Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Window Views

Am back from a family reunion in my home town in the Pennsylvania mountains.  It took 15 hours to get there via four buses and a car.  Some window shots taken, plus a few from the porch or riverbank: [Click on to enlarge]

At a cousin's house, Cheektowaga, NY, en route

At my sister's house, shadows on the Susquehanna River, early morning. 

Same river view, later morning

Evening, a little tree next door. (Reminds me of that short story by O'Henry, except O'Henry's story it was a single leaf on a brick wall.)

Early next morning again, a fog descends over the valley.  If you get out a magnifying glass you can see one little bird (to the left near the wall), on the wire.  Not many people up at that hour and the fog was much thicker and more widespread than evident here.

What you see when sitting on the front porch, looking west

What you see when sitting on the same porch, looking east.  The town is in a valley entirely surrounded by mountains.  Some people find this claustrophobic.  As a child I used to wonder what was on the other side of these mountains.  The answer is:  only more mountains!!  

A month or so ago my sister went to an estate auction and, by default, won a house located on a hill above this river.  The bidding started at $1.00.  Hers was the only bid.  She called me the next day to tell me she'd bought a house, "for $1.00!!!".  As is, sight unseen.    (It's part of a row of attached houses a few doors up from where this photo was taken.)  It has six bedrooms and a good-sized back yard.  Abandoned for five years, it's structurally sound but there's a big hole in the roof into which arrives rain--and occasionally small, furry animals.  It needs a lot of work to make it liveable--a "fixer-upper" that's going to require massive fixing up.  At first she was ecstatic. (The view!!!)  Planned to remodel the kitchen, add another bathroom downstairs, began upgrading the electricity and plumbing . . . and then reality set in.  It will end up costing far, far more than she anticipated or can presently afford.  A dream house suddenly becomes. . . . an albatross.

I noticed several neglected or abandoned houses on this side of town, including, sadly, my grandmother's old house, whose roof had collapsed into what once had been the kitchen and dining room.  Brambles and vines encase what was the back porch, the back yard now a strip of overgrown grass and junk.  I'm told someone has bought the property and plans to demolish it.  I remember every room in that old brick house and the happy times spent there as a child.  The next time I visit, it may be an empty lot, all trace of its former residents gone, except in memory.  Like the parochial school I went to, which no longer exists (it's now a parking lot).  Or the  town public high school, of which only the elaborate door-frame remains, in a sea of broken stone and debris surrounded by jungle-sized weeds and bushes in a vacant, fenced-in lot.

The river is low.  Heard grumblings while there about the fracking mess in the mountains, what it's doing to the river, livestock, roads,  environment and people's health.   There is only one grocery store left in town, which many find too expensive, and so they drive 28 miles down the road to buy groceries at Walmart or have it trucked in from Swann's (frozen food delivery).  Some Amish farmers come once a week to sell fresh produce and baked goods.  Two of my cousins have gardens and one gave me the largest zucchini I have ever seen.  It could be lethal if you bonked someone over the head with it.  Speaking of injuries, limited medical care is available in town (which doesn't include childbirth or surgery)--for emergencies you need to be taken by ambulance or helicoper to the nearest hospital some 30 miles away.  Cell-phone service has only recently become available and reception is sporadic (or non-existent), depending on where you're standing.  In its heyday, back in another century, this town boasted of not one, but two opera houses.  Now there's not even a movie theater, that one having been torn down decades ago.  A dying, once-booming  railroad town, nestled in this paradise of nature, of fishing streams and wildlife and mountain trails (locals call it "God's Country"), it loses its young people year by year because there are no jobs.

Bicyling down a familiar street, walking the alleyway back up, listening to the crickets at night on a cousin's porch, looking up at a star-studded night sky such as you will never see in any city, it was as if time had stopped.  I was so completely "back", the outside world did not exist anymore.  It was both nostalgic and unnerving.  Who might I be today had I remained there and not left at age 18 to go see what was beyond those mountains, had headed to the big city instead of being convinced by a cousin-priest to consider living in a college town instead ? How many times in my life had I had my heart set on one path, only to be diverted to another not anticipated or even wanted, which later proved beneficial, important or life changing?

I was ruminating on that early yesterday morning while stopping over in Toronto, a huge, bustling city of tall, seemingly identical glass buildings [they all seem to be made of glass!!], more and more going up every time I pass through  there.   I felt a bit lost, disoriented, wondering what it would be like to live in such a city, just as I wondered one day earlier, what it would be like to go back and live in my home town again.  Neither scenario seemed imaginable.   Made me think of transplanted beings in general, finding oneself in places you never thought you'd be, for whatever reason, having to make do, all the while yearning to be someplace else. (I have sad or frustrated friends now in that category.)  A wise person once told me, "Be where you are", meaning however long you're in a place, one week or fifteen years, while you're there, be totally there, i.e., not closing yourself off, unable to function.  Easier said than done sometimes, but in every place I've ever lived, I've found at least one like-minded soul, came to appreciate the place for what it was, found ways to adjust and still "be".  Though being who you are wherever you are is not all that easy sometimes.

Anyway, it was good to be back, if only for a brief few days.  The family reunion was a success, I saw cousins I hadn't seen in years, and heard anecdotes about my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles that I had not heard before, that helped to know them better.  We bandied about the idea of one of us collecting and preserving these passed-on stories, maybe putting them into a little booklet to be shared by all (the way some communities do family cookbooks).  No one has yet volunteered but at the reunion buffet one cousin was working on a gigantic (table-sized) "family tree",  updating it since the last reunion, penciling in new grandchildren names.  I'm not sure how that can be reproduced so that we'd all get a copy, though.  It looked to be at least 15 feet long   :)

 Back to the photos:

Susquehanna River

I loved swimming in these waters as a child!  We would sit on inner-tubes and float all the way downriver to the old bridge (which no longer exists).  The water was so clear you could see every minnow,  rock, fish hook, or pebble.  Upriver we'd cross the railroad tracks, climb onto the big rocks  and dive into the eddy which was deep and clear and wonderful.  I emphasize the 'clear' part because now the rocks are slippery, and mud-covered, and little bubbles of whitish-brown foam float past on the surface, and though people still swim in the river, it's just not the same experience anymore.

En route coming back:
View from the bus window, Mauricie region, Quebec. Not a hill in sight. Cornfields.

Playful clouds changing shape. The more north you go, the closer the sky, or so it seems.  Sometimes they feel close enough to touch.

In my absence many tomatoes arrived in the garden.  And the chard has quadrupled.  I'll be eating it until December!.