As a child, I recall driving across the Sonoran desert through the booming town of Blythe, California, for what seemed to be an eternity to arrive at the Happiest Place on Earth. And the best indicator of when our drive neared its completion appeared in the shape of a fake snow-covered mountain on the edge of Fantasyland. To this day, I adore the site of a tall structure off in the distance looming ahead for who knows how many miles, whether a bridge, or a monument, a geological formation, or a recreation of the Matterhorn. It’s the excitement of what’s coming that always tantalizes me.
Arched over the St. Louis skyline, the Jefferson Expansion Memorial served in this harkening capacity. Descending towards the Straits of Mackinac, Bic Mac straddles the Upper Peninsula and the bottom oven mitt of the Wolverine State, encouraging me to leave the frozen tundra behind me (see “The UP” from July 2012). Perhaps it’s the excitement of anticipation, but seeing a goal in the distance inspires me to drive onward towards my destination. And with each passing minute, the towering object grows taller and more defined along the path I am headed.
Spires and Prairies
I recall our drive through the south German state of Baden-Württemberg towards the majestic, misnamed Ulm cathedral with its massive spire. Pausing for lunch seemed almost insulting to the gothic points reaching skyward, beckoning me to climb upward, to glance down over the Danube River. When we finally began our ascent up the seven hundred sixty-eight steps to the peak, rather than railings we steady ourselves against the stone walls that took over five hundred years from foundation to finish. And in comparison, the two hundred and twenty stairs to the top of the New Jersey Veteran’s Memorial may have paled in age and height, but yet, as I drove through the New Jersey hills, I found it difficult to take my eyes off the obelisk I approached.
Across a flowing road of the eastern Wyoming prairie, Devil’s Tower looms ominously over the myriad of green rolling hills. From more than a dozen miles away, it catches my eye. From a half dozen miles away, it appears to dwarf its surroundings. From its foothills and border of fallen boulders, only the prairie dogs seem impervious to its might. Nearly circumnavigating the structure, the road creates a near circle of distance to peer out the moon roof and be blown away by its stature. For as massive as these structures appear from a distance, beckoning me forward, their height reminds me of my smallness in all the most humble ways.