I just bit into the first Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar I’ve eaten in years, and was at once at home in Pennsylvania, in Shingletown Gap, at the cabin maintained by Penn State’s Outing Club, on a rainy Saturday, surrounded by a dozen friends.
As an instructor for the Outing Club, I went to the cabin often—to run groups through the ropes course, facilitate teambuilding activities, or just sleep on the porch in my sleeping bag. With only a primitive kitchen, a great room, and a sleeping loft, the place was neither luxurious nor, well, comfortable, but I loved it. It removed me from my thesis and deadlines and the stress of the deciding what to do after college, and planted me in the middle of impromptu music sessions, spaghetti dinners for 60, and hours-long conversations about someday plans. It was a place to feel ok about dreaming big, unconventional dreams, like moving out west and climbing all the time.
Funny how things work out.
Today, though, following my nostalgic granola bar moment, one day stood out in my mind.
It was just before Thanksgiving, cold and drizzly. Ben, Bethany and I drove to the cabin and left Ben’s old Cavalier in the driveway. After stashing his key under the rock on the porch, we started jogging up the road toward the trail. For almost three hours we ran the ridges and valleys around State College, our four-year home. The only time we knew exactly where we were was at the trailhead. The rest of the time, we just explored. We chose our direction by feel, content to observe and wander. We were in tune and unafraid, despite carrying no food, no water, and being (at times) completely lost.
We stumbled soaked and exhausted into India Pavilion right before it closed. The proprietors, who had come to know us after years of weekly feasts, fed us anyway, refilling our tall glasses of chai and knowing, without asking, how spicy each of us liked our daal.
A week from now I’ll be back there, enjoying the rolling hills, the long early-evening light, the sweetgrass and wild onion on the air.
This morning, as Brad and I walked the dogs, I exclaimed, “I’m so excited to go home!”
“Well good,” he responded, nodding in the direction of our house. “You’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Yes,” I missed his meaning, “It feels really soon. I have a lot to do before….oh. Right. THIS is my home. I get it.”
And I do get it. I know that the house I share with Brad, in Utah, is my home. He and the boys make me feel safe and happy. Content. Comfortable. And that, more than anything else, is home.
Still, though, there’s nothing like State College in autumn (except, of course, State College in spring and summer), and I cannot wait to see it, to breathe it in, to smell that homey scent of foliage and woodsmoke and grass and leaves, and to stand in Shingletown Gap and remember eating granola bars and running like a maniac and dreaming without fear.