At the Black Pearl, our family’s cottage on Gooch’s Beach, it’s the first thing I check in with when I scan the horizon in the morning and the last thing I look for before I go up to bed. It isn’t just part of my psychic geography. Catching sight of it, I feel my father right beside me, telling stories in the authoritative way he could pull off without sounding stuffy. Our family happily navigated with this lonely nautical landmark many times in our lapstrake outboard boat, White Cap, across a thousand magnetic summers.
As a literary lodestone, it inspired Kenneth Roberts to write Boon Island, his novelization of the wrecking of the British merchantman Nottingham. During the icy winter of 1710, crewmembers engaged in cringeworthy episodes of cannibalism in order to survive.
What’s the price of loneliness? During a pensive interlude years ago, I took a too-small boat out here by myself, six miles off the coast. The spire is so far beyond the pale it isn’t even painted white for tourists. It’s natural granite, the color of shadow. Mad with gulls, this inhospitable gun site was so lost in space I found no graffiti. Someone left the brass lock open, so I headed upstairs inside the swirling red brick interior. Each window landing was covered with dead songbirds in blues and greens. Had they all just got tired of migrating, unable make it home?
At the top, there’s a final door. When I opened it, a blast of air knocked me over. I didn’t dare go outside to risk a view from the decrepit iron railing that circles the light. Then vertigo set in and the lighthouse seemed to move. I flattened to my chest and grabbed for the deck to keep from being thrown off. It was my mind moving, of course, but believe me, the sensation is more real than IMAX. Slowly I pulled myself up to the rusty eye of Boon.
As a seven-year-old, I was thrilled by the gnarly part Boon’s in horror story. At 27, I took my bride to Boon in the tradition of Grand Guignol, thrilling her into my arms with its desolate vastness. Now, I’m haunted by the irony that the castaways were close enough to see the shore without being able to make contact. Think Gravity at sea level.
Some lighthouses are turned into B&Bs. If Boon entered the hospitality industry, I’d give it zero stars. Or all the stars in the world.