Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On the Road: Central Pennsylvania

We just got back from a five-day trip to central Pennsylvania. As noted in a previous post, my family has a cabin in the State College area. Our cabin is part of a summer community which we refer to as The Tree Farm. It's not the sort of Tree Farm that sells Christmas trees. While there is an occasional harvest, the "Tree Farm" is mostly a tax designation.

At any rate, my family has been taking vacations at the Tree Farm every summer since I was seven years old. I've managed to make it almost every year since myself and it has been, without a doubt, a very important part of my life. The land has belonged to one family since 1940 and they've invited numerous friends to join them at their summer retreat over the decades. A few, including us, have built their own cabins. Our connection is that the original owners' daughter was my mother's roommate in college.

Ours is a very modest cabin - electricity and running water but no flush toilet. We use an outhouse instead. Through years of college and young adult wanderings, the cabin at the Tree Farm was the constant in my life. I have invited many friends over the years, including a group of guys in high school who made it back every year in one configuration or another for, I think, 14 summers in a row. But just as important to me is the other families who return every year. It is a community which has nurtured me both spiritually and intellectually for most of my life. I consider them to be part of my extended family.

Luckily for me, My Wife has always loved it, too. We were married there in a Quaker-style ceremony nine years ago this summer. I think of it as a truly magical place and the fact that we now live on the edge of a Vermont forest is not merely coincidental to the fact that I grew up loving the Pennsylvania woodlands.

As with so many things, my feelings towards the place have evolved over the years. I find myself in a funny relationship with it right now. It's a pretty good distance from where we live - we made it back in under 11 hours today, with stops for meals. So, with a day's travel each way, it's not a simple matter of popping up for a weekend on the spur of the moment. Also, I have to admit that now that I live in the woods, a vacation in the woods is not such a draw in and of itself. At our house in Vermont, we have not only flush toilets but also satellite television and DSL. Generally speaking, summer weather in Vermont is also superior.

Nonetheless, I find that it's very important to me to maintain a connection to the place, not only for the many people with whom it links me, but for the land itself. There's a meadow in front of the main cabin which might be my favorite spot in the whole world. I have spent many hours of my life there staring up into the stars and/or singing with my friends. I've done some of my best thinking out there. It's where we pitched the tent for the wedding reception.

Of course, now the fun is in sharing the place with our daughter. She experienced the sauna for the first time this year along with her first night swim in the pool. I learned to play ping-pong at the Tree Farm and as soon as she's tall enough, I intend to teach her as well. Otherwise, it's just a lovely place to relax with a book or a board game or take a walk in the woods. I hope she will learn to love it as I have.

Follow Up: Pennsylvania Sports

As I wrote earlier in the year, I can usually judge the relative popularity of Pennsylvania's sports teams by the availability of paraphernalia in State College stores. So, the verdict this year...

Wegman's: All Penn State football. Baseball? NFL? Never heard of 'em.

Target: Philadelphia wins this year. All Phillies. All Eagles. I guess the Steelers' off-season troubles haven't helped them in the product licensing market.

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