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The Observatory at Penobscot Narrows
by Susanna Baird

The only tower of its kind in the country. The tallest tower of its kind in the world.

I step into the elevator alone, am the most and least of everything as I rise until I stop, until I step towards thick glass to look over miles at sights the signs say I see that I can’t see through the drizzle.

With sunlight, the views might be cinematic: the river town, the granite foothills explosively disrupted to introduce the holiday road, the trees and the trees and the trees, the mountains I can’t find for the fog. The most favorite thing I can’t see is the restaurant the guard shows me used to be right down there, in that pressed dirt half circle that looks like a driveway. Can you see where it was?

There the camera people paused, ate lobster rolls for dinner, drank an extra bottle of beer, signed postcards with the waitress’s pen. But for time they are me, distinguished in this place for not being home, for driving through blasted rock, for stopping short of a bridge just shy of a town, hoping for ground clouds to scatter.

PHOTO: The Penobscot Narrows Bridge (Maine) by Demerzel21, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Penobscot Narrows Bridge is a 2,120-foot cable-stayed bridge that carries US 1/SR 3 over the Penobscot River and connects Verona Island, Maine, to the town of Prospect. The bridge is home to the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, the first bridge observation tower in the United States and the tallest public bridge observatory in the world, with a tower 420 feet high.  Located on the Maine coast, 20 miles south of Bangor, Penobscot Narrows Observatory opened to the general public in May 2007. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’m afraid of heights, and often need to tackle height-related activities alone. When my family visited this impressive tower, on a bridge spanning Maine’s Penobscot River, I waited until my husband and daughter went up and came down, then fought fear as I rode alone in the elevator. The view up top was reduced due to a fog, but I still felt grateful for having made the trip, and for that particular headspace you enter when you are apart from “real” life, when you feel deeply impressed by “only” and “tallest” in a way you don’t when enmeshed in your everyday. The best part came when the guard told me about the restaurant that wasn’t there anymore. It was a small, lovely gift, the moment that most remains with me from that experience. This summer, I am missing being a tourist farther from home, but enjoying local day trips I never before took the time to make.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susanna Baird lives in the tourist town of Salem, Massachusetts, and is fascinated by tourist headspace. She serves as administrative editor of Talking Writing and as co-chair of the Authors Committee of the Salem Literary Festival, and leads a fiction and memoir writing group. She also helps run The Clothing Connection, a small nonprofit getting clothes to Salem kids who need them. When not writing or reading, she likes hiking with her dog, napping with her cat, and goofing off with her family. Find Susanna online at susannabaird.com (check out her occasional microblog, x100!) and on Twitter @susannabaird.