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Dedicated to Henry Beston's literary classic and the
spirit of life on the Great Outer Beach of Cape Cod

Highland Light in Truro, Mass. -- a place where cell phones and
their shrieking rings just don't belong. (Photo by Don Wilding)

Babylon makes a call at historic Highland

There aren't all that many figures of "olde Cape Cod" remaining these days, as the modern world, or "Babylon," as many in the literary world refer to it, has begun to slowly engulf the area that Thoreau called "a wild, rank place," during his famous hikes on the Great Outer Beach during the mid-1800s.

One of those reminders of "olde Cape Cod" is Highland Light in Truro, the oldest light house on Cape Cod and a treasure chest for New England historians.

During his stay here a century and a half ago, Thoreau noted in his book "Cape Cod" that "a man may stand here and put all of America behind him." Several decades later, another budding author named Henry Beston also came here as a guest of lightkeepers George and Mary Smith. "Instead of going to sleep under the eaves, I would lie awake, looking out of a window to the great spokes of light revolving as solemnly as a part of the universe," wrote the man who would go on to pen the classic Cape Cod literary masterpiece "The Outermost House."

Don by the Sea
By Don Wilding

Yet, nothing is sacred these days, and the painful reality of that hit me harder than a potent winter nor'easter during a recent visit to the historic Truro lighthouse.

I had paid visits to the site before, but never entered any of the buildings. This was due to the fact that it was off-season, or that I had only a few minutes to take in the scenery here before hurrying off to return home, which is over 100 miles away. This time, I made up my mind to visit the museum and then take the tour up into the inner confines of the lighthouse.

About a dozen or so of us had lined up at the lighthouse entrance for the tour, and after a brief history lesson, were guided up to the very top. There is was -- Provincetown could be seen through the haze just to the northwest, and another marker facing the wide open Atlantic indicated that Portugal was some 5,000 miles away to the east.

The spiraling light, now electric, still moved about. The lighthouse was no longer the saviour for ships at sea that it was once was, but still a critical part of the Outer Cape landscape.

As our guide filled us in on more history and answered questions, the modern world made its usual rude interruption to any resemblance of the simple life that once existed here.

"Riiiiiiiinnnng!! Riiiiiiiiinnnnnng!!"

A middle-aged man, clad in typical tourist garb, reached for his pocket.

"Hello? Oh, yeah -- we're at the lighthouse. You should see the golf course here. One of the oldest in America. Blah, blah, blah ..."

It was the curse of the cell phone. It's bad enough to hear that annoying shriek of its ring when you're waiting in line at the supermarket ... sitting in the stands at a baseball game ... waiting patiently to be the next patient at the doctor's office ... or just about ANYWHERE these days, for that matter.

But HERE? At Highland Light? One of the few reminders of "olde Cape Cod?" That seemed downright sacriligious, in the eyes of this Cape Cod nature literature enthusiast.

No one said anything after his two-minute conversation, but that little modern day interruption put a huge damper on the whole experience. Could you imagine Thoreau or Beston taking a call on a cell phone in a place like this?

Reaching out on another branch of modern day "Babylon," I would think they would have a similar reaction to the guy on the Corona TV commercial -- the one who's skipping stones into the tropical lagoon while he's relaxing with his lemon-soaked Mexican brew. The pager goes off, and into the gentle surf it goes with the flat stones.

I can think of many of us who would have the same reaction.

"It is well to use the wheel but it is fatal to be bound to it," Beston wrote in "Northern Farm." We are all becoming more and more bound to modern conveniences such as cell phones, e-mail and other electronic gadgetry. They can be downright addicting, and are an awful lot like coffee, alcohol and other "pleasures" of human life -- you really can get "too much of a good thing."

Perhaps heading out to places like Highland Light for a little interaction with the natural world is the type of thing all of us could use a little more of.

But, please -- leave the cell phone at home -- or next time, I just might want to blend it with the natural world -- by throwing it into the ocean.

Filed June 25, 2000

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