The sleeping tower


Heceta Head Lighthouse

The first part of the journey to Heceta Head Lighthouse is a short plunge into the crook of the Devil’s Elbow. Once upon a time, the coastal alcove was a soft expanse of sand. There’s a black-and-white photo in the lighthouse’s archives of a group of bonnet-clad children huddling against the wind on the flat, swooping shore. Nowadays the Devil’s Elbow lives up to its name. The sand is encrusted with rocky grey scales and the surrounding cliffs bend to form a craggy, muscular plateau on the beach’s north end.

It’s hardly a spot to sunbathe, but it’s about as good a place as any to park your beach blanket on the tempestuous Oregon coast. The real draw is that tower on the hill, which gives a hopeful, blinding glint every ten seconds. Except today.

It was only after we’d mounted the first uphill swoop of the trail that we could clearly see the cage of scaffolding. My heart gave a leap. You may not have caught on, but I like scaffolding.


Well, I liked scaffolding. Now that I’ve witnessed this pillar of spindly perfection, it’s a full-on love affair. I get overwhelmed when I try to explain this fascination. I think it’s sort of like ruin porn, or the Flamboyant Gothic style. You either get it or you think it’s deeply weird.

A group of Parks and Rec folks was outside the lighthouse, surveying the start of the renovation. One of the ladies told us that this is only the second time the 1894 tower has had to shut off its light.

That’s when I noticed the enormous sheet draped over the 2-ton lens. It looked like a giant white eyelid that had come fluttering down, giving the great stolid creature a rest after countless years of staring out at the world.

I remember taking a tour of the lighthouse when I was little. The guide let us climb a little ladder and poke our heads into the middle of the glass turbine. It’s like looking at blank stained glass- not particularly interesting unless you’re an eleven-year-old- but imagine if each pane projected a different scene in the lighthouse’s life. I’m certain I’d glimpse more than one child sitting atop the tower and dangling his feet over the edge. That’s where I would be.


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