam flashing in the distance. For me, they’ve been a way of life since the day I could run across the sand. So I hope she gets to experience them all someday.

Living just a few miles from the sea is one of the gifts in life that I have come to be most grateful for. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Photo is of Portland Headlight at Two Lights State Park)

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And the sea does not change…

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I realized not long ago that the words in the title, which were sung by Stevie Nicks many years ago now, still apply and always have really. The sea DOESN’T change, at least not in our human understanding and perception of change. Yes, it changes daily, hourly, and every second in places we can’t see from the shore. Some forms of life die while others are just starting out. The ocean floor shifts due to pressure from the earth’s core, and everything that sea water contains evolves constantly. And the oceans themselves continue to be redesigned by meteorological and seismic forces since they were formed. From one great body of water to what we know now, it has never stopped changing.

To us, however, it is always the same. Aside from the tides going in and out, a process that affects everything the water touches in its calmness or its ferocity, we look out, despite the season, over the same vast expanse of water that we did yesterday, the day before that, and that we will tomorrow. It is that eternal quality of the sea that is its appeal…that it’s there always…never going away…never completely evaporating into the atmosphere and leaving us high and dry in many more ways than merely visually.

For there is, and has always been among humans, a deep connection with the ocean. It is, after all, where all life has emanated from, and it still flows through us in a very tangible way. Because of its perseverance, it has also become a symbol of strength and grandeur which often moves us in deeply emotional ways. “Going to the beach” just scratches the surface, for reams and reams of poetry and other literature have been penned in honor to those shifting blue-green waves and the energy they produce and store.

I can visit a beach, any beach, at any time of year, and its basic components are not much different from what they were six months ago. Here, in the northeastern United States, where we are privileged to experience the four distinct seasons, the sea is the only medium that remains fluid and mobile all the year round. And I can be standing on a shore that is backed up with several feet of snow, yet I’d never know it gazing out over the water. For it, as always, remains the same…rising, falling, advancing, receding, ebbing, flowing, lapping or crashing…whether it be winter, spring, summer, or fall.

The sea does not change…which gives us here in coastal New England a visual respite from the doldrums of winter. For we can head down to the beach any time of day and, hopefully, watch the sun playing with the waves, a scene that never fails to erase anything else that might be going on inside our tired minds.

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Contrast and Complement

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On a beach walk not long ago, I came upon a rock formation that someone had constructed near the shoreline. Called a cairn, it’s an assortment of stones organized in such a way as to complement, while also contrasting with, its surroundings. Some cairns stand out insistently against their backgrounds, while others, like the one in the photo, mirrors the sea behind and around it.

Notice the smooth texture of the stones themselves, how they mimic the ocean’s fluidity both in shape and color. Look at the similarities between how effortlessly the stone’s materials seem to flow and the sea. If their edges were dulled, they’d blend perfectly with the ocean water.

As for color, notice how the second, fourth and sixth largest stones from the top pick up the blue of the sea, while the third and seventh stones continue the color from the larger rocks in the outcropping and some of the seaweed growing among them. The second and fourth largest rocks from the top also pick up some of the coloring of the sea-foam, and the very top largest stone picks up some of the pale and subtle mauve hues from other outcropping rocks.

I like to think of the bright red stone at the top as the cherry on this cake of stone layers. It provides the sharpest contrast of all, but still does manage to reflect the color found in some species of seaweed.

I have to wonder if the person who built this cairn had all this in mind, or if it was just the random product of his or her imagination. Whatever the case may be, it’s amazing how well it fits into this ocean scenery.


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Worlds Apart

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There are two worlds between which lies a threshold across which I step often now. Dismayed by entities that emerge wraith-like from the concrete and asphalt, I flee to the woods where peace reigns supreme, a peace that is disturbed only by those with thoughts of improving upon the matter. How does one improve upon perfection? Yet they continue to try, and have not yet managed to get much beyond piles of bricks and mortar, tangles of steel, and masses of confused and restless inhabitants.

But in the woods, in the mountains, or near the sea, mere inches from the Concrete Cathedral on all sides, silence takes over, allowing one to hear the truths in all their raw beauty, distracting only with birdsong and wind sigh, wave crash or owl hoot. Among the trees, atop a ridge, or at the edge of a frothing tide, human concepts such as bigotry, greed, hatred, envy, gluttony and lust have no place. Yes, there is death, but there is also constant renewal, with nature replenishing eternally as needed. War is not waged, one species does not maliciously seek to deprive or harm another, and time moves forward, marked only by the changing of the seasons. Spring and summer see rebirth, while fall and winter mark the end of the cycle, with all species adapting without complaint or resistance. All species, that is, but the most highly evolved to date, that holds the dubious honor of being the least content of them all with its lot, and that exhibits its angst in every conceivable way.

All part of the same plan, all sharing space on the same blue, green and brown sphere, yet worlds apart…