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Falling In Love Amongst the Lights - Full Text

Have you come across a good book, story or narrative regarding lighthouses, keepers, or lighthouse-related material? Share it here.

Postby Ross » Sun Apr 03, 2005 2:57 pm


by Ross Tracy
from the OBLHS Winter 2005 Newsletter

(I didn't include the few photos with this as it was already large!)

Any time a bus is needed to ferry you out to the airport tarmac to get you to your plane, you know you’re in for an interesting ride. The unforgiving New England weather of ice and sleet was also abound to make sure I got the proper send off, and at 5 AM, the temperature was far less than my age, which ironically, is the freezing point of water.

After ducking into the plane door and craning my neck down the aisle I reached my seat around the middle of the aircraft. I equated this aircraft to a toothpaste tube complete with wings and a flight attendant. I’m not a big fan of flying, but I always say that it’s not the flying that’s rough, it’s the crashing that’s difficult. I strapped myself in and attempted to ignore the “safety” portion of the flight: “In the unlikely event of a water-landing…” … I was fairly certain that if we were going down over water, it was a good bet we wouldn’t be landing.

Cutting through the sleet and rain, the Embraer jet was impressively fast and in no time we were above the clouds and heading for Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Looking down on civilization from 30,000+ feet really causes you think about your place in the world, and as much as I dislike flying, the hour-and-a-half flight was fairly smooth and uneventful. Of course, when you get to land where the temperature is forty degrees warmer than where you left, it makes for a good start to any trip, especially a trip that would bring me to the Outer Banks for the first time.

I was picked up at the airport by my companion for the journey, a lovely southern girl that shared my interest and passion for photography and lighthouses. Spending that much time in a car is enough to drive anyone bananas, and by the time we arrived in Manteo, it was dark (wicked dahk). We had stopped on the way to visit the Roanoke Marshes Replica, Roanoke River Replica in Plymouth, and the Roanoke River ruins in Edenton, so our four hours became six in no time (well, in more time).

Following some great food and a Cabo margarita at a southwestern-themed restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, it was time to head south down Route 12 to Buxton, where we were staying. When I heard my brother describe his first trip to the OBX, he mentioned parts of the drive on Route 12 having a veritable paucity of development and civilization, and he was right. But I found that to be an integral part of the feel of the Outer Banks, and I also remembered that it was December, and there wouldn’t be much activity anyhow.

I started to nod off slightly while my companion (who was already familiar with the OBX) steered us south down the droning, unlit road towards the hotel. That was, before she hit the brakes quite severely and nearly sent me to the hood of the car the easy way. I would find out later that it would only be the first time she would do this. She turned off to the right and followed another dark, unlit road, down the winding turns around some tall trees and came to a stop in front of the famous Bodie Island lighthouse.

The magnificent lens shining the light in all directions, the awe-inspiring tower with its recognizable stripes, and the canopy of stars overhead was all it took for me to forget my fatigue, backache, and near-death experience a few minutes before. I could only hear stories from others who had been here and experienced the presence of the light and only saw visions from those who had captured its beauty in pictures. Immediately, I experienced the allure of the Outer Banks lighthouses, and I was quite proud to have flown “wicked fah” from home to see them. It was going to be a great weekend! We spent a while at Bodie, but our fatigue was taking over and we reluctantly headed for the hotel, where a soft pillow and warm shower awaited. We made the final leg of the night’s journey, while under watch by the mighty Hatteras beam, to the hotel and crashed.

Rise and shine. That’s the familiar term. However, I prefer to use: groan-rollover-lift-head-squint eyes-throw-covers-off-and-toss-legs-off-the-edge-to-the-cold-floor-rub-eyes-grunt-stand-stagger-slightly and possibly if the weather is ok, maybe, even shine ever so slightly. I opened the door to look outside and it was fairly bright, blue sky and all. It was windy and a bit chilly, but the good news was the lack of clouds and rain. Once we got ready, we checked the cameras and the remainder of the baggage we would tote around for the day, and set out south towards the village to find breakfast, something we didn’t expect to take as long as it did. After a good deli-style breakfast and a quick run to some shops, we were back north to visit Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. As of this writing, I am working on their new website design and needed to meet with Linda Molloy from the CHA to finalize some of that, and, of course, to visit the station for the first time.

Linda was a very gracious host and let us wander around the station to check out the exhibits and things that the group had been working on, and also explained some of the areas in the station to us. Although most of my recent interest with maritime history has been with lighthouses, I was now drawn into the history of the lifesaving stations and the people that “had to go out, but were not required to return.” We finished up the details with Linda and then it was off to see the piece de résistance, the big mamma-jamma, the big’un, the master, the granpappy… the mighty Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

It was just as I had imagined: awe-inspiring. The familiar paint design shone brightly in the sunlight. We spent a few minutes taking in the view, and then walked the grounds while my companion pointed out many of the features, including the old site that we would visit later. I have a thing about open heights and typically don’t prefer walk about on any lighthouse balcony, but that day I wanted to climb the tower, unfortunately it was closed for the season. Given the winds that were assaulting us that day, we doubted the top of the tower would be less forgiving. After snapping some photos and touring the museum and gift shop we needed to make haste to the ferry for the trip to Ocracoke Island… but not before my companion would make another attempt to throw me through the windshield. On the way out of Hatteras, she had spied two deer, a mother and baby, cautiously wandering through the trees near the road. We got out and followed them around trying to get a decent photo. It’s rare that one gets to see wildlife so close to civilization. But we realized that our visit to Hatteras was longer than we thought, so we really had to move if we had any chance of making the next boat out to Ocracoke, which would lose us forty more minutes of daylight …

… and as we rolled into the ferry loading area, we had just missed it by a few minutes. So it was off to the gift shops and the store for something to snack on while we waited for the next ferry. I introduced my companion to mini Nutter Butters while she told me about Ocracoke and the restaurant that she wanted us to visit that evening. We looked at the village map and also discussed what our remaining time on this trip would entail as the sun was escorted into the prison of the night.

