I can trace the way back to my birthplace over the worn asphalt roads with my eyes closed. Finding my way through the stretch of Pennsylvania that separates me from there is a second nature, like breathing or sleeping, now in my 24th year. I inhale the warm air pushing through wide open car windows, blink against the sunlight and listen to the groaning hum of my car’s engine in it’s impaired state, later to be found out as a misfiring 3rd cylinder. The language of traveling here is laden with numbers and sharp turns in small towns; the long left off of 309 to 54, the sharp right off of 54 to 61, the steep hill where 42 begins it’s long journey over the Blue Ridge and down into Catawissa. This is what I love, what I am, who I am, what I look for in other places around the country as beauty, as home.
I have said this time and time again but the landscape of central Pennsylvania is who I am. My heart is the rise and fall of the smooth Appalachian mountains, my veins the neglected back roads, my skin the fields. I cannot talk of myself without speaking, conflicted, about this place.
Yet, when I am here, I am an outsider, a foreigner. I know better than to think, to pretend that I belong here. I see the short comings of small-town life and the darkness of my personal history stings like a fresh cut. The memories of growing up here rise out of the back of the mind without much evocation; the corner at 8th and Orange, the building where I went to elementary and middle school, the long hill up to the development I played in. They are there, thick and real and vivid and living. I could not live among those ghosts, those formative years as a person in the present.
So, I visit. I drive down Market Street in Sunbury and stop at the local hippie shop for moccasins, visit my grandmother on Orange Street in Northumberland for conversation, meander around the life I lived here in my Volkswagen and head out to Amy’s house for laughter, beer, food, and dusk.
Dusk at Amy’s, my aunt, has the type of long light that I have trouble finding where I live now. The shadows get long and parody the objects that they are and the light turns purple and flat as the sun disappears slowly over edge of the soy bean field. Here, in the garage or the warm kitchen or the softly lit living room, I like to watch the sun’s light diminish and listen to the sounds of night come up. Here, the fireflies blink randomly in numbers than border the thousands and the quiet is expansive.