Stairway to Heaven


The Bunker Hill Monument stands as an impressive edifice marking one of the significant battles of the American Revolution. In all my years visiting and living in Boston, I never made it over the Charles River to visit this historic site – until last weekend. When the skies above are so beautiful, and a breeze is dancing in from the shore, it’s good to go somewhere you’ve never been – to make a memory and mark the moment. The vantage point from Bunker Hill proved the perfect point on which to begin.

Getting there, one must cross the bridge into Charlestown, another place I’d never been. Ever since Suzie took me across Ithaca’s gorges, I’ve been a fan of bridges, simultaneously thrilled and slightly frightened of being so high above the water, like the exhilaration one might get at the top of a Ferris wheel. I stood looking out over the river as a boat passed beneath, its red-and-white-striped roof causing dizzying effects as seen through the metal slats of the bridge.

After walking all the way to get there, the prospect of climbing to the top of the monument can seem rather daunting, no matter how nice the day. There are no elevators, only a stern warning for people with medical conditions or in bad shape that the stairs are not for the faint of heart. Usually I heed those warnings (though in my case it’s mostly for laziness). This time I was impelled onward – and upward. All 294 steps upward, steps that were supposedly-helpfully marked every 25 or so, which was more depressing than encouraging, especially around Step #150 when, winded and sweating, I realized it was only the half-way mark.

Spiraling higher and higher, the dim stairway offers barely enough room for two to pass at a time. In a way, it’s a very intimate experience. There are no breather spots, no roomy demarcation points, and no lounge in which to pause and get a second wind. When you start something like this, you simply have to finish it.

At the top, a small circular room with cloudy plexiglass windows barely opened up. The claustrophobic among us, if any managed to survive the tight stairway, would have probably fainted. For me, it was enough to stop walking and try to calm my shaking legs. The wind whipped through the open top-half of the windows, a welcome bit of cool air to dry off the sweaty countenance that comes from walking up all those stairs. (Did I mention there were 294 of them?)

There, ensconced high above the city I so loved, unseen and unknown to all below, I enjoyed a private moment of revelry, a spark of secret joy. The view of Boston is indeed a good one, and it’s always nice to see one of my favorite cities from a new perspective. It was also amusing to watch other people just coming up, soaked in sweat, more winded than me, and displaying both disappointment and awe at their destination.

The way back down always seems shorter, less onerous, even if the walk up has wiped you out. Perhaps it was because I didn’t quite want to go back to earth, back to the things that needed to be done, the battles of daily living that paled to the battles of Bunker Hill. Step after step, the tower receded further into the sky, the rarified air out of grasp, the moment and the memory distant and suddenly forlorn. But the sun still shone down, the breeze still danced, and the journey continued.

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