Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Valley revisited

Our long descent down the mountain road into State College PA fed my imagination, as it had in 1983 when I first visited. Mountains and forests rim the valley, dubbed Happy Valley by residents who consider themselves blessed to live there. Some go so far as to say the sun always shines there -- figuratively if not literally. Mt. Nittany presides over the glorious terrain that has been home to ancient Native American tribes, pre-Revolutionary War pioneers, and now modern inhabitants. In or near the Valley, visitors will see awesome stands of primeval forest, fast running rocky streams, caves, and other natural wonders preserved from times primordial.

But changes have transformed the landscape in the last two decades. State College is larger, with more people, houses, malls, businesses. Once picturesque wilderness areas have become housing developments. Slab Cabin Run, that wild creek coursing through a small farm with only one or two houses in view, is now lined with homes. The homes are beautiful, to be sure, but the creek is no longer an isolated place of quiet contemplation. Yes, the birds still sing and flitter happily from tree to tree. Wild creatures visit on occasion. But the pristine peace has been shattered by a four lane highway built nearby in recent years. Much has been lost in the name of progress. Day and night, traffic noise from 16-wheelers and pick ups and cars now forms a roaring backdrop to the peace my aunt and uncle once enjoyed along the creek. Gone is drinking coffee on the deck at dawn, basking in nature's quiet while watching mist rise from the creek. Muted conversations and introspective meditations must occur inside four walls now.

I live in rural Nebraska, far away from city noises and interstates. Miles and miles of pastureland and crop ground separate me from the nearest city, and that is just the way I like it. I love my aunt and uncle and cousins who live in Pennsylvania. I treasure memories of my visit. But now that my trip to State College is history, thoughts of blown up mountains, decimated forests, fractured peace, and noisy trafficways remain. Is it expedience, politics, or ignorance that prompts state and local governments to ruin paradise for taxpayers?


townie said...

The university is the biggest employer and source of revenue in SC and the surrounding area. When a university grows to become the biggest one in the state the rest of the town has to grow to compensate. I lived in State College quite recently and for a number of years (twenty-eight, thanks), and was able to see the forest for the trees--there is plenty of nature surrounding the area and feel a little sad and hurt that a mere tourist would feel compelled to be so negative.

Perhaps you are a little too old to enjoy the place? There are plenty of retirees in State College who manage to thrive on the culture. Centre Community Hospital is one of the best in the region; I'm sure that keeps their minds at ease. Nor is it fair that you imply that the history of the area is gone simply because the immediate vicinity of the college does not resemble rural Nebraska.

Perhaps if you achieve your goal of becoming a wealthy, eccentric recluse, you will be able to resist the sorts of generalizations you make here based on your cursory visit. For the rest of us who must live and work and thrive around other people, a town which manages to grow and change the way that State College has is a success story, and most of us who really live there find ourselves lucky to do so.

Laurel Johnson said...

Gee. Sure did not mean to step on anyone's toes or fray raw nerves. I have many more memories to write about, simply chose to compare my impressions of visits 20 years apart. Progress of the type mentioned is everywhere, even in the boonies of Nebraska.

State College is a wonderful place and that is why the residents call it Happy Valley. I enjoy visiting there, despite the exceptions noted in this blog.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming, Townie. Tomorrow I will discuss the Ratskeller. Wonder how many anonymous feathers I can ruffle with that?

Josh said...

Don't let some commenters get your string in a ball. You should see some of the comments I've recieved over the months. They were bad enough to make me want to smash the screen...heh heh! Say what you want because there's always someone out there who won't like what you say anyhow. Sometimes we're just lucky (or unlucky) enough to have them stop by.

AstonWest said...

It could be worse, dear...you could have my most frequent commenter (and no, that's not you... ;-P )

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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