Lighthouse images are everywhere. I used to yawn when I saw Yet Another Lighthouse Calendar or Inspirational Poster.
Then I found myself crossing Tom's Cove in the dark.
I had been going to Assateague for years, backpacking, kayaking, snorkeling, beachcombing, and following wild ponies. I decided to do a two day backcountry paddle down the length of Assateague. After a very long second day of beating into a headwind, I rounded Chincoteague, into Tom's Cove at dusk, still needing to cross the cove to get to my truck. It was getting dark, and the only place I could rest was going to be underwater in an hour. I got back in the boat and paddled, with a compass course, an eye on the thin dark line of the beach, and waves hitting me broadside. For awhile, headlights on the beach gave me direction, then the beach closed and the cars went home and I was alone in the dark. I paddled and paddled, pulled up on a sandbar and rested (anchor down), then paddled again when the boat started rocking as the tide came up under it. To the north was where I needed to be, to the south was open sea, NASA, and, eventually, France. To check the compass I had to stop paddling, turn on the headlamp, and peer at it while the waves and wind shoved the boat the wrong direction.
At some point I realized the Assateague Light was just off my port side, going blink-blink...blink-blink...blink-blink...every five seconds. As long as I paddled with the Light at that particular place on my port, I was on course.
That Light has been an actual beacon in the dark, and an icon of one of my favorite places on the planet. I have endless photos of it in its weathered paint, and its shiny new daymark. Of the spiral stair, like the inside of a whelk shell, and the amazing panorama of the view from the top. I have pics of the fabulous Fresnell lens (in the museum). I even have old pics of the light room itself, though visitors are no longer allowed in the glass room enclosing the lights.
If you are anywhere near the island, see this lighthouse. It is a bit of history, still alive, still sending its beacon out 19 miles into the night.
The trail up to the light requires some mosquito repellent during the day (a water bottle doesn't hurt either) but is a short, pretty hike through sandy woods, with gorgeous photo ops as the light begins to appear above the trees. You should climb the light, even if you think you can't; there are landings to rest, with windows out into and over the woods and marsh and channel. The watchroom always contains a helpful lighthouse volunteer with in depth knowledge of the light. And you can walk onto the widow's walk, 140 feet up, and see from the mainland to the sea, photographing a fabulous panorama.
If you hike up the trail in the dark, swath yourself in clothing and mosquito repellent, but the journey is worth it to take some night shots, or simply stand under the great four spoked wheel of light turning across the sky.
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