Sunday, January 3, 2010

From the mountains to the river

I must be in a time warp because it cannot be two weeks ago that I was packing to go to Pennsylvania, and it cannot be tomorrow that I will return to work. These have been the shortest two weeks of my life, and I’ve no doubt that tomorrow will be among the longest days.

We spent Christmas Eve in Howard. To get there, we headed north on Rte. 220. The new highway has spoiled some of what I loved about the area in the 1960s and 70s—and now there’s talk of a Walmart in or near Pinecroft—but the drive north has granted me a greater appreciation for the lie of the little green hills that I miss so much when I leave them.

Rte. 220 is built against the base of a mountain ridge (Brush); on the other side lies Sinking Valley, which my dad called some of the richest farmland in the state. To the left is Logan Valley, with Altoona to the south and Tyrone to the north. For me as a child, Tyrone and its pungent paper mill smell was an important milestone of the journey because it meant we were almost there—Bellwood was not too far off. And when I stood at the screen door of my aunt’s house on 1st Street, especially in the morning, the air was heavy with Tyrone’s industrial scent. When that powerful odor violated my nostrils and lungs, I knew that I was “home.”

Beyond Logan Valley is another ridge of the Central Alleghenies, another ancient wrinkle in the earth’s skin. After the trip up Rte. 220, and after passing through successive tunnels on the way to Lancaster, I, the three dimensionally impaired, have finally made the mental connection between the flat lines and shaded areas on the map and the relationships of the ridges and valleys across which the shadows of the clouds pass.

I long to walk up the ridge on a rare clear summer’s day, now that I’m old enough to appreciate the effort, the accomplishment, and the vision of forested hills cradling the vulnerable valleys and their quaint frame houses.

When I returned to Chicago, I settled for a very different sort of activity—attending the premier New Year’s Eve party at Kendall College. We arrived just in time for the salad course, which, like all of them, was very good. The service wasn’t polished to perfection, but that’s what I expected under the circumstances, and everyone was in such a good mood.

The DJ played music that I recognized (vintage), although J. could not get me to dance. I suppose I didn’t feel like shaking my booty in front of 98 well-dressed strangers. I was just relieved to get a table for two.

It was a lovely evening, with the blue moon shining on the frigid, yet restless city and the north branch of the Chicago River.

We saw only one questionable driver, and that was at around 11:00 a.m. the next morning in Hyde Park. He made a left turn at full speed and immediately swerved into the next lane at full speed when he noticed the cement median in his way.

So, happy new year—and be careful out there. Day or night.

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