At the tip of a long finger of windswept coastline sits the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Off the tip of the point is a large white rock, for which the lighthouse is named.
Have you ever realized just as a week is ending that it has been perfect? That's how this past week has been for me. The sun shone, the garden called me into it each morning, and I had a chance to revisit a life I lived joyfully many years ago.
The old lighthouse is now open for tours.
Work was good. I finished 24 pages of my bird book for children and sent them to my editor, revised my novel manuscript, and I got a chance to take a day off with Jeff to explore the coast above Cambria. My one wish was to drive up to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, where my faithful white shepherd dog Una and I once lived.
Una was always so excited to arrive at the lighthouse's locked gate. She sat behind me in my VW Cabrio convertible, howling and jumping (that is a big deal for a 100 pound dog) until we entered the gate and locked it behind us. Then it was the "BIG RACE." We zoomed down the long, dirt road, clouds of dust behind us, and Una raced me to our cottage. Soon she learned that by cutting across a big patch of ground she could make it to the cottage ahead of me. I swear that dog smiled as she waited, tongue hanging out and tail wagging.
Entwined in my earliest memories is a deep passion for lighthouses. Years ago we were visiting family in San Diego and took a trip to the Old Point Loma lighthouse. I'd dreamed of lighthouses, seen them in movies, but never thought I'd get to go inside one.
I think that the way I live and the way I've always furnished my homes grew from the Sara Orne Jewett and Celia Thaxter books, which I cherished in my teens, and from that first visit to a lighthouse.
This is a tiny, hidden lighthouse on a private island off the East Coast.
I remember how my heart beat (like it did on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house) as we entered the doorway to the little white washed 1855 lightkeeper's cottage. I was at home. Bright sunlight broke through the fog and shone on the shining floors, the brass lamps, and an old sea chest at the foot of a quilt covered antique bed. A narrow staircase, spiraled like a whelk shell, curled up the tower. The rooms felt simple, spare, yet filled with life. The brilliant indigo sea and the azure sky glimmered through the small paned windows. It felt like a sky island, a sea island, an island of peace.
I never deliberately tried to imitate the feel of a lightkeeper's cottage, but on that day, the images and the sensations of that place seemed to seep into my bones.
During the early 1980s, my friend Bob, who was a marine biologist living in one of the lightkeeper's homes at Piedras Blancas, asked me if I minded house sitting when he traveled. "You'll be all alone there because the other families are away." I was overjoyed.
Una and I felt jittery at first. But soon we became used to the many voices of the sea and wind, and the constant flash of the lens. Late at night, we walked the cliffs above the lee side of the point where the fishing boats sometimes gathered. And east of us, high atop the "Enchanted Hill" in the Santa Lucia Mountains, sat Hearst Castle. It would be more accurate to say that the castle looked like it sailed across, rather than sat atop, the hill. It reminded me of a glittering blown glass schooner.
On our days off from my Heart's Ease Herb Shop, Una and I explored the cliffs and the shoreline. We found shells, moonstones, and bits of jade. Offshore we watched dolphins, whales, sharks, and endless black clouds of sooty shearwaters skeining above the sea. Those days and nights with my Una were magical times for me. I can still see her smiling her victorious grin.
I know you can't go back and I don't want to. I love that somehow Jeff and I have kindled a similar dream and kept our shared passion for the sea alive in our little Maine cottage. In there, we have shiny, sunlit wooden floors, old sailor's chests, handmade quilts at the foot of our bed, and in every room, small paned windows that frame the many colors and moods of the sea.
And best of all? Late on foggy or cloudy nights, as we curl up in bed, the flash of the Pemaquid Light plays off the clouds and shines into our room. Maine, our sky island, our sea island, our island of peace.
Love to you all.
*PLEASE JOIN ME & LISTEN to Heritage Radio Network "We Dig Plants" interview on January 30, 2011. Carmen and Alice ask about the sense of wonder, my gardens, Comfort Found in Maine, our old Maine cottage, family, and more. A fun interview! Please leave a comment. They've developed a GREAT program for gardeners and cooks.
* THE WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY is Kay Niehaus of Kay's Flowers. Hurrah Kay. Please send me your mailing address and I'll get the Taber and Bellamy books in the mail tomorrow.
* VISIT me for gardening tips at my blog on Lowe's Creative Ideas.