I have a love/hate relationship with Pennsylvania. I’ve lived here now over half my life, but I refuse to consider myself from the area. Ask me where I’m from and I’ll most likely tell you New York, though that’s really not full disclosure. While I was, in fact, born in New York City and lived there several years in my early 20s, I’ve never rooted in a particular place long enough to call it home. My formative years were spent moving every year or two, creating an internal wanderlust that’s never really gone away, despite my half-hearted attempts to stuff it in a box when it surfaces and stick in the far recesses of my consciousness.
For the past 23 years I’ve lived in the bubble that is State College—a small college town whose biggest claim to fame is the main campus of Penn State and, by proxy, the second largest college football stadium in the nation. A collegiate drinking town with a football problem, the town doubles in size every fall when 40,000 college students descend on the area for fall semester, and the town hunkers down in survival mode. Like clockwork, early May sees the mass exodus of students as they travel back home for the summer and the town breathes an audible sigh of relief. For three months, the locals enjoy their town until time comes once again to relinquish control to the incoming swarm for another academic year.
Living in an area of this nature tends to create a jaded outlook (I offer myself as prime evidence of such an attitude). I don’t seem to do well in a small town; I get itchy to travel. Often. Anywhere. I like the bigger, more urban environments. Okay, maybe like New York City. Okay, definitely like New York City. I miss living in a city; I miss, oddly enough, the subway system often present in this type of environment. It is a symbol of mobility to me, just as the corner bodegas allow me to pick up a six-pack or fresh fruit at 3am on my way home from a night out. I know that sounds strange; so be it. I’m not here to justify my oddities, merely point out that everything I like about a city doesn’t really exist in the town in which I currently reside. I cannot wait to leave.
And yet, Pennsylvania has been good to me, even if I can’t see it all the time. It gave me a man I love and intend to grow old with, and it offered an environment where we could raise a family and give our kids an amazing educational head start in their lives. It provided a haven where, if my husband had to work as a cop, he was relatively safe from gunshot—if not drunken idiot students. A workable tradeoff. My children have grown up with morales, ethics, brains, a bit of common sense and some semblance of manners, despite the ongoing struggle to fight the air of entitlement that a town full of academic professors tends to create. By the very nature of the beast, kids will soon move on to new phases of their lives, and my job here will be done and I will be free.
But until then, my traveling heart yearns to be elsewhere.
Occasionally I go to western New York and each time I begrudgingly return to Pennsyltucky, I think again of all the other places I’d rather be. And that seems to be when the Universe steps in. I always forget Google likes to map out my return using a small rural roadway as a connector between Hwy. 15 and Rte. 220—the four-lane highways I strongly prefer to get me from point A to point B. At night this back road feels like Deliverance country, but during the day there is light and green and wildlife and natural beauty, and it is then I remember that Pennsylvania can be truly beautiful. While I continue to resist calling these changes in elevation mountains, I will admit there is an amazing sense of beauty and creation in the sculpted terrain. Sweeping vistas of green, random rock outcroppings jutting from cliffs, waterfalls cascading down rock faces, dropping to natural creeks bubbling along the back roads. After 23 years of traveling to northern tier country to visit in laws, I always experience a calm descend over me when I’m in this backwoods country, navigating through the twists and turns of back roads, logging trucks, construction (always with the construction, Pennsylvania, what is with that???) under the cool green canopy of trees. That is when I fall in love with Pennsylvania again and see it through the eyes of the multitudes of hikers, campers, and sportsmen. The quiet makes me quiet, makes me think, makes me take the time to really see my surroundings. It resets my jaded frustration with small towns and reminds me there are good people, good friends, and beauty in this Commonwealth. Even if I don’t actually want to be here. Even if I refuse to admit that, at this point, I’ve been molded into the very type of “locals” I’ve grown to discount and dismiss. But the saving grace is the very essence of what Pennsylvania has to offer—insights into the natural beauty of the land, of shady timberlands and mountain laurel, of streams full of trout and flyfishermen, of hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and families—like mine—who enjoy the simple pleasures of exploring the great outdoors. Who enjoy connecting with that elusive personal zen that communing with nature seems to offer. At least, I know it happens to me; this is the second time I’ve been moved to pull over during a drive and sit in the beauty of my surroundings to record my thoughts into a blog post that basically writes itself.
As I finish writing this, I glance up to see a doe with her spotted fawn across the roadway, grazing in the wood line. We both keep a wary eye on the other, but neither of us are inclined to deviate from our chosen activities. We simply co-exist in our surroundings, enjoying the quiet of being. I smile at the fact that it is this intimate moment in nature, rather than the call of the urban hustle and bustle, that rejuvenates my appreciation for this place I refuse to call home. Yes, the irony does not escape me. Thanks, Universe.
I suppose I can stay here a bit longer. But I still refuse to call them mountains.