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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Photographing Martha's Vineyard's Five Lighthouses (Sort Of)

Edgartown Light Before Dawn

After being home from our trip to Alaska for just a week and one-half, it was a bit disorienting for us and more disorienting for our dog Nellie, to head off for a week on Martha's Vineyard. It is
Abigail and Grayson, Menemsha Sunset
always hectic returning from a long trip and when friends offered to let us use their lovely house on the island, it was the perfect opportunity to decompress from our exciting, but intensely active exploration of the northwest. The weather could not have been more different. Martha's Vineyard can be spectacular in the autumn and, with the exception of one day of overcast and scattered showers, we enjoyed warm, bright days without the pesky bugs, and more importantly, the hordes of pesky tourists that infest the islands in the summer. It was especially nice that we were able to share our time on the Vineyard with our daughter Abigail and here boyfriend Grayson.

Of course, my focus could not be solely on relaxation. I had to plan how I would take advantage of the photographic opportunities of this special place. There were many visual themes that I could explore, the quaint harbors and often overly touristy villages, the beaches and interesting pine and oak forests.  I explored all of these,  decided to focus on the island's lighthouses.

The Five Lighthouses

Martha's Vineyard has five lighthouses guarding its shores and, in
our short time on the island, I decided to try to explore all of them. I discovered that each location posed its own challenges and opportunities, but in different ways, I bagged them all, sort of. Taken together the lighthouses represent an enduring monument to the regions nautical heritage. Before the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sounds saw some of the heaviest shipping traffic in the world, second only to the English Channel. The Vineyard lighthouses were critically important for the safe navigation this difficult passage.

East Chop Lighthouse

I decided to start my exploration with a sunrise visit to the East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs. The lighthouse was built on a bluff above Vineyard Sound on the location of an early "telegraph" site. "Telegraph Hill" is the highest spot on the island and from there, beginning in 1828, signals about the comings and goings of ships were transmitted by flags to the mainland. The lighthouse is now the center of a small park with benches overlooking the ocean. On my visit the real attraction was the continuously changing sky as it was illuminated by the rising sun. The challenge was to expose sufficiently to the right to keep good detail in the silhouetted lighthouse while avoiding blowing out the dramatic sky. 

East Chop at Dawn

West Chop Lighthouse

 West Chop Lighthouse
West Chop Light was built in 1817. In 1838 the original wooden structure was replaced by he current iron tower and since it has been withdrawn twice from the eroding cliff. Currently the keepers house is used by the Coast Guard. We reached the light in the evening when only touch of warm light illuminated the lights upper reaches.  During our return trip to Woods Hole I was able to catch a distant view of the light from Vineyard Sound.
West Chop from Vineyard Sound

Edgartown Lighthouse We first visited the Edgartown Light at the time of the 12th Annual Ceremony of Remembrance. The lighthouse pedestal is studded with over 600 engraved cobblestones each commemorating a child who died too young. Each year the Martha's Vineyard Museum sponsors a remembrance for those who were lost and their families. It was a moving gathering, but not the best time to capture a clean view of the
Edgartown Light
lighthouse. I returned for sunrise on the last day of our trip and found wonderful light, starting with the predawn blue hour, proceeding through the brilliant sunrise and ending with the golden light dancing on the lighthouse and harbor. It was another glorious crisp and clear autumn morning.

Morning Light
Dawn Edgartown Light

Gay Head Lighthouse
Gay Head Light sits at the far Southwestern end of the island above the constantly eroding clay cliffs. In a couple of years the
lighthouse is scheduled to be moved back from the advancing precipice.  The cliffs are known for their bright colors and are protected from disturbance by state law. A dramatic view of the lighthouse and cliffs is available from the visitors area, south of the path to the tower, but you must pass a gauntlet of honky-tonk to reach the promontory. My goal was to get to the lighthouse around sunset. We were late on our first try at least partially because of the distraction of spectacular light across Nashaquitsa Pond near Menemsha. I was still able to catch a little soft evening light. On a
Nashaquitsa Pond Sunset
second trip we caught the warm light before the sun dipped below the horizon, but decided to get a different angle on the sunset from the entrance to Menemsha Harbor. I knew that I could catch the sunset behind the breakwater and was joined by a crowd enjoying the golden light and cool crisp air. After the sun disappeared the spectators broke into applause, much like you would expect following the grand finale of a fireworks show. We lingered for the dramatic after sunset, "blue hour" sky and then ambled to Menemsha's Homeport Restaurant for a late dinner.
Mily Way, Menemsha
Leaving the restaurant, I was hoping to find a clear view of the
night sky with minimal light pollution. Sadly the next day's coastal storm was edging in from the south, but I did get a nice glimpse of the Milky Way above the advancing cloud bank. Since it seemed to point to the celestial ribbon, I decided to leave the wide angle key stoning in the pier and boats. Not bad but I was still looking for better conditions after the storm.  I found a wonderfully clear sky on the last evening and captured the Milky Way without any significant light pollution over Edgartown's Katama Bay.

Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah
Sunset Menemsha Harbor

Gay Head Cliffs, 1957

Fading Glory
As a child, I remember the cliffs of Gay Head being much more brilliantly colored.  I found this image of the Cliffs from my parents boat, 57 years ago.  It's a scan of an old Kodachrome slide, but, with reasonable color correction, the difference seems clear.  Perhaps the effects of decades of acid rain?

Cape Poge Lighthouse
Ok, let's talk about Cape Poge  Lighthouse.  Cape Poge Light is located at the eastern extreme of Martha's Vineyard, actually on
Cape Poge Lighthouse (I'm Counting It!)
isolated island of Chapaquiddick. The current wooden tower was built in 1928 and is the is the most recent of five lighthouses located on this wind and sea battered site. Four previous lights, beginning in 1801, were all claimed by the sea. Cape Poge light is by far the most isolated on the island. To get there you must take the ferry from Edgartown to Chapaquiddick and then drive miles over deeply rutted sand roads. Only high slung four wheel drives are likely to avoid being stranded on the isolated road. Did I allow all of this to prevent me from completing my set of five lighthouses. Damn right! The sensible way to get to the lighthouse is on a tour run by the Trustees of Reservations, but sadly I couldn't fit that into our limited schedule. Happily I came up with a thoroughly lame work-around. As it turns out the Cape Poge Lighthouse is vaguely visible from the top of the Edgartown Light. It was about seven miles away, but by zooming in I was able to place a grainy check mark on my list of lighthouses. IT COUNTS!

Katama Bay

I'm a sucker for lighthouses and it was exciting to have the chance to explore five (sort of) new ones in such a concentrated period of time.  Of course we enjoyed all of the island's attractions and had a wonderfully relaxing time.  And I only have 800 images to get through instead of the nearly 5000 from Alaska!  Now back to work.

You can browse more of  my Vineyard Images on my
Martha's Vineyard Gallery

South Beach Surf

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