reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Everything CHussst (just) sitz

All about our fine southeast PA neck-of-the-woods, a good Dutchman might say, if he had a mind to, "everything chusst sitz." I guess you could say the same about any locale. If one spends enough time in the same place, the local dialect starts to seep into everyone's mind. The accent of all the Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, Dunkards, and Schwenkfelders of old and present combine in a slow, steady, narrative thread in my head, "Aye now, everything chuussst sitz."

The tractor just sits. The snow just sits. The ice just sits. The disc harrow just sits. The spreader just sits. The chisel plow and the mold board plow just sit. The people just sit. The grauuunt (ground) just sitzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.Or so it seems as the winter drags on day by day. Daylight is more now, but the calendar is there to remind us of the 25 more days of this still season. But at this time the mind wanders (if let to??) to places both near and far. Just as the humidity of summer brings that sense of place back to the skin, winter in southeastern Pennsylvania gives daily vistas and clear wide-open horizons that offer solace to an otherwise frantic life. In his book, "This Common Ground," Scott Chaskey reflects evenly throughout the seasons in a truly poetic (albeit overtly romantic) manner.

What is it that is meant by the words "spirit of place?" We certainly mean to describe a physical setting--a field, a valley, a row of trees, a pond-- but can we agree on what spirit is?

All these things we look at. What a difference each new season's light brings to their perception by us. Over time, taken into our very depths, reflected on, breathed out again, new dawns awake. New things come out of old. The things are us and we them. Soon enough, they won't chusst sit anymore.

Endless Winter

I gasped for breath, holding onto the board and slushing heavy footstep after heavy footstep, climbing the little farm hill that had transformed overnight into one gigantic, plush, white ocean. I couldn't remember this much snow falling since the blizzard of 96' when Carl and I had gotten stuck on the off-ramp at Trexlertown. Not believing the weatherman's forecast of up to 2ft. of snow, we had taken off in the little Ford Escort wagon from our college "homes" in the morning, destined to end up at my Aunt's house for family Christmas. This being the gathering of extended relatives a couple of weeks after December 25. By the time we got to my Aunt's house, 25 miles north of the Poconos and two hours and fifteen minutes north of Berks County, there was already 5 inches of heavy snow on the ground. "Yeah, the New York bunch called to cancel and hour or so ago," my Uncle said. Idiots, I thought. Why hadn't we called ahead?

That day ended in a Holiday Inn Bar, the hour striking midnight, January 7, 1996, my birthday. Today I was with another friend and neighbor, trudging through 2 feet of fresh white powder to get to the crest of a 10 acre field and make an attempt at descending it by snowboard. It might not be possible, I thought. Two feet of virgin powder with such a mellow incline. Having snowboarded for over 15 years, I knew that if nothing else, we would just have to carve out a line and keep going over it and over it until eventually, the path would widen and get packed down enough to gain whatever speed and carve the little slope could offer.

It was truly hard work at first. But the feeling of cold, fresh air, wind and sun after so many days physically cramped inside little apartments and mentally cramped in by the season's lack of sunshine, was unbeatable. It was just after 4pm and the sun had started to wane, leaving an orange-purple horizon and crystal clear sky directly above. Each time after hiking back up the field, trying to step into previously made tracks, feeling the sweat build on the brow, heaving for air for the first time in months, was incredible.

We were alive again! Out of the stale, heated air and into the rural wonderland. Unlike going to a commercial ski area these runs were earned. And the hill was all ours. Each ride a new striving for that soft, floating, bumpy feeling of gliding along the top few inches of air and water. Going for the first cut in the snow or just trying to keep standing while the nose of your board is constantly fighting to stay afloat of the fluff. Bring on the endless winter, I thought. We'll take every flake to be had.