When I think solitary I think lighthouse. Where they occur, they are often the only building in the landscape, a solitary beacon – the last line of warning for shipping traffic to avoid coming to grief on coastal rocks and reefs. Historically the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families were very isolated and they spent a lot of time alone with the elements and the routines of the lighthouse . The somewhat-harrowing film ‘South Solitary’ particularly reminded me of the loneliness of lighthouse living ‘back in the day’. A solitary existence was one that some embraced, but it was one that often attracted eccentric people – those fleeing families, awkward social situations or secrets.
I’ve always found something magnetic about lighthouses, whether it’s their unexpectedness in an otherwise natural landscape, or their proud bearing and gleaming paintwork and glass. From books like the children’s tale, The lighthouse keeper’s lunch to the lighthouse in Enid Blyton’s Five go to Demon’s Rocks to Virginia Woolf’s To the lighthouse – there is a fascination and mystique around lighthouses. In the TV series Road to Avonlea, lonely Gus Pike lives in a lighthouse for a while (apparently the real Sea Cow Head light on Prince Edward Island, Canada, was used for the exterior shots). The light station on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island at Cape du Couedic was constructed 1906 -1909 and manned by Keepers and their assistants until 1957. Due to the isolation, up until the 1940’s, apparently supplies only arrived once every 3 months and both supplies and people had to be transported up the cliff from a wharf via a flying fox! These days many lighthouse keepers’ cottages are let out to holiday makers and I’ve always thought the solitude might make them a good place to go to write a novel.
I believe times of solitude give the opportunity for reflection and withdrawing from the bustle of life for a short time can sharpen your clarity of mind, especially when you need to make serious decisions and are weighing things up. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to retreat to the solitude of an actual lighthouse to make decisions, but many of us find a lighthouse place to withdraw to – whether it’s the toilet cubicle that’s the only place you can find sanity and privacy in your house, or whether you have another room or place you go, I believe lighthouse time enables us to return to the world renewed in our sense of purpose and at greater peace with ourselves and our decisions.