As scheduled, the 2:12 bus from Edgartown got Vanessa and me to the Lighthouse at 3:10. We had a full hour to explore the lighthouse and its environs before taking the 4:10 bus that would get us to Vineyard Haven one hour later. The Gay Head Lighthoue crowns the peninsula that is the home of the Wampanoag Indians and is now known as Aquinnah.
I had heard there was a new Native American Cultrual Center at Aquinnah and had been looking forward to so seeing it. It was not open. We had missed it by one day, as its summer schedule runs only from Wednesday through Sunday. I had been interested in meeting some Wampanoag and learning about their culture because Tastego, the Native American harpooner in Moby-Dick, is from Gay Head. Ishmael in chapter 27 describes Tashtego’s homeland as “the most westerly promontory of Martha’s Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers.”
Not seeing the Cultural Center was somewhat made up for by meeting Lily, the young woman who tended the second level of the internal stairway that ascends the lighthouse. She has just graduated from high school and is gong to Emerson College in Boston in the fall to study film. She reminded me very much of some fo the young Makah Indians I had met on the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington in July 2008, excited about preparing to enter the larger national culture but somewhat apprehensive about leaving, at least temporarily, her family and birth culture behind.
One thing Lily will probably not find at Emerson College are restroom doors like those provided for visitors to the Cultural Center at Gay Head: bright pink for the women, solid blue for men. Nor is she likely to encounter a trio of pink whale heads like those I saw when waiting for the bus at Edgartown.
As soon as we got off the bus, Vanessa and I found a shop owner who generously allowed us to stow our gear in a corner of her shop so we would not have to lug it over to the lighthouse. The promontory near the lighthouse provides a beautiful view of the the famous chalk cliffs below (though anyone who has walked the beach says what we saw is nothing like what you can see from down there).
Before we entered the lighthouse itself, I was fascinated by a parabolic curve cutting across its round brick face. The guy at the door who collected the $5 for us to enter explained that a violent storm years ago had cut a cable loose, causing whatever it was attached to to carve a unique branding on the tower. The storm had made the swinging cable a loose-fish, and a fast-fish, too.
Up in the tower it was great to think that tomorrow we will probably be able to see this lighthouse from out in Vineyard Sound before the Morgan turns in toward New Bedford. The cut glass in the lighthouse mirror was remarkably intricate and fine. But most remarkable was the heat of the rotating lamp as it fell on each of us in turn every few seconds, alternating between red and gold (the colors J. M. W. Turner utilized for his most magnificent sunsets when not depicting the wreckage of ships that had not been saved at such famous English lighhouses as Eddystone, Lowestoffe, and Land’s End). I especially liked the red light as it passed over Vanessa’s fair complexion. I hope the photos come out ok.
I wonder, would this lighthouse work like an actual enclosed tanning booth if one stood before the revolving light long enough?