Monday, August 30, 2010

A True "Happy Place"

The subjects of some of my landscape photos are nearby lighthouses. One of them, Point Judith Light in Narragansett, Rhode Island, isn't yet included because it's a tricky one to photograph. It seems I'm not there when the light has that unique, "just so" quality, or I can't figure a way to get a close-up view and keep the power lines out of the shot. I'm thinking the best vantage point is probably from the ocean, so until I figure this out, you'll only see snapshots on this blog, and not images for sale in my Etsy shop.

I found myself visiting Point Judith Park this past weekend, which really isn't a fancy place. It consists of several acres formally dedicated as "Nulman Park" in memory of Rose Nulman, the mother of the property's former owner. There's a boarded-up building that used to be a restaurant, an aging parking lot, a gazebo, grassy spots and benches aligning the rocky coast, and not so much as a port-a-john for visitors. The Coast Guard station and lighthouse are adjacent.

Normally on summer days everyone is nearby at Camp Cronin, where there is a beach, but when I arrived, the place was packed. It didn't take me long to realize most of the folks were surfers. Often I've discovered that adventures occur when you stumble into situations you didn't plan to attend. The "parking angel" reserved an empty spot for me to park my car among the rows of vehicles crammed into the inadequate lot.

That done effortlessly, I grabbed my camera and headed down to the water. It was low tide, and there were about two dozen surfers out there, but they didn't have the best waves. They did a lot of waiting. I never did find out what the event was, to draw every type of surferman and womanthat I'd ever seen at this spot, known for being a wave-catcher's paradise. But it added to the adventure.

My goal was to get my feet wet and see what I could find among the rocks. The thing about Point Judith is that there is no beach. The rocks aren't big, craggy outcrops to jump and climb on. It's all tumbled rocks, from pebbles, to small stones, to grapefruit- and pumpkin-sized rounds that you can hear rolling out with the surf when strong waves breaking on shore recede. That's why I put on my boat shoesso I had something that made it less painful to walk on the stones than going barefoot, yet I could still get my feet wet.

I was on a mission to find things of interest, and I didn't know what they would be. One time at this spot, I found a ton of tiny shells that I later drilled and strung into a little garland. Another time I found a purple rock. This day, I found a live crab resting comfortably between some rocks, in water about 4 inches deep. I moved onward, and discovered a tiny starfish at the lower corner of another rock. I took a picture of myself holding it before I put it back. Nearby, I saw another baby starfish, this one appearing to be in the process of growing back two appendages.

As a few surfers came ashore, weary of the lackluster waves that side of the lighthouse, I turned to look at the rocks and view of the light station behind me, and noticed something curious. Up toward the high tide line, somebody(s) had created a series of cairns and altars using the available rocks. This isn't a new practice at Point Judith. In fact, more than a year ago someone used only black rocks to form the shape of a cross on the ground. At the same time, a circular fort of stones was created, about 2 1/2 feet high, and has stood ever since. This day, I noticed the circle (which before had an opening at one end) was now fully enclosed, and a little table or altar had been erected in the center.

After taking a few photos of the curious memorials and sacred sculptures, I moved eastward and upward, toward the lighthouse, only to discover more "stone sculpture." Another person had taken small rocks and created a peace sign. Next to that, I saw a plus sign. Next to that was a heart, then an equal sign, the equation ending with a smiley face. Translation: Peace + Love = Happiness.

It was then that I realized that this spot truly is a "happy place." For one, I have never had a bad experience visiting there. There's rarely litter or trash left behind on the grass or rocks. The people seem to appreciate the natural beauty and atmosphere and don't try to bring their harried urban lives with them (i.e. stuff). For a shoreline summer spot, absent are the radios, ice cream vendors, loud vehicles and unruly urchins.

So I it because a place without sand and lifeguards attracts only a certain type? Does Point Judith attract rock hounds versus sand-lovers? Maybe people who sense the history and importance of the place are drawn to it with deep respect. The waters off Point Judith have a reputation for being among the most dangerous in the southern New England coastline. A fisherman's memorial sits at nearby Camp Cronin as a testament to the perils of making a living off the sea here. For me, there are spiritual reasons why I am drawn to Point Judith light, but part of the draw for me is also what the area meant to my ancestors.

So I ended my visit with a cursory embrace of the brownstone tower, and as I edged myself to the shady side of it, there at my feet was a bouquet of long-stemmed, white roses (a bit wilted, but still fresh) resting in the grass. I'd like to know the story behind that, but I can't help but realize that white roses symbolize purity, and to find them laid at the foot of a towering lighthouse, I conclude that my "happy place" is more than just a spot created to guide home the ocean-weary; you leave the comfort of the giant arms of this pristine park feeling much, much more loved.

I hope you enjoy these photos (click to enlarge):

And to learn more about Point Judith and other Rhode Island shore points, my eGuide is available at the Beach Bath and Trash website.