23 November 2010
Empty window panes cut out identical square patches from the day's white beginning. From this perspective, it's the only color there is. Bullet holes burn in the roof like constellations in a steely sky. The sun is arriving. Glowing. Growing.
I used to come to this fire tower when I needed that glow or when I needed to give it to someone else. It has been the subject of geology papers and love poems. It has appeared at the beginnings of friendships and marked the end of others. For me, the tower is a centering place. Up here, you're everywhere, you're nowhere. You're floating above the treetops, swaying with the wind, mediating between the pileateds and the blue jays, the sun and the treetops, the clouds and the plateau. The color orange doesn't exist anywhere but here a few breaths after sunrise.
Flocks of passerines swoop and duck like schools of fish through the air, the deer steps cautiously in the leaves, and the blue jay persists. The wind picks up and all of a sudden, you realize that you're 100 feet in the air, in a metal box peppered with bullet holes, abandoned long ago by any badge-wielding Ed Abbey imitation.
There is a line now above the crater of South Pittsburg where the sunlight has taken refuge and sequesters all the color from the rest of the sky. The wind has weakened. The blue jay now mimics a hawk, but betrays itself with a signature rasp. The day swims on.
I come up here for silence, not of the world, but of myself. I pause at the top not a thought in my head and watch. (Meditation, western imperialist-style. Find the tallest tower and climb it...)
Who gets to see so many miles otherwise, listen to the day begin, witness the orange glow and question the integrity of a creaking tower? (The wind is back with some gusto.) All of a sudden, I have a lot to think about, but none of it matters. The day grows. I watch and take note.
It is mid-November and the treetops wear hats of color but nothing else below. The poplars are yellow, the chestnut oaks and hickories, a duller version and the beeches gave up long ago and turned brown, although all of their leaves remain.
Brighter. The thin line above the horizon has spilled onto the other rim across the gap of the town. Every time the wind picks up, the creaking commences and the tower swoons like an unwieldy toddler on stilts. I watch. There is no other option but to be a sponge. A servant to sound, light, hunger.
The first time I climbed these steps, it was a September morning five years ago in the dark. I sat in this same spot, in silence, for nearly three hours. There were more railings then, less rickety boards. Or perhaps I just imagine it that way.
There is nothing to do but to be patient. Even as I try to stuff the silence with words, I realize the futility of the endeavor. The day grows around me.
I will be absent from this place tomorrow morning, but the day will unfold nonetheless, whether I play witness to its color or not. The tower may creak, but chances are no one hears it.
I go to the fire tower to learn patience and the transience of light, of sound, of life.