How would you like to live in a lighthouse on a rocky island several miles out in the ocean? The island is so rocky, and the wind sweeps over it so fiercely, that not even a tree can find a place to grow. Wild storms dash the waves up on the rocks until they have worn great chasms in the cliffs.
No one lives on the island except the one family who keeps the lighthouse. You would have no children to play with except your own brothers and sisters. There is no schoolhouse, no store, no church—not another house but the one in which you live with your father and mother. Would it be a lonely place?
Yet, when Celia Thaxter was a little girl, she lived in just such a place as this. Her home was on one of the Isles of Shoals, a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire, one of the New England states. The lighthouse towered ninety feet above the waterline. Celia with her two younger brothers came to live here when she was five years old, and this was her home until she grew to womanhood.
But these children were not unhappy. To them the lighthouse seemed like some tall black-capped giant. They were filled with wonder when the lamps in the great tower were lighted and the red and gold lights swung round and round high up in the air.
Everything was strange and fascinating to the children. They liked to be lulled to sleep at night by the murmur of the great sea that encircled them. Sometimes for months, the waves dashed so furiously upon the rocks that no boat could land. So it was necessary to have enough food in the house to last the family until they could go to the stores on the mainland and buy more.
As there was no school on the island, Celia and her little brothers were taught by their father, who was a fine scholar. Often in the long winter evenings, he read to them from the best literature, and in this way Celia learned to love good poetry.
On warm spring days, the children played on the beach and gathered shells and wildflowers. Celia soon learned to know the name of every flower that bloomed on the island. They were her dearest friends. There was just one fern on the island, and this she tended with loving care.
Not many birds built their nests on the island, because there were no trees. But the little sandpipers built their nests on the ground. They were Celia’s playmates. They looked upon her as a friend. In one of her poems she tells about one of these birds that ran back and forth on the beach with her as she gathered driftwood for a fire (see on this page).
Celia spent many happy hours in watching the sailing vessels. The fascination of their wondrous grace and their mystery never lost its thrill for her. She seemed to absorb the beauty of her surroundings—the ever-changing colors of the sea; the soft skies overhead; the pools that were like bits of fallen rainbow; the wealth of the sea; filled with wonderful treasures—starfish, sea anemones, fairy shells, and all the interesting sea life.
Once after a storm the sun suddenly broke forth, and a rainbow seemed to stretch right out of heaven into the sea. Celia’s heart swelled almost to bursting with the glory of it, and she hid her face from the wonder. It was more than she could bear. She longed to speak the things which made life so sweet—to speak of the wind, the clouds, the birds’ flight, the sea’s murmur. The wish grew, and so it was that she became a poet, expressing all these things in word pictures so beautiful that they are like the work of an artist’s brush.
Celia married a man who was a missionary to the fishermen. Then, after a wonderful year of travel in Europe, she went to live on Appledore, another of the Shoal Islands. Here she had the most wonderful garden. Artists came to paint it, and she wrote a book about it called “My Island Garden.” Once, a great army of bugs and slugs descended upon her garden and began to eat it up. She wrote to some children who were her friends, to catch some toads for her. One day, a big box arrived, and when she opened it, there sat one toad in a box of dirt! She thought there must be a scarcity of toads on the mainland, or else it was a joke. But she carried the box out to her garden and put it down. In a few minutes little bright eyes began to poke up out of the dirt. There were ninety toads in the box! And they ate up all the bugs.
Celia Thaxter sleeps now on lonely Appledore, with the music of the waves always sounding over her grave. But the music of her poems about the sandpipers and the sea still lives to charm us with their beauty. As we read them, let us think of the little girl who lived in the lighthouse long ago.
Goals, True Education Series, Book 5, ©1933, 34–37
Across the lonely beach we flit,
One little sandpiper and I;
And fast I gather, bit by bit,
The scattered driftwood, bleached and dry.
The wild waves reach their hands for it;
The wild wind raves, the tide runs high,
And up and down the beach we flit—
One little sandpiper and I.
I watch him as he skims along
Uttering his sweet and mournful cry;
He starts not at my fitful song
Nor flash of fluttering drapery.
He has no thought of any wrong;
He scans me with a fearless eye;
Stanch friends are we, well tried and strong.
The little sandpiper and I.
Comrade, where wilt thou be tonight
When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
I do not fear for thee, though wroth
The tempest rushes through the sky;
For are we not God’s children both,
Thou, little sandpiper, and I.