Such Great Heights: Bowman’s Hill Tower
The road to Bowman’s Hill Tower is not surprisingly, an uphill, one-way winding road. Of course it is not as steep, not as long as the roads going through the California Mountains and Big Sur, but it is in its own way, just as beautiful, just as mesmerizing. Tress line both sides of the road, and still somehow the sun finds a way to creep through, causing glare on the windshield. A little nerve wracking at times when you can’t see, but overall, it makes you drive slow, take deep breaths, and really look where you are going, really take it all in.
At the top of the road is the parking lot. When I arrived a family or two was just leaving. I looked around, thinking I’d see the tower sky-lining over me, but I didn’t. It was hidden by the trees, but after a few moments I was able to see the base of the structure, and I walk towards it. The rest of the tower, which is only 125 feet tall according to the information pamphlet, didn’t lunge out at me, and while I did need to crane my neck to see the top, I had imagined something greater, something bigger, something mammoth. The tower rested peacefully against the sky. It was not menacing as maybe I had thought it might be. But it was something, it drew me in. I had read about what the view from the top is like, how magnificent it is, but didn’t really believe it. I paid the $5 admission (which I soon found out was very well worth it) and went in.
I looked for stairs, anticipating the 125 foot climb in a tiny, spiraling staircase, but instead, I found an elevator painted green, defaced with the many names of teenagers in love or saying “someone” was here. A lot of people had been there. It was a disappointment to say the least. I wanted to climb stairs, wanted to work to get to the top. But I pushed the button to go up, found more carved names inside the elevator as though this was some summer camp bunk to leave your mark in. The elevator stopped somewhere below the exact top of the tower and I found my tiny, spiraling staircase in which to climb. I smiled, thought, this is how it should be, and climbed to the top.
The base of the tower measures 24 square feet, and gets smaller as the tower reaches into the sky. There wasn’t much room to walk around, though I didn’t expect there to be. I was alone. Alone with my thoughts, with the cool breeze against my face and on a hot day that was good. Everything below looked like a child’s plaything. Houses looked as though they could be picked up and replaced somewhere, bridges in the distance (the New Hope-Lambertville bridge and the Route 202 bridge) seemed so far away, most likely miles, yet also seemed close enough to touch maybe. It wasn’t a perfectly clear day, a slight haze hanging over my view of Bucks County from the humidity. All around me I could see Bucks, New Jersey, maybe even Trenton in the distance. It was truly magnificent as I had read, and it was then that I realized I was much more than 125 feet up. I was on top of a tower on top of a hill and in total I was 380 feet above sea level.
I looked up, and there were the clouds, infinitely closer than ever, yet still unreachable. I stuck my hand up, foolishly trying to touch one because why not try to? Why not try to grab a hold of the things that amaze you, that make you gasp and fascinate you? If I could have, I would have spent the night on top of that tower, letting the humidity and breeze act as my blanket. It would have been the perfect place to sleep. Would have been even grander to see the darkness and city lights off in the distance, trying to imagine what everything looked like thousands of years ago. While a set of white safety bars had been installed to prevent anyone from falling off the tower, I felt protected, but vulnerable, dreamlike, but terrified. I don’t have a fear of heights, but for some reason this felt a little different. It wasn’t exactly fear, but perhaps an uneasiness. I walked around the top of the tower a little more, looking over Bucks County with no sense of power in the world, no sense that anything I did had any effect on the world. And maybe this was what I was feeling, why I felt so uneasy. That old saying, “but I’m only one person, what can I do?” I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, let it all go in my exhale and opened my eyes. It was all still there, but finally I saw everything for what it was, saw the quarry and Delaware River as just that: rocks and water. Trees were green and bridges were a means of crossing gaps in the land. Sometimes, we need to just see things for what they are, not think too much about them, let our eyes take in all the wonder and beauty.
Years ago I stood on top of the Arch de Triumph in Paris wondering if any Parisians ever came to this tourist spot, to look over their city wondering about all the mysteries of their city and streets and of all life. Did they ever climb to the top and look out, point out a street and say, “I’ve never been down that one before.” Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But as I stood on top of Bowman’s Hill Tower, I saw things I had never seen before, saw places I had never been to, saw roads I had never driven down before. I wondered about who lived in the houses I saw, wondered how much water was in the water tower I saw off in the distance, wondered how many cars were crossing the bridges and if anyone was fishing in the Delaware. I wondered about all the mysteries and the beauty of Bucks County. I saw the land, all of it, all at once, saw most of Bucks County, like you can see all of Paris from the Arch de Triumph. But most importantly, as I looked out over the land, all alone, I thought to myself, I am a part of all of this. This is me. This is my home.
This post was written by Scotch Road who has been living in Newtown, Bucks County for over 20 years. He was a Creative Writing and Film major at Elon University in North Carolina, and now works in the sports communications business in New York City. Currently, he is working on a set of short fiction and personal essays inspired by the Bucks County and Philadelphia areas, while maintaining his own blog about life’s daily fascinations. Follow Scotch Road on twitter.