04 August 2012

Lovely, lovely Lancaster

A double rainbow as seen from my brother Steve's back yard.
I'm back in Florida after my month-long sojourn in the land of my birth, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I needed to prove once and for all that I can be anywhere and still put in a solid, productive workday. I passed that test with flying colors. I wanted too, to spend non-rushed time with my siblings and their families and I did plenty of that. It was an ideal month and just how beautiful that part of the US is left me dumb struck.

Alfalfa fields

Daylilies and alfalfa

My brother Steve's back yard on my first morning in Pennsylvania, 30 June 2012.

An actual covered bridge. Lancaster County, PA is lousy with them.

What a covered bridge looks like inside. Most of them were built in the 19th Century and they are an exercise in wood framing as art.

Dusk from my brother Matt's deck.

Thunderstorms gathering as seen from my brother Matt's front yard.

When I moved away from there a long time ago, I could never see the place as anything but a small town surrounded by farmland. The combination of those two things 20+ years ago was all I needed to know in order for me to seek greener pastures. I wanted to live in a bigger city and I wanted to escape winter.

As I barrel toward 50 I can see the place through a different set of eyes and the things I once fled are the same things I now ache for. The very idea of winter weather still fills me with the same loathing it always has, but there's a lot to be said for market shopping with my sister-in-law, going to the movies with an army of my nieces and nephews, and just sitting and talking with my brothers. Seeing family friends and treading on familiar ground capped off a truly great month. Feeling wanted and loved involved nothing more than showing up, and that was nothing short of bliss. That those many, many people have known me my whole life, that they've stood by as I've worked through my conflicts and trials, and can still find love for me makes my head spin.

A covered hitching post at the Green Dragon market in  Ephrata.

Produce stand at the Green Dragon

This is a butcher's stall at the Green Dragon. The objects in the center of this photo are pig stomachs - pre-filled with fresh sausage, onion and potato. I think this qualifies as a convenience food.

A produce stand at the Green Dragon

Beets, broccoli and potatoes at Lancaster's Central Market

A shot of the stalls in Lancaster's Central Market.

Lancaster's Central Market as seen from Penn Square, the center of Lancaster City.
Lancaster's Central Market was established by King George III in the 1720s. It's the oldest open market in the United States.
A tobacco field in blossom. The flowers have to be removed by hand so the plant can make the leaves more robust.

Real tomatoes, fresh from the fields
My family's enormous and Sunday dinners usually involved at least 25 people. Baking bread and deserts for an appreciative audience of that size was far more enjoyable than I ever thought it would be. Whether it was a dinner built around a bushel of Chesapeake blue crabs or fresh pork loins, I ate better last month than I have in ages. Life in farm country brings with it the smell of manure that's true. But it also brings with it fresh produce that made me rethink my whole definition of that term. Buying sweet corn at $2 a dozen or tomatoes at 6 for a buck, corn and tomatoes that had been picked that morning, has me looking at the produce aisles at Publix with nothing short of disdain.

As much as I wanted it not to be true when I was younger, the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania are part of me. They're in my DNA, figuratively and literally. Driving a truck down dirt roads and barking at my nephews about gun safety seemed natural - I was just flexing old muscles. Visiting the churchyards and settlements established by my ancestors nearly 300 years ago brought into sharp focus that I'm part of a continuum, a line of people who lived and died before me, just as there are many who'll live and die after my time on earth's done. My struggles and conflicts really don't mean a whole lot when they're splayed against a  history I can see and touch.

This is the grave marker of my first ancestors in the new world. Husband and wife Sampson and Agnes Smith are both commemorated  by this slab of marble. Though you can't read it from this photo, the whole surface of it is engraved with a testament to their lives. Sampson arrived in Philadelphia in 1740 and died in 1781 in Chestnut Level, PA in 1781. Agnes died in 1790. One of their daughters is buried next to them.

This is the Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church. My first ancestor on this side of the Atlantic, Sampson Smith, was this church's third pastor, from 1760 to 1781. He supervised the construction of this building. The home he built still stands nearby.

This is a shallow creek crossing near Chestnut Level. My brother's driving over it and our ancestors would have been intimately familiar with this creek in the 18th Century.

The part of Pennsylvania I once called home predates the United States and the fingerprints of the time when it was a British Colony are all over the place. That countryside and the buildings that still stand from that era lived through a war for independence, they witnessed the birth of a new republic, they stood by as that new republic wrestled with slavery and a civil war. That place and those buildings aren't just a testament to my ancestors, they're a testament to this country's ability to work its way through conflict and all of it's a celebration of the glory of human potential. If you get lulled into the belief that life's difficult now, imagine what it must have been like in the 18th Century.

This is St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Lancaster, it's been there for a very long time. It's where George Washington and his peers would have attended services when they were in town.

Like I said, St. James has been around for quite a while.

These are very typical, 19th Century row houses that make up the bulk of the housing in Lancaster City.

More row houses, probably built during the War of 1812.

I love the wording on this sign.

An 18th Century row house that's still a single-family home, downtown Lancaster.

So now that I'm back I'll make the best of it. I landed another big marketing client and've been cast on a nationally syndicated TV show in the last two weeks. Add that to my current work load and I have a lot going on and even more to be grateful for. I don't think I'll be moving back to Pennsylvania any time soon but I will be spending more time there as the next few years unfold. For now though, I'm back on my living room sofa and wishing I had a group of people to cook dinner for. Thanks to all of you I spent time with last month and to everybody I missed, I'll catch you during my next visit.