Celebrating the Entrancing Pull of Highland Light

Aug 22, 2017

One moist evening last April, as I was driving past Pilgrim Lake on my way home from Provincetown, I became unusually aware of the great flashes of Highland Light, moving in quick spaced arcs from east to west. Its glow was intensified, magnified, by the haze in the air.

It rose and set, rose and set, over and over, like a fugitive sun, like the wink of God, like the shadow of the bright hand of God over the face of the night. It seemed to say its own name—Highland-Light, Highland-Light—again and again to a night sky that remained unconvinced.

I found myself strangely drawn to it, like a moth drawn to a light bulb. I turned off Route 6 at the North Truro exit and followed the dark road eastward as the flashes expanded and began to tower over me. I drove past the Truro Historical Society’s museum, past the clubhouse of the Highland Links golf course that flanks the lighthouse, past the ranks of beige golf carts lined up beside it, and finally out to the empty parking lot. I was surprised that I could actually do this. I expected someone to stop me or check me. And then there I was, standing beside, beneath this incredible radiance.

The white brick tower looked somehow larger at night, its dimensions expanded by the beams emanating from it. Two gauzy cones of light, directly opposite each other, wheeled in stately symmetry from the glassed tower, washing the hills, the trees, the fairways, the museum, the clubhouse, and other structures at its perimeter. It was clear, from this perspective, that the beams were not horizontal, but slanted downward, pointing, it seemed, directly at the horizon. The lights moved in magisterial isolation and dignity, and I was filled with a sense of its magnanimity and beneficence as it dispensed its largesse of light across land and sea alike.

I had been out to this light at night many times before, but strangely I could not remember any of them. It was as if I were seeing it for the first time—or rather, as if the presence of the light tonight had washed away all previous memories of it, as a new and glowing love for someone can wash away all memory of former meetings.

The light tower and the attached keeper’s house were fenced off, but I could walk around them out onto the bluff. I made my way haltingly, the way one goes through a dark room during a thunderstorm by flashes of lightning. My way was lit by the slow-motion strobe effect of the rotating beams—image and after-image—so that I advanced and stepped to the beat of the light and its intervening shadow, in what I gauged as five-second cycles. It was a curious, formal movement, as if I were engaged in some stately gavotte—step, step, halt—step, step, halt.