Bring on Summer
For the manic modern craving a break from the 21st century…
Escaping to a Lighthouse
By Janelle Nanos
There are times in life when you need a lighthouse.
For nearly 200 years, the curved finger stretching out from the arm of Cape Cod has worn a glimmering ring in the form of Provincetown’s Race Point Lighthouse. Since 1816, it has flashed its beacon across the water to steer sailors away from the violent crosscurrents that drag ships inward, shattering them as they approach the shore. Over time, an outcropping of buildings was erected to support its efforts: A keeper’s house went up in 1840, and a brick “whistle house” was built in 1888. Only a few families have lived in the keeper’s quarters since they were built, and today, it’s a 45-minute hike to get out to the light, the same path that the keeper’s children used to walk daily to get to school.
I’d done the hike myself a few years prior. It was a chilly early-spring afternoon—jeans-and-fleece weather—when I encountered a park ranger working at the site. As he took us through the buildings, he explained that the lighthouse is run by a group of volunteers. Guests can rent rooms in the keeper’s house by the night or the whistle house by the night or week, provided they’re willing to bring in all of their own food and water and are fine with sharing a bit of living space. (The keeper’s house has a communal kitchen and shared living areas and bathrooms.) As I peered into the rooms, with their pastel quilts and smooth, well-worn wooden floorboards, I imagined returning to feel the salty summer breezes.
And so it was that my husband and I packed up our Jeep and found ourselves rambling through the dunes toward the lighthouse. We’d picked up an over-sand beach pass at the Race Point Ranger Station, deflated our tires, and quickly learned that sand driving is akin to navigating on the moon. It’s also insanely fun, and each bump seemed to dislodge a bit of stress from my body. We each let out a whoop as we descended over a dune and the lighthouse came into view.
The keeper, Tom Miller, greeted us in the doorway of the cottage with news: Bats had visited the house the evening before, and he’d spent the better part of the day peering into crevices to ensure all was clear. The other guests seemed unfazed; their grandfather had been the last keeper to live here full time, and they were familiar with the cottage—and all of its curiosities. So I followed their lead and shrugged off the thought of nocturnal guests.
Adjusting to the rhythms of lighthouse life came easily, thanks in part to the quiet. Aside from the whir of the windmill and the occasional metallic clang of a flagpole, the stillness of the location inspired a sense of calm. Shortly after dropping off our bags, I walked down a short path through the dunes to the ocean, and spent the afternoon on a blanket, watching seals watching me as they bobbed in the waves.
The next morning, I woke early to watch the sunrise. The lighthouse’s white exterior glowed pink in the dawn, and a small family of bats flitted overhead between the eaves of the cottage.
For the next few days, we delighted in being idle. My husband skipped stones while I read one book and started another. From where we sat, we could see whales spouting just before they emerged from the waves, and we laughed as the whale-watching tours darted back and forth around the point, chasing after their photo opps with Ahab-like zeal. The tides slowly retreated, like a sheet slipping down on a bed, and exposed all the rocks that we’d skipped. So we skipped them again.
When we got hungry, we’d walk back to the house and fire up the grill. When we got bored, we’d grab the Jeep and find a new stretch of sand. And when the sun dipped lower in the water, we’d find Miller, who’d take us into the lighthouse tower to watch the sunset hide behind the whistle house. We’d watch as the sky turned pink and orange, and then wait a few minutes more until the light came on, making our faces glow like ghosts.
On our last night, Miller loaded up his truck with firewood and dug a pit in the sand. Together with our housemates, we shared stories and marshmallow-roasting sticks as we searched for constellations. Our neighbors staying at the whistle house had brought wishing lanterns, so we lit their paraffin wicks and tossed them into the breeze, watching as they took flight. For once, wish-making came easy: to return to this place once again.
EAT: Stock up on groceries, and then grab a few sandwiches (and last-minute provisions) at  Pop+Dutch (147 Commercial St., Provincetown). Don’t miss the Carolina Gentleman, which features house-made spicy pimiento cheese on toasted potato bread.
STAY: Staying at the  Race Point Light Station (Race Point Beach, Provincetown, mybnbwebsite.com/racepointlighthouse) means bringing all your provisions, including drinking water. For posher digs, book a room at the  Land’s End Inn (22 Commercial St., Provincetown, landsendinn.com), and enjoy ocean views and breakfast.
SEE: Free public tours of the Race Point Lighthouse (mybnbwebsite.com/racepointlighthouse/tours.htm) are offered on the first and third Saturdays of the month, June through October. Afterward, get your art on at the  Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), the epicenter of Cape culture (460 Commercial St., paam.org). —J.R.