the lighthouse


People have lived near oceans for much longer than recorded history. And they have taken to the water in boats for much of that time. There is an Egyptian vase from about 3500 BC that has a picture of a ship under sail on it. There is archaeological evidence of sailing that is much older than that, however. There was a migration of Australo-Melanesian populations migrating to the Sahul landmass, which is modern Australia and New Guinea, which occurred between 53,000 and 65,000 years ago. Those people had to have traveled across the water on boats powered by sail.

For almost as long as people have traveled by boats and sail, the problem of navigation, and finding safe harbor has been a challenge. The exact timing has been lost to history, but there are signs that the ancients built fires on hilltops as an aid to mariners returning to known ports. At some point, people built platforms out of stone and other materials to raise the fires higher for greater visibility. There is evidence of these towers being constructed as long ago as 2000 years before the common era.

Lighthouses have been around for a long time.

It is likely that the first lighthouses were not constructed as a warning of dangers such as reefs or rocks, but rather as guides to safe harbor. From the 15th century, when transoceanic navigation began to expand through the golden age of sail lasting into the 19th century lighthouses were constructed around the globe. Improvements in engineering led to higher towers and improvements in lighting and lenses made for brighter lights that could be seen from greater distances. Lighthouses were constructed to warn mariners of shoreline dangers as well as to guide them into safe harbor.

Many lighthouses around the world have fallen into disuse and been decommissioned with the advent of modern navigational devices such are GPS and chart plotters. A few are being preserved as examples of the history of sailing and architecture. They are local landmarks and are treasured by locals and attract visitors. In our travels, we have often been drawn to lighthouses and have visited several, including climbing the stairs to the tower and admiring the view.

Part of the process of our moving to a coastal location and purchasing a house has been the joy of rediscovering artwork that we have collected over the course of our lives. For a year we lived in a rental house. The terms of our lease forbade the hanging of pictures on the walls, so much of our artwork remained in storage. Now that we have a house that we own, we are able to get our our artwork and hang it on our walls. The art serves as a reminder of the places where we have lived and the adventures we have undertaken.

The first piece of artwork that we hung in this house is one of the newest in our collection. It is a stained glass scene featuring a lighthouse that was a gift from our congregation in Rapid City on the occasion of our retirement. The congregation has an active stained glass group that meets weekly and creates beautiful pieces that add to the beauty of their sanctuary and the worship spaces of partner congregations as well as grace the homes of members who have received pieces as gifts or purchased them when they are sold to raise funds for special projects and missions of the church. The founder of the group is a gifted artist whose vision has guided the group since its beginning. His handiwork is reflected in the stained glass that hangs in our living room window.

In our scene, the light from the lighthouse is fashioned from an amazing piece of glass that focuses light. The light beam is bright even on cloudy or dim days, drawing the eyes of everyone who enters the room.

Across from the lighthouse in the window is a photograph by South Dakota artist Robert Wong of a coyote walking through tall brush. For us the two pieces are reminders of the wonderful years we lived in South Dakota and seeing either or them or both in combination makes us think of the Black Hills. One fascinating thing about the two pieces is the contrast of the subjects of the art. One is a typical South Dakota scene. We used to love to listen to the coyotes singing in the hills through our open windows. We often saw coyotes running in the distance as we traveled across the state. To my knowledge, on the other hand, there are no lighthouses in South Dakota. Prior to moving to Washington in 2020, we had never lived in a place that was close to an ocean.

Washington has a lot of lighthouses. Eighteen are active navigation lights maintained by the US Coast Guard, and there are a dozen or so more that remain. From the Cape Disappointment Light near the southern border of the state to the Semiahmoo Harbor Light near our home, a tour of Washington lighthouses could easily take two or three days. There is a Point Roberts Light at Point Roberts, which is geographically isolated from the mainland. You have to travel through Canada to reach it. Other lights are on islands in the Salish Sea.

On one wall there is a picture of a typical South Dakota scene. On the window opposite there is a scene typical of Washington. Both serve as reminders to us of the 25 years we lived and served in South Dakota. The stained glass piece is a reminder of the power of human imagination and creativity. In crafting it as a retirement gift for us, the artist drew not only on our past, but on our future. In the kitchen of our church nestled in the Black Hills, a thousand miles from the ocean, he crafted a scene of a rocky coastline with a light guiding mariners to safety. The tower lighthouse reminds us of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, Washington’s oldest lighthouse that continues to shine.

It is a treasure of our home that continues to not only remind us of our past, but also invites us to embrace our future.

Cape Disappointment Light at King Tide - photo by Eva Bareis

Made in RapidWeaver