“This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.” –Freya Stark
It’s been on my horizon for over three years now. Ever elusive, whimsical, charming, it rises over the peaked roofs of my neighborhood as if out of some other world, a fairy tale perhaps. Up until yesterday it was, in fact, just that: my fairy tower, a mystical white tower topped with a green peaked turret, the kind that Rapunzel let down her long hair from.
What made it even more magical, more unreal and other-worldly, was the fact that it used to dance enticingly over the horizon, ever-shifting, never-stable. Walking home from work it would appear out of nowhere over the treetops, from a new angle, in some new light; it seemed impossible that it stayed where it was while I moved. I’d think of Marcel Proust, who often wrote of the shifting steeples over a horizon in central France, until they became metaphors for his characters: ever-changing, never who you thought they were. I’d try to guess the purpose of my tower–Minaret? Mosque? Lookout?–but I’d never look it up. I never tried to find its base, half-believing it moved continually in its own reality, and half-content to let it be, evidence of a dream world more compelling than my every day reality.
Yesterday a gentleman approached the register and informed me that I would not have made this sale had not his bus been late. The comment gave our transaction a kind of fated appeal, as if it were meant to be. As I bagged his books, he informed me that he was taking the “66 to the 39″ a familiar bus route for me, in fact, my bus route home.
Had I ever heard of the Roxbury Water Tower, the customer wanted to know. I didn’t think so. “They’re doing some construction on it now, so it doesn’t look the same, used to be white.” Suddenly I remembered that in recent weeks my fairy tale tower had changed, had been magically transformed into a brown tower. I had imagined some evil spell had been cast; now I knew the spell was scaffolding.
The customer drew a photo-copied map out of his bag, and began to explain his trek to me. As I became more and more certain that this man was on the journey I had never dared to make, on a pilgrimage to my fairy tower, and that this was the treasure map to its elusive base, I grew more and more alarmed. Dared I look at the map? Learn the roots of this tower, the truth of this story? It seemed I had no choice. “Oh,” I said weakly, “I always wondered about that tower.”
“Yup, it’s a water tower,” the man confirmed, and informed me that were rehabilitating the tower, that they hoped to open it so that the public could go to the top to enjoy the view.
Would it have been better not to know? I wondered as I watched the man leave the bookstore to continue on his quest. According to Proust, the places we long for are never quite the same in reality; it’s the essence of their mystery, the very appeal of desire itself that we crave, and rarely find fulfillment when we journey to their base. His narrator is almost always disappointed in the destinations he has dreamed.
However, in my limited travel experience, I often find that there is joy in the journey itself, and perhaps my imagination is not quite so ardent as Proust’s: it rarely over-shoots a destination, allowing me to be quite happy at the end of a quest. It’s one thing to hold a destination as sacred, it’s another to keep it–untarnished, but un-experienced–at arm’s length, in another world. There’s something to seeing in reality something you’ve only imagined. When the Roxbury Water Tower turns white again, perhaps I will set out on a pilgrimage of my own. Who can tell what worlds I’ll spy from atop it’s turret?
Read more: fairies
, fairy land
, fairy tower
, Marcel Proust
, Roxbury water tower
, sacred journey
, The Art of Pilgrimage