Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ocean Graveyard

Ocean Graveyard

Such a lovely graveyard, don’t you think?

My sunset photo of the Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove that I posted last week inspired some of you to share your own lighthouse stories, the hopeful assurance that fills us when we see these beacons in the rocky dark.

Today we travel 30 miles down the coast to the Point Sur Light Station, built 3
5 years later, 1889.  But it’s a somber trip.

Hundreds of men and women shipwrecked at sea lie beneath these moody Big Sur waters. Sailors and passengers aboard scores of ships: trawlers, steam schooners, submarines and even a 1930’s dirigible. (Also some amazing rescues.)  Our weather is treacherous here on the coast; our rocks and reefs unforgiving.

Lighthouses are not all hope and romance.  The sea gives, the sea takes away - an old sailor’s proverb. Like roadside shrines after a traffic accident, lighthouses also announce, “We lost some good people here.  Be careful.  This place is dangerous.”

Our 15 National Marine Sanctuaries provide protection not only to their natural biological resources but also to shipwrecks, or what they call in government-speak, “submerged cultural resources.”  I learned this when I served on the Citizen’s Advisory Council of our Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  It is easier to convince Congress to authorize a sanctuary if there are shipwrecks there.  Besides Monterey Bay, two Marine Sanctuaries have remarkable shipwrecks: the Civil War ironclad ship “The Monitor” off the North Carolina coast, and Thunder Bay in Lake Huron, with its more than a hundred shipwrecked wooden side-wheelers and steel-hulled steamers.

And the men and women who died on board.

Sort of like our National Cemeteries, special protected places to honor our brave and tragic dead.

Sorry to be a little morbid here.  But you know, in the long view, we may all find a watery grave. From ashes in the earth to ground water and from ground water to river and to the sea.  “We all come from the sea, we all return to the sea.” I like that phrase better than the sea gives and takes away.

Welcome home.

(My friend Joanne Semones wrote in her wonderful book, ‘A Sea of Troubles: The Lost Ships of Point Sur;’ “After Point Sur’s moody waters and mercurial weather claimed its share of hapless vessel, locals convinced the government to building a beacon atop its lofty monolith…It is an important portal to our past.”  Also the only complete turn of the (20th) century light-station in California open to the public.  Tours are fantastic.)

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