Where I grew up.

In Pennsylvania, the early autumn wind carries memories. I spent years dying to get out of here, looking west. Sometimes, looking around this place and these people, I think I blew it.

Well, no. I needed to go. The west was all I could see. It blinded me to opportunities here – to people I should have gotten to know better, to dear friendships I’ve let wane.

If I’d stayed here, I’d lack the perspective I’m sitting with now, the perspective that has me shaking my head in wonder at what I didn’t see – what I couldn’t see – a decade ago.

I remember his house - the bed he made from a pine tree, a velvet quilt the colors of autumn that had warmed his family for generations.

He was the first person I knew who bought produce at a farmer’s market; who made a real effort to shop locally. He had apple cider in his refrigerator and drove an old Volvo station wagon. His dog rode shotgun.

And there he was, interested, available. I remember a night hike in Shingletown Gap, feeling overwhelmed and young, feeling like he saw through me. I knew he was good – a man to get to know, to fall in love with. We walked carefully up the gap, negotiating the tree roots and rocks and making small talk. I was embarrassed to talk about my classes and homework because he was so much older than I; he was done with that. Even so, I could easily imagine what it might look like to be with him – studying on his sofa, making dinner together, walking to Zeno’s, listening to live music.

It’s past midnight, and I’m sitting on the sofa in my parents’ den. The backyard is dark and I’m cringing at my reflection in the French doors, remembering being 19, trying to date someone in his early thirties. I tried to act nonchalant when I called him from my dorm room.

I knew it wasn’t something I could do. It wasn’t fair – he was too kind and too together - but I knew I’d always adore him, because he was so worthy of it.

Recently, exchanging emails with a friend, trying to describe my attachment to this area, I said, “It’s part of me; it’s safe. It curves into hills and valleys; it protects itself.”

And he, who lives in our college town, said, “The mountains in this part of the country are so much older than the western mountains. I think this is why we connect with them much differently. It is kind of like a grandfather or grandmother.”

And suddenly it made sense, why I love this place like I can't love the west. I return to Pennsylvania to visit my family and spend five hours talking over a bottle of homemade wine, and I return because these mountains have known me from the beginning. They’ve seen me grow up and change course a thousand times. They’ve seen me leave, and they’re still here, standing sentinel, at my return.


Cindy said...

Ah, Zeno's. It's been a while since I darkened that doorstep! And I used to eat lunch upstairs at the Allen Room once a week--as a guest of the elderly professor I worked for. For a poor grad. student, it seemed like such luxury.

Lucky you to have a place to return to like that, and smart you for realizing it.

Erin said...

I grew up in the Appalachians and HAD to move west, too. I often feel the same way about coming back. It will always be home in the sense that certain tree smells and especially the way the light falls during special late-afternoon moments as autumn nears, takes me right back and I long to visit again.

Kate T-C said...

Oh, this post almost made me cry. Very honest and very poetic. I think you've really touched on some truth here.

And it's ok if you're another Kate or Katie. I'll happily share a name with someone who loves mountains and men so deeply. :)

SteveO said...

Did you have a white Cannondale? Was the older man named Larry F.? I saw your name in connection with climbing in PA and was trying to make the connection? How many parties did you attend on Cherry Lane?