Stars near Mercersburg

I drove from Washington, DC to State College last night, taking the more scenic route after Hagerstown that takes you…

…up Route 75 through little Pennsylvania towns like Mercersburg, Fort Loudon, past Cowans Gap Lake, and through Burnt Cabins onto Route 522 through Shade Gap, Rockhill/Orbisonia, Shirleysburg, Allenport/Mount Union/Lucy Furnace where you reach the Juniata River, and then north on Route 22 along William Penn Highway and Big Valley Pike and Stone Creek Ridge Road onto Route 26, and then up Standing Stone Road, past McAlevys Fort, past Whipple Dam State Park and finally through Pine Grove Mills before arriving in State College.

Mercersburg. Burnt Cabins. Shade Gap. Shirleysburg. Lucy Furnace. McAlevys Fort.

Aren’t these great names?

And driving along these country roads at night, you see the stars. How awesome it is to see the stars.

I stopped just past Mercersburg at one point to look up at the sky and took this photo.

After I got back on the road, I kept the window down for a little while to glance up as often as possible. The shimmering stars moving across the sky felt close, and the world felt alive in a special way, with the dome of the sky really feeling like a dome—like a heavens.

I thought about not being able to see the stars—about how many today not only grow up without a view of the stars, but basically never witness the night sky as anything other than a lit hue, polluted and opaque. It reminded me of something a friend told me recently about a distinct challenge of old age; that it is literally the loss of sight as one ages that contributes to anxiety and disorientation. The loss of clarity, of color, of depth and space lead to a confusion about life itself and sometimes hopelessness and despondency.

I wonder if that’s not just as true for those in cities and places where we’ve lost sight of the sky.

State College and holy families

We’re in State College today, heading back to Philadelphia shortly for New Years with family. I’m here with one of my brothers for a college visit, and it looks like he’ll be a Penn Stater, Class or 2024. We walked the campus last night, which was particularly special because it was as deserted as I’ve ever seen it due to Christmas break. It was like we had the place to ourselves for a private tour and the sort of conversation that flows in moments like that. It’s been a good trip and we’ve had good time to be together. I’m excited for him as he looks ahead to this.

After waking up at the Hyatt Place downtown this morning, we checked out and headed to Our Lady of Victory for Mass. It’s still Christmas, and today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I’m pasting some of Bishop Robert Barron’s Gospel reflection below:

The family is, above all, the forum in which both parents and children are able to discern their missions. It is perfectly good, of course, if deep bonds and rich emotions are cultivated within the family, but those relationships and passions must cede to something that is more spiritually focused.

A biblical prioritization of values helps us to see what typically goes wrong with families. When something other than mission is dominant—a son’s athletic achievement, a daughter’s success at university, etc.—family relationships actually become strained. The paradox is this: precisely in the measure that everyone in the family focuses on God’s call for one another, the family becomes more loving and peaceful.

John Paul II admirably summed up what I’ve been driving at when he spoke of the family as an ecclesiola (a little church). At its best, he implies, the family is a place where God is worshiped and where the discernment of God’s mission is of paramount importance.

Stars and Christmas lights

After a Christmas party in Bethesda/Rockville on Saturday night, I left around 10pm for State College in order to get into town for the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s Sunday board meeting, the meeting of the year.

I opted for the slightly longer but more scenic/rural route, which is great even at night. I stopped for a few minutes off a side road in Franklin County, near the little town of Lemasters, Pennsylvania, because you could night sky was very visible. It was also nearly totally silent, and I tried to capture the sound of silence.

I got into State College past 1am and walked down Allen Street to take in the Christmas lights before heading to sleep. After the Mount Nittany Conservancy meeting and a few brief errands, I hit the road back to Washington on Sunday around noon.

Twelve hours in State College

A lot of driving this weekend, from Washington to State College, from State College to Philadelphia, and tomorrow from Philadelphia to Washington—but grateful for the chance to visit Happy Valley when Penn State’s classes are in session and as as summer comes to a close.

I got in late last night, headed to 7:30am Mass at Our Lady of Victory on Westerly Parkway, then headed to the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s third quarter board meeting (which is why I visited town), and then met up with a friend before heading to Philadelphia.

Trying out the iPhone 11 Pro’s new cameras with these photos. Nighttime photos are markedly better. I took the nighttime photos here at around 11pm last night.

State College for six waking hours

I woke up around 7am in State College, Pennsylvania this morning at the Super 8 on South Atherton Street, went for a short run, showered, and headed to the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s second board meeting of the year. It’s hot out, and I left the window of my hotel room open and woke up to the Nittany Valley’s near-muggy air. I love weather like this partly because, whether walking or driving through town or the outlying countryside, you encounter the near-summertime in a sensual way—the scents, breezes, and verdant sights are right there for you, if you’re open to receive these gifts.

After the meeting, I drove to Meyer Dairy to pick up some cheese and lemonade, and then to downtown State College for a short walk. Penn State and State College have emptied out with the end of spring classes, and so campus and town are especially peaceful this Sunday morning:

I like solitary trips like this as both a way to think and as a way to go deep with audiobooks. I’m listening to Wilson D. Miscable’s “American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh” and Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.”

