I can see it from miles and miles away.
The grey granite column, seated on a square base, rises over 100 feet skyward and is topped by a bronze figure of the Angel of Peace. She faces us as we approach from downtown New Haven, extending a plea with the olive branch in her raised hand. This is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, commemorating lives lost in four major wars in American history: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War.
We are headed toward the mountainous ridge of East Rock, situated within East Rock Park. The hiking trails aren’t necessarily the most challenging nor the most well-maintained, the locals say, but you can’t ask for a better view of New Haven than from its summit. So here we are, driving up an incredibly narrow and steep, winding road. The canopy of trees gradually thins as we ascend, teasing me with the panoramic view I had been promised.
“This has to be a one-way,” I remark to my brother on the way up, “How could another car possibly fit on this road?”
“Eh, we make it work,” He tells me with all the assurance of someone who’s driven up here once before, and doesn’t bat an eye as a navy blue Hummer descends onto our path. He jerks the car to the rightmost side of the road, and the vehicles squeeze by each other with a few inches to spare. “See? Just enough room.”
I stand atop a ledge that is over 350 feet above the city of New Haven, Connecticut. The storyboard beside me highlights landmarks that are dotted amidst the greenery. I squint into the distance, sweeping my gaze rightward from the winding Quinnipiac River, to the seemingly diminutive figure of the lighthouse on the pier, to the intricate Gothic architecture of Yale University’s Harkness Tower, and to West Rock, the sister mountain ridge to East Rock.
It’s a curiously unified vision of the city. The boundaries that divide New Haven, predominantly of a socio-economical nature, meld together and disappear. It’s no longer the city known essentially for Yale, with most of the surrounding areas rendered an afterthought.The blocks of dilapidated, graffiti-embossed buildings that we passed by aren’t visible here. It’s just New Haven.
I look to my left and right. My brother stands near me, lost in thought as he stares into the distance, fingers absentmindedly running over the storyboard. A dozen feet off, several families are clustered together. Excited children hop up and down to and from the ledge, and around the pay-per-view binoculars. Beyond, a couple is seated on a picnic blanket, occupied with setting out the lunch they brought with them.
Idyllic. Wherever I may be-the top of East Rock, immersed in lively Miami, in the heart of my hometown Toronto-these are the moments I crave. This is why I travel. To throw myself into the midst of chaos and to distance myself from it. To interact with others and to fade into the background, content in silence and observation. To gain perspective and to shatter and reshape it into something new, better, more expansive. I travel to places so that I can think and believe that this is where I belong. For the moment.
Chatter and giggles from the others on the summit reach my ears and I close my eyes, savouring the tranquil moment in this little haven within a haven.