If I have a native place, it is the Mahoning Valley, where the Pennsylvania counties of Carbon and Schuylkill come together. It was a lovely place, and a place that did much to shape my soul. I left it in the early 1990s, soon after I had finished "Smokestacks and Black Diamonds", a history of Carbon County which had taken a great deal out of my health and stamina.
What was worse, by that time "development" had arrived. It wiped away much of the eastern end of the valley, including my family's house and the roads on which I had walked for many years. Embittered and sick, seeing old vistas disappear, I could not even walk away from the commercial carnage. It was literally not safe to step outside the door, and everything that was human sized and good to look at was disappearing fast. Instead, there arose shopping centers, industries, an airport, and all the the other trappings of "progress."
Angry, I wrote a small memoir called "Mahoning: Memories of a Lost Valley". It contained a lot of errors, since I had only my childhood memories to go on, and no way to research the details. But a lot of people took it for what it was, a tribute to a lovely place, and appreciated it.
I thought that was it, that I would never be back, that there would very shortly be nothing to come back to.
But on July 10 I WAS back, all the same. I had come with a friend to the Anthracite Festival at Lansford, and had suggested that we come up Route 309, turn right at Route 443, and come in the back door of the Valley, so to speak. And all the way up 309, the old-line highway that crosses the Blue Mountain a few miles west of the Lehigh Gap, I was both tense and exhilarated. The road was pleasantly lined with old-style commerce--produce stands, family restaurants, and the like--and beyond that was something I liked even better: great fields of corn and wheat, framed by woods in the distance, and the tall, imposing rock cliffs and forest of the Blue Mountain that loomed ahead.
All these things I found to be reassuring signs that at least remnants of my old, familiar world still existed. But I tensed at the thought. This was here; this was now. What mattered was the answer to this question:
What would I find on the other side of the mountain?
Then we were coming down that other side, gliding past the intersection to Route 895, and soon toward the intersection with Route 443, the "Main Street" of my home neighborhood.
I looked to my right; and, behold--Here was Paradise!
Here, the same sort of ribbons of dark green corn and golden wheat undulated across the hillsides, framed by forests atop the ridges; but there was less commerce than there had been on 309. I had walked this part of this highway decades ago--ridden on it, too. The years had passed, but the old vista seemed almost unchanged. Across the valley were scattered red barns and white farmhouses; and soon we could see the rosy, pink, Bavarian-looking St. Peter's Union Church off to our left.
Life is short. It behooves us, I think, to spend as much of our time as possible in such lovely, heart-lifting landscapes.
I hope I can come back for a visit soon.