Somewhere in my adulthood I began taking notice of personal landmarks. There was the magnificent gingko South of Broad in Charleston, SC, and the causeway to Sullivan’s Island. In Pennsylvania, the landmark was a section of undulating fields cutting into the bare Maxatawny sky. And, although this is the third time I’ve lived in State College, this is the first time I’ve adopted a personal landmark here: Mount Nittany.
To me, a personal landmark is a place that changes from hour to hour, day after day, season to season, yet remains a constant presence. I always thought, “That would make a great calendar – 365 views of the same tree/marsh/field.” And then I’d quickly tell myself, “Anyone else would think it boring – 365 photographs of the same landscape.”
Mount Nittany seems like a no-brainer, but every other time I’ve been in Happy Valley, the symbolic mountain has simply been background scenery. This time around, every morning I take a bike ride and sit on the Slab Cabin Run bikeway bench that faces the backside of Mount Nittany, I feel centered.
So I have adopted the Mount of Princess Nita-nee, but I’m such a latecomer. The Algonquian Indians named the mountain Nit-a-nee, meaning “single mountain”. By the 1700s, colonial settlers were using the slight variation, Nittany Mountain, and in 1903, folklorist Henry Shoemaker wrote a tale of Princess Nita-nee, who the story led her tribe to the safe haven of the Nittany Valley. When she died, the mountain rose from her grave. (However, from my vantage point, not the Beaver Stadium view, I swear Princess Nita-nee is carrying a little papoose on her back … perhaps fuel for another tall tale.)
Fifty years or so after Penn State was founded, the Nittany Lion mascot arrived on the scene and soon the story of Princess Nita-nee included an Indian brave named Lion’s Paw (gimme a break!). In 1945, when the owner of the mountain was preparing to sell the land, alumni with the Lion’s Paw Senior Society took an option to buy Mount Nittany. By 1981, the society formed the Mount Nittany Conservancy to preserve the pristine beauty of the fair mountain maiden.
To me, the beauty of a personal landmark remains the paradox of ever-changing consistency. One morning, Mount Nittany appears to float on a golden shimmering lake, surrounded by an ice flow. The next, she is wrapped in an apron of fog as the sun burns through the dawn. Another morning, she sits blue and heavy, in a steaming cauldron of clouds. Just the other morning, the entire mountain was erased by mist into a chalky nothingness. Then, on a clear and cloudless morning, I hear a slightly familiar “whoosh, whoosh” as I pedal up the bike path hill — a hot-air balloon hovering over my shoulder. A downhill plunge and I whiz ahead. When I arrive at “my bench” I sit and watch as the balloon, colored with a Lego pattern in green and yellow and violet and blue, lowers over Lemont. Then flames lick and spit, sending the balloon straight up over Mount Nittany. Picture perfect. Laurie Lynch
Good Eggs: Well, I admit it. After 14 years of having “farm-fresh eggs”, the Egg Lady got a little jaded with the orange yolks and substantial whites, and sometimes thought customers eggsaggerated about the quality of our hens’ eggs. Now that I’m a consumer and not a producer … well, I haven’t seen a good egg since. It will take time to track some down, but I will. The supermarket brown-Organic-Cage-Free-Omega-this-and-that eggs are pale by comparison.
Name Game: No longer the Egg Lady, I’ve been thinking of a new moniker. Bike Lady had possibilities until Crash Lady appeared. Then, an old buddy from Philly emailed. “Yo, Fleur,” his message started. I sat there and said, “I like it!” It makes me feel like a schoolgirl at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and proves that Fleur-de-Lys is not a farm, it is a state of mind.
Caring and Sharing: A certain nephew of mine called his mom, quite concerned, about AL No. 1 (that’s my niece/nephew nickname). There are five of us Ls – Laurie, Lisa, Lee Ann, Larissa, and Leslie – and I, being the oldest, was named Aunt L No. 1. “She really should carry a cell phone on her bike rides,” he said. Well, AL No. 1 wasn’t born yesterday and after her first trip to ER figured that out too. And, at the risk of totally embarrassing NL No. 1, I’ll share with you all that I now carry a cell phone close to my heart on all bike outings … that’s why God gave women cleavages!
Good Eats: Chef Wille, another nephew, offered to make dinner the other night. For those of you with late summer beach plans (or a good seafood store nearby), here is a novel way to celebrate those lovely cherry tomatoes that are weighing down your garden plants.
Wille’s Drunken Mussels
Saute sliced Vidalia onions in a large frying pan. Scrub, de-beard (if they haven’t been cleaned already) and rinse a pound or two of fresh mussels. Remove any mussels that are open and do not close when you press on them. Toss cleaned mussels into the bed of onions with a nob of butter, a couple handsful of cherry tomatoes (Wille used Sungold, a nice color contrast with the black shells), and a splash of beer. On a medium-hot burner, cover pan and steam until mussels pop open (3 to 5 minutes). Ladle mussels, onions, tomatoes and broth in individual bowls, accompanied with slices of toasted whole grain bread to sop up the delicious broth. (Be sure to place several empty bowls on the table for the shells.) Mmmmmmmussels.