The Marmot

You know you’re in foreign territory when you see roadkill you don’t recognize. The Mohawk Valley of Schoharie County in NY cuts down and bumps and widens to create the Allegheny Mountains of PA. Similar topography but slightly different vegetation; different smells. Yesterday we sliced through much of Pennsylvania, going through Nowheresville towns with names like Coudersport and yes, Punxsutawney. 

The latter town was our last stop before the hotel in Greensburg, where we had a surreal rendezvous with Phil, that groundhog. Strange mythology cooked up over the last century has lead to a club where old white guys wear stovepipe hats and keep a marmot (yes, they called him a marmot) in a clear plexiglass cylinder. Apparently he’s 103 years old and he drinks their secret Elixir of Life once per year. But his special lady (or goddamn lady friend, whatever label you want to put on their relationship) who lives down at the zoo is denied said Elixir of Life. It’s still all about the patriarchy down in ole’ Punxy, I guess.

Pennsylvania has always sort of baffled me. What is it? Northeast or Midwest? It kind of inhabits a world of its own, a giant weird melange of Amish culture, rolling hills, rust belt decay, and two cool cities-as-bookends where people are fairly worldly and progressive. When I think of Pennsylvania though, what immediately comes to mind are those awful frilly dresses and bonnets that Pollyanna would wear in that Disney movie from the seventies. 

And I think of a trip that my art collective CHERYL took a few months back, a self-imposed “retreat” so we could brainstorm and get on the same page again. The three of us rented a small cottage on Airbnb which appeared rural from the photos, but was actually at a busy intersection skirted by trees on a street called “Tom X Road.” We hiked a mountain crowded by frat dudes blasting Skrillex, we went to a popcorn shop full of obese people, and we shared a PB&J from a PB&J-only restaurant. And we learned of the legend of Tom X, from the proprietor of the Tom X Pub (it’s hazy). We got out of there as quickly as we could, thankful for our lives.

Next up!  I need to tell you about the folks in my riding group, “The Wood Ducks.” More soon….!