I drove up from Washington last night for this morning’s meeting, and am heading right back to Washington for a dinner meeting tonight.

February Sunday in State College

After settling in Park Forest Village yesterday afternoon, visiting Mount Nittany’s trailhead, and enjoying Cafe Lemont as evening set in, we joined friends at Otto’s on Atherton Street for conversation and supper. Otto’s Night Owl was perfect; a smooth, creamy Irish stout. This morning I joined other Mount Nittany Conservancy board members for our first meeting of the year, held in the otherwise-closed Centre Region Council of Governments headquarters.

We hit the road in mid-afternoon, making it back to Washington in time for Marymount University’s 7pm mass.

Washington to State College drive

We left Washington, DC about half past six this morning and headed north, taking the scenic route to State College, Pennsylvania from I-70 past Hagerstown and then on along Pennsylvania route 416 to 75 to 522 to 22 to 26. This slightly longer route added about 15 minutes to the length of the trip, but what it cost in time it paid out in terms of scenic beauty: snow covered forests, historic and contemporary barns in every state of repair, winding roads along winding creeks and rivers, and beautiful farmlands broken up by periodic passes through little villages and towns. This wasn’t my first ever Washington to State College drive, but it was my first in nearly a decade and the first since I’ve started calling Washington home.

After a brief tour by car to become acquainted with the town, we headed to the Hintz Alumni Centenaries to decompress in Robb Hall, before walking north on campus and through Pattee/Paterno Libraries to the Nittany Lion Inn for lunch at Whisker’s. Staying in Park Forest Village, here for 36 hours or so.

Penn State Homes Sales

This mid-20th century “Penn State Homes Sales” office has sat on North Atherton Street, just a few minutes from Downtown State College, for decades. I wondered about it when first arriving at Penn State in 2005. In driving by it when leaving State College on Monday I noticed lots of equipment surrounding it, and thought this might be one of the last times I see it if it’s scheduled for demolition. I hopped out of my rental car and took this photo:

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I emailed a friend who grew up in the area to ask about it, and here’s what he wrote:

Yes, it was the rental/sales office for what was the mobile home park that existed back there up until the mid 2000s or so. I have a vague memory of visiting my aunt who lived there for a year sometime in the mid 80s… Although it was run down toward the end of its life it was actually pretty decent in the prime of days. There also wasn’t a ton of non-student housing available in the State College area back then either (believe it or not considering the expansion of housing options today).

And here’s a bit from Matt Carroll in the Centre Daily Times a few years ago on what looks like a park that was adjacent to this one:

The last of the North Atherton Street mobile home parks is closing.

Franklin Manor Mobile Home Park is shutting down, according to a letter sent Friday to residents and Patton Township officials. The 22 families that live in the park were informed that they have until Oct. 1 to find new homes.

The park is next to the former Penn State Mobile Home Park, which closed July 31.

Natalie Corman, Centre County Office of Adult Services director, was informed Friday that the mobile home park is closing, and she said officials already are organizing assistance for residents.

Owner Ed Temple, when reached Friday, said the condition of the park’s infrastructure is failing, as are many of its trailers, and that ultimately led to the decision to close.

“This winter was a tipping point,” Temple said. “So many people had failures, frozen-up water lines broke. It just became evident they were just not functional anymore.”

He said closing the park is a “difficult decision.” It was established by his father in 1953, and Temple grew up there.

“It’s been a situation where I had generations of people there — parents and now their children,” he said. “We’ve tried to facilitate it. It’s just come to the point where we have to do something.”

Temple said the park was not being closed to make way for development, but did not rule that out as a possibility in the future.

I hope this little office survives and is repurposed into something more publicly useful someday. It’s such an aesthetically distinct park of North Atherton Street, compared to the derivative shopping centers and hotels that line both sides the whole way north.

Labor Day in State College

Happy Labor Day. I’m in State College, Pennsylvania this morning and enjoying this beautiful late summer day on my friend’s South Allen Street front porch. A view from that porch below, from last week when I was in town, along with some scenes from Downtown State College and Penn State’s campus from yesterday. Penn State has its flags at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

College football season has started, and autumn will be here in earnest before long. Looking forward to what the next few months have in store.

Visiting Happy Valley in late summer

Here are scenes from past few days of travel; first in leaving Philadelphia and driving past the Art Museum where they were setting up for Labor Day’s “Made in America” concert, and the rest from State College and Penn State on Monday night and throughout Tuesday. I worked from the Creamery Tuesday morning before heading downtown and eventually to HIST 197, and it was a great sort of “living nostalgia” getting to enjoy a coffee, catch up on the news, clear my inbox, and just be amidst the fairy subdued early morning bustle of the early fall semester.

After all of this, I headed out of town around 9pm headed toward Cincinnati but decided to stop in Steubenville, Ohio around 1am.