St. Brigid’s Cathedral dominates the quaint urban landscape of Kildare Town in central Ireland. The centuries-old stone church beckons the short walk up the hill from the village square, for a tour around Brigid’s domain. And while you’re on the grounds, you’ll be tempted to climb the adjacent tower for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding county. I assure you; the vistas are breathtaking.
A bird’s eye view from my own locale would be just as breathtaking right about now. In the last ten days, I’ve ventured beyond my driveway once, for a mundane grocery shop at the local market. For all I know, nearby Colorado Springs has been erased from the map. For all I know, all my neighbors in the surrounding county traveled to a tropical island where they’re making merry, while I’m left to keep an eye on things back here at home. Who nominated me for that job?
No kidding, the view from the tower at St. Brigid’s is spectacular. Not only do you see all of Kildare Town below, but you’ll be mesmerized by the lush green acreage of the adjacent Irish National Stud (and its countless roaming thoroughbred horses). When my wife and I visited several years ago, targeting Kildare Town to see the cathedral of her namesake saint, I figured light a few candles and say a few prayers; not climb a ten-story tower. I have a mild fear of heights so you can imagine my trepidation. And here’s the kicker: there’s no code-sanctioned, easy-to-navigate stairwell within the tower. Instead, you hand over a couple of Euros for the privilege of climbing a dozen ladders to the top. I almost called it quits after the first few rungs.
My longing to “rise above it all” today is not just inspired by the pandemic, nor even my acrophobia-be-damned adventure up the tower at St. Brigid’s. I also think about nearby Pikes Peak, the highest of the Rocky Mountains in this part of Colorado. “America’s Mountain” tops out at 14,115 feet, and I’ve hiked to the summit several times (the trail begins at 6,000 feet). You begin the journey on a series of easy switch-backing trails, which then give way to a remarkably gentle incline through a forest of Ponderosa pines. For several miles under the treetops, you have no orientation to suggest you’re even climbing a majestic mountain. But once you hit the tree line, everything upwards is a moonscape: rocks and dirt and scrub brush all the way up to the summit. The view is stunning; as if you’re looking down from space. You can see clear to Wyoming to the north and Kansas to the east.
I could use a mountain (or a ladder-filled tower) on my property right about now, just to connect with the world around me. Oh sure, rural living means the stay-at-home rules are a minor inconvenience, but it’d sure be nice to confirm someone else is out there. The local news shows human interest stories every night on TV, but c’mon, how many of us trust the media these days?
Here’s my very favorite climb-ev’ry-mountain memory. I grew up in a narrow canyon on the outskirts of Los Angeles; so narrow in fact, some stretches could only accommodate a single row of houses on one side of a winding two-lane road. Biking with the cars was taking your life in your own hands, as was scaling the canyon trails into the domains of rattlesnakes and other wildlife.
Lucky for me, a steeply rising network of paved residential streets branched off the canyon floor less than a mile south of our house. On foot, those streets became a kid’s adventure up and out of the isolation. I’d stock a daypack with cheese sandwiches, Pop-Tarts, and anything else I could pilfer from the pantry. Some days I’d go it alone; others I’d drag my brother with me. Up, up, up we’d climb, rising breathless until we could peer almost straight back down to the canyon floor below. The final stretch of the topmost street – with houses perched precariously along on its edges – afforded a view of Los Angeles and the nearby Pacific Ocean like none I’ve seen to this day. There I’d sit, munching snacks, wondering what all I was missing down there in the big city.
Today it’s the same feeling, only different. What am I missing out there in the big city? Is Wyoming still to the north and Kansas to the east? Are cadets still at the Air Force Academy, anticipating this weekend’s socially-distanced graduation ceremony? Have the majestic red rocks of Garden of the Gods finally crumbled? Truthfully, I can’t answer any of these questions, not while I’m stay-at-home. But at least I can see the summit of Pikes Peak from here. At least I’m confident St. Brigid’s Cathedral still stands in Kildare Town (Notre Dame in Paris, maybe not so much). And at least I can revisit fond memories, the kind I never thought I’d yearn for again. On that note, think I’ll make a cheese sandwich.