It’s 7 of a foggy, drizzly May morning at what is probably the most photographed lighthouse in New England, known affectionately as “the Nubble“.
I’m alone here, with the only sounds being the lonely cry of the gulls, the chirping and tweeting of the little song sparrows in the bushes, and the crashing of the sea against the rocks. The sky is cloudy and gray, and the sea a darker slate. The fragrant lilacs are in bloom, flags fly from yardarms all along the road, while weathervanes twirl in the breeze. A Canada goose waddles around on the greening grass at the base of the lighthouse, while a family of what we always called “coots” (likely common eider ducks) float by, and a cormorant swoops down from above in search of his breakfast. Boon Island with its early lighthouse, visible on a clear day, can’t be seen, but the faint outline of one of the Isles of Shoals is visible in the distance, as is the point out by York Harbor.
A lone fishing boat passes slowly by out on the horizon, on perhaps a perfect day for luring fish in the slight fog. Red buoys marking lobster traps bob in the surf, and there are what appear to be traps stranded on the rocks. But the tide is low and comes in higher and quicker now than I recall as a child when the mud flats below the soft sand at the high tide mark were vast and there was a long walk to take a dip in the icy cold water.
A lady walking her small dog walks up, snaps a photo with her phone and then vanishes. The red fourth-order Fresnel lens in Nubble’s tower flashes on and off as it has for over 100 years. Yet something is missing…the plaintive call of the foghorn that we could hear upon awakening in the cottage a half mile from the beach and about 2.5 miles from the lighthouse. Its mournful note, sounding every 10 seconds on a foggy or rainy day is still in my head, and I’m saddened that it has been retired. Mariners can still sound a horn with a radio signal if necessary but it’s seldom heard anymore and not quite the same.
The sky brightens slightly and an old gray-bearded gentleman walks up and stares at the sea. If not for his plaid shirt, blue jacket, khaki pants and baseball cap, he could be imagined as a sea captain of old. He disappears down by the rocks and I’m again alone with only the cry of the gulls, the thunderous crashing of the sea upon the granite outcropping, a strong memory of the smell of the thick, peaceful pine woods near the sea, and the sound of the old foghorn permanently imprinted on my soul.