Near Town Hill, Pennsylvania
Words and Image Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 1, 2011
as "Finding Willoughby"
In the last several years, I've made enough trips between Somerset, PA and Washington DC to, as they say, wear a rut in the road. I've gone often for business reasons, but mostly for the pleasure of being with family. The drive takes around 3 hours -- longer if we get caught in the massive evacuation that takes place every Friday afternoon. To be honest, I'm often surprised that anyone is still in town after seeing those epic backups on the outbound Interstates.
As often as I've traveled that route, it wasn't until recently that I took the opportunity to gaze out the side windows. When we drive places, it’s hard not to become locked into the duel of traffic and the press of time. Even as passengers, we tend not to take notice of the land as it zips by. But lately I’ve noticed that this trip, so often taken, really is a pretty drive. As the mountains give way to gently rolling hills, and eventually to coastal plain, you can see everywhere the dense forests carpeting the landscape. I began to notice little things, details that over the years I had ignored. For example, trees are not all the same shade of green. Looking at those hillsides, you can see an orchestra of different species. Giant oaks, graceful elms, sycamores, and maples each one an individual, yet an integral part of the greater symphony. Off the sides of small bridges, I see glimpses of tranquil streams under the shady arc of trees.
But my favorite place lies just outside of Breezewood, PA, where I-70 leaves the turnpike and takes that big bend to the south. Just past the exit for Town Hill, PA, the road jogs suddenly to the east along a path carved out of a mountainside. To the left, the trees thin out and below lies the most picturesque sight of the entire trip.
I don't know the name of the valley, or even if it has one. From the elevated position of the highway, the land below seems heart-breakingly beautiful, reminiscent of perhaps Southern England or Eastern France. The terrain gently rolls, lined by dense stands of forests in its low points. The hills themselves were cleared of trees perhaps long ago replaced by the striking geometry of crop fields. On other fields is the perfect green of grass where pastoral herds of horses and cattle drift along, almost cloud-like. Barns and farmhouses dot the landscape here and there, and standing like a sentinel, the graceful steeple of a perfect white-painted country church.
The valley is almost storybook in its perfection and peacefulness. Gazing down from the highway, I am transported to a different time and place, where life runs at a more sedate, peaceful pace.
I don't know anything about the valley or the people who live there, only to wonder if they know how lucky they are to live in a place of such peaceful beauty.
Someday, instead of droning on past, I should separate myself from the stream of traffic and go down into that valley. I don't know what I'll find. It’s a sad fact that for things far off, beauty rarely retains that quality when examined close-up. Maybe what keeps me from taking that drive is the fear that reality will not be the dream I see from above.
But I am an optimist by nature. I always look for the good in situations and people. Who knows what new experience will welcome me?
One of my favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes revolves around a man whose high-pressure job has become a living hell. His wife, ambitious and vain, treats him with scorn. A gentle soul, his life has become unbearable. On his daily commuter train ride back home, he seemingly falls asleep only to wake up in a town called Willoughby. It is an existence apart from his, a peaceful page from the 1890’s where life was easy, simple, and moved at a far gentler pace. He is drawn to that idyllic existence, choosing to go there, leaving his old life behind. He sought peace and tranquility, and found it.
Perhaps this valley is my Willoughby; a place where the gentle pace of a forgotten time calls to me in the din of my frantic pace of life.
In that unnamed valley, I see not so much to a different place, but the dream of another time.