Cather, “TheEnchanted Bluff” (1909)

devil's tower

Devil’s Tower (c FlaglerLive)

A group of six young Sandtown boys have their own corner of river. They hang out, swim, look at the stars, dream of their future travels. “Our water had always these two moods: the one of sunny complaisance, the other of inconsolable, passionate regret.” One among them tells the story of the Enchanted Bluff, a Devils Tower-like bluff in New Mexico once inhabited by Indians, and so called “because no white man has ever been on top of it.” The tribe’s men were down below hunting when a storm blew away the stairs that led up the bluff and a war party killed the men. The village up top starved and died, “and nobody has ever been up there since.” The six boys all pledge to make it out there one day. They never do. They grow up, take jobs, die. Tip, who told the story, is waiting until his son is old enough to go with him. And now all the younger boy thinks of is the Enchanted Bluff.

It’s an unassuming story, as simple as once upon a time, but more layered in regret and allegory. It leaves the reader wistful about that enchanted bluff too, wherever it may be in our lost youths, the severing of the wood and bark steps echoing the severing between childhood and adulthood, the impossibility of innocence.

Harper’s Monthly Magazine, 118 (April 1909)

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