Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Lighthouse by the Sea

When you live close to the sea, there are always places nearby that are simply out there. Harbor islands, lighthouses, rock ledges -- they all lie just beyond the ends of roads, mysterious and inaccessible...

The South Shore section of Boston Harbor has been my bike riding territory for years now. So I figured I'd found all the ocean views my little corner of the harbor had to offer.

But this past Sunday, I was proven wonderfully wrong.

The sun was shining brightly that afternoon. Beaches were packed with sunbathers and the harborside restaurants overflowed with diners. I rode my bike out beyond the beach onto a causeway that leads deep into Boston Harbor, past delightfully crooked power lines that light up the houses at the far end.

I never really noticed these lines before. But during a recent visit to my parent's house, I happened to show my father an earlier photo I took of this same scene, and the first thing he said was, "wow, I really like those crooked power lines!" Ever since, I've ridden past them with a newfound appreciation.

As I rode by the electrical lines, Boston's shimmering skyline came into view on my left, as well as the eerie-looking tower I describe in my June 16 post ...

In this photo from an earlier ride, you can also see an airliner making a final approach into Logan International Airport. As it descends, ILS and VOR radio signals create a path as solid as the road on which I bicycle. But the path itself is completely invisible, just like the buoy-guided navigational lines that allow ships to pass safely into the harbor. Non-captains among us can only look at it all in awe.

Near the end of this causeway is a big mound of glacial till called Squantum -- a very pleasant area of quiet homes and quaint gardens nearly surrounded by water. It extends off to the right side of the road, while straight ahead the causeway continues up a small hill...

It's quite a steep little incline actually, almost forcing me to shift my front derailleur into the small chainring. But fortunately I was riding with an awesome tailwind, and it propelled me up over the top.

The road continues on for another 500 feet or so, along a high plateau. Small houses line the right side, and on the left is a thick grove of trees, and then an American Legion lodge with a parking lot beside it. In the past, I simply used this lot to turn around ... because if you keep riding straight on the road, you run into a very solid, well-guarded gate.

Now if you're like me, there's only one way to react to a high-security gate barring an otherwise benign looking road -- figure out what's on the other side! In this case the answer lay no farther than a local Boston map and Wikipedia.

Through my reading, I learned that beyond the gate the causeway continues out to Moon Island and Long Island, which are connected to each other by a long, extremely rusty and rickety old bridge (I passed beneath it once on a ferry -- very creepy). Today these islands house a police firing range, firefighting training facility, a red-checkered water tower used as a FAA navigational tool, and a large homeless shelter with its own working organic farm. They all sit among ruins of an old NIKE missile facility, cemeteries, a fort with parade grounds, and countless ghosts from an incredibly long and diverse history.

But there's something else out there too.

On the very end of Long Island ... known to very few people on shore ... sits a quiet, little lighthouse.

No one talks about it much. It's officially called Long Island Head Light, and in photos it's small and unassuming. Compared to the regal Boston Light, the dark and always-frowning Graves Light, or the tough wave-battered Minot Ledge Light, it appears a bit naive and thoughtful, tucked away in its quiet little inner-harbor cove.

But for me, Long Island Head Light always had one very romantic distinction .... it's only visible from the water! The larger lighthouses may be powerful enough to shine their lights over both the mainland and the ocean, but tiny Long Island Head Light belongs exclusively to the sea.

Except -- as I was soon to discover -- in one very special place.

...because on this Sunday afternoon, I didn't just turn around in the parking lot by the gate. I rode to outer edge of the lot and onto a field that's easy to miss from the main road. I got off my bike and walked toward to the far end of the field .... and as I did, little-by-little, a new view of the harbor emerged....

There to my right was the place the causeway extended out beyond the gate, leading to Moon Island...

and then there was Moon Island itself...

The old bridge connecting Moon and Long Islands was completely blocked by the high hill of Moon Island. But Long Island was still clear in the distance, checkered water tower and all...

And then I saw it, there ... a little white speck at the far end of Long Island. My camera's 3X optical zoom barely captured it, so I switched into the grainier digital zoom mode, and slowly its shape began to emerge from the trees...

Long Island Head Light.

I stayed in the field taking photos for a number of minutes, and after a while I was joined by another bicyclist and some folks setting up a picnic. "What a beautiful day!" we all said to each other. It certainly was.

When I finally rode off, I knew I would be returning here many times this summer -- to once again look out there, across the water, at the little lighthouse by the sea.

1 comment:

  1. That's really cool! What a special find. Makes you feel connected to your town - the history, the secret, wonderful, little places. Thanks for sharing your pics and your story!