The walk from The Colony to the Monomoy Light is about an hour and a half- it depends on how fast you walk, which route you take, and how much good stuff you find washed ashore along the way. It’s a pretty short distance as far as commutes go, but on the almost 1 dimensional world of Monomoy, perspective it feels like a different world.
The first differences I notice when arriving at the lighthouse is the sound- sounds in camp are mostly the squawking of the terns, flapping of canvas in the wind, zippers being opened and shut, and wind rustling the dunegrass surrounding camp. At the lighthouse, an entirely different symphony is playing: songbirds, the sighing breaths of the surf, Fowler’s toads burping at sunset, and even the ticking of a clock and the scratch of a pen on paper can be heard when the air is still. Inside the light tower, a pervasive whooshing noise of indeterminate origin is a constant, along with the eerily magnified resonant calls of birds echoing through the tower’s spiral staircase.
While the views from camp are constrained, at the lighthouse it’s possible to see a great distance from the ground, and even further once you’ve climbed the tower. While the northern end of the island is dominated by dune grass and low dunes, the southern half has extensive moors dotted with heather, bayberry, and poison ivy, as well as towering dunes over which can be glimpsed dozens of brackish ponds and marshes, perfect habitat for black ducks, the toads, numerous wading birds, and even 2 coyotes that have taken up residence at the extreme south end of the island. The tower makes an excellent observatory and lookout tower as well. “Red light, green light fog,” can be seen floating up the island in patches as rainclouds race across Nantucket Sound towards the Cape, fishing boats steaming back to Chatham from Pollock Rip, fireflies in the scrub, and besides excellent views of the stars on a clear night, we can see Chatham, Nauset, Great Point, and Brant Point lighthouses from our own defunct beacon.
The Monomoy Light ceased operation in 1923, has since been both privately and publicly owned, and for some time has been the research base for the south end of Monomoy Island. Besides the USFWS plover squad, USDA Wildlife Services and MIT’s seal research team use the lighthouse to run their operations. While it might be bare bones compared to some research stations, the lighthouse has some serious improvement over camp in the following areas: floors are made of wood, not vinylized canvas; doors have hinges instead of zippered flaps; clothes, once taken off, don’t absorb moisture from the air nearly as quickly. There’s a sink (non-potable, but running water nonetheless!), a refrigerator, and a composting toilet, which makes the lighthouse the most sophisticated building for many miles around. It’s scheduled for interior restoration later this summer, so drywall and building materials are stacked throughout the building, but in its current state I think it’s got plenty of rustic charm already.
Lighthouse dinners are by far one of the best parts about visiting. Meals are something different every time- So far we’ve had striper, squash, polenta and garlic scapes, sweet potato and kidney bean kale salad, quahogs, plenty of pasta (courtesy MIT’s seal researchers’ leftover bin), pancakes, couscous and canned fish curry, and of course, gallons of tea. In a world of mostly shelf stable foods, any fresh vegetables or seafood are a welcome addition to any meal, and getting creative with packets of seasoning, adventurous boil-in-bag food combinations, or cobbling together things that go well with the crackers, pasta, and craisins left behind by MIT are all highly praised skills.
Post-dinner is a great time to read in the tower, watch the sunset, and later on the stars. Sleeping at the lighthouse is a relaxing change from camp- it’s quiet, and your clothes aren’t moister when you wake up than when you went to sleep- and the morning walk back to The Colony is an hour of peaceful reflection and preparation for the rest of the day.