The ferry trip was relaxing as we sat at the top lounge of the boat and watched the sun continue on its journey. The darkness had already moved in by the time we arrived at Ocracoke and there was not much to see on the long and lonely road to the village. My companion pointed out Howard’s Pub as we continued on to see the lighthouse, and the lantern room was all we could see in the dark of the village that night. We watched and chatted for a few minutes then went on to eat dinner where we finished off with some fantastic chocolate cake. Rubbing our bellies and longing for a couch, we hopped back into the car for the trip back across the ferry and to the hotel. Ocracoke is now at the top of the list of places to return to on our next visit.

On the way back to the hotel, the night sky was absolutely sparkling. My visit to the Outer Banks gave me a greater sense of how much light pollution exists back home in the Northeast. I consider myself an amateur astronomer and the night sky over the Outer Banks would have given me weeks of observing if I had my telescope. Nearing the hotel, we stopped over at Cape Hatteras for a night view of the beacon and the wondrous night sky.

It turned out to be a fantastic night, albeit a tad cold. My geekiness surfaced and I pointed out some constellations and stars to my companion, reiterating how amazed I was at the clear sky. We were watched over by Pegasus, Orion the Hunter, and Aquarius (which is the zodiac sign for both of us!) We were lucky to experience the appearance of the Geminid meteors, and they constantly streaked across the sky over the lighthouse. Even Comet Machholz made an appearance just beyond the tower towards the southeast. We spent quite a bit of time stargazing and it was extremely difficult to leave, but the busy day we had and the busier day that lay ahead called on us for sleep.

The sunlight peeked through the curtain and made it tough to keep my eyes closed, and once again, I engaged in the daily ritual of prying myself out of bed. Today we planned to visit Hatteras one more time, then head north to Bodie Island, Currituck, and off west back towards Raleigh where my flying toothpaste tube awaited on the tarmac for my arrival.

We stopped along Route 12 heading north and walked across a small field to take some distant shots of Bodie Island. With a 300mm lens, this proved to be the spot for some of the best shots I had of the lighthouse (actually, the only shots). The photos were very surreal, and the bright sun reflecting off the Bodie paint job completed the vision. We made our way around to the lighthouse grounds took a few more pictures, and experienced some lens problems. Time was ticking away and we still planned to see Currituck before heading out towards Raleigh.

My companion skillfully piloted us through the winding roads of Duck and Corolla, heading north to the last lighthouse on our journey. An amazing contrast surfaced in my mind when I saw the beautiful homes and lands of Currituck County. I was bewildered to think that such a delightful area could be blackened by the feud between the county and the Outer Banks Conservationists. I couldn’t wait to see the center of everyone’s attention, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The lantern room peeked over the trees as we approached and I was surprised at how closed in the grounds of the lighthouse really are. We were still pressed for time, and since the grounds were closed for the season, we clicked some pictures, discussed the OBC situation a bit, and then made our way back to Route 64, and headed west.

After a four hour drive to return to Raleigh, my companion dropped me off at the airport and we said our reluctant goodbyes, and as I walked towards the security gates we never looked back, that makes a goodbye harder. I ducked onto the plane and buckled into my seat as my mind played through the days of our journey. I knew that I had fallen for the region, the land, the lighthouses, and the Outer Banks.
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Postby vacastle » Sun Apr 03, 2005 3:49 pm


:yay:

Thanks Ross, for posting this amazing piece for all to read.

Judy :D
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Postby Leah Loar-Mays » Sun Apr 03, 2005 5:14 pm


I laughed, I cried..................

Thank you, Ross, for caving into peer pressure and giving us an early glimpse at this beautiful narrative. You are quite the consummate storyteller, and I will read this epic again and again.

I also want to say a huge thanks to you for the not-so-little piece of this journey that you shared with me this week. It means even more to me now!

:D
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Postby Grover1 » Sun Apr 03, 2005 6:42 pm


I laughed ...

Naw, not really, but I did read it through twice ... it really is tough to describe the indescribable and Ross, you did really well.

What it did for me was remind me of my first visits to these monuments and the personal feelings evoked. What it also did was remind me that you can never go back there enough times.

I know it was difficult to share this ... thanks for doing so.

Barry
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Doubt those who find it ...
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Postby Ross » Sun Apr 03, 2005 6:46 pm


I hope you laughed, that was part of its intent ;)
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Postby Grover1 » Sun Apr 03, 2005 7:04 pm


Well, Ross, if you must know ...

... I tee-hee'd a tad
... tittered a bit
... hah-hah'ed no end
... gaggled a giggle
... and suppressed a guffaw

... but Ross, I truly, truly enjoyed what you wrote and envied all the first time feelings and emotions you felt on your journey... we all deserve to feel that way many many times over ... the wonderment, the awe, the walking in the footsteps of those before you ...

... and that it was shared only enhances it all.
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