I’ve been in State College for three of the five Mount Nittany Nights so far thanks in each case to scheduling coincidence, though I didn’t attend this time. Mount Nittany Night is a great celebration of the Mountain’s conservation and literally the Mountain’s fruits in the form of lots of pretty remarkable Pennsylvania wine. (My go-tos are Nittany Mountain Blush and Tailgate Red.)
Thinking about Mount Nittany Night reminds me of Mount Nittany Conservancy’s great podcast that Bob Frick produced and which I wrote about in October in Onward State:
In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide much of the cultural and historical basis for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.
Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.
This is what tradition is, if distilled — the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful, practical example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a lyrical and literal Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.
This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. …