Outdoors,  Travel,  Western Pennsylvania

The Mountains in My Backyard

“He’s wearing my jeans!”

A woman walked up to me at the register of the menswear store where I worked and pointed to the man with her.

We were right off of the Somerset exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The couple was from Florida. The man had packed absolutely no warm clothing for himself. That’s why they came into my store. The man was cold enough to wear his woman’s jeans. I wore my winter jacket that morning.

And – oh, yeah. It was the first week of June.

I grew up near the top of a mountain in the Laurel Highlands, about 10 miles south of Somerset, in the little town of Berlin, Pennsylvania. About 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. Some people don’t realize that the Laurel Highlands ain’t Pittsburgh. If you ever forget that Mother Nature is in charge, you should go live there. Especially in the winter.

For instance, my church youth group spent six months planning a trip to a hockey game, only to have a blizzard cancel it. My family almost didn’t make it home from my cousin’s baptism in Greensburg. My dad reviewed everybody’s footwear choices before we left the house for every winter road trip.

“Where are your boots? What if we get stuck and have to walk?”

You probably heard that hundreds of people were stranded on the turnpike overnight for dozens of miles during the snowstorm two weeks ago. Well, that section of the turnpike passes Berlin by only a few miles. And this area got nearly 3 feet of snow.

Anyway, I found this article from the TribLive newspaper website dated February 1, 2016. It is about all of the volunteer fire departments who assisted the motorists trapped on the turnpike during the night of the snowstorm. Including the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department. I’m not surprised.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike does not have its own fire department. When something happens on it – or on any of the interstates – the local fire departments respond.

When I was a kid in Berlin, the fire department did so much for our town. And not just during the bad times, the scary times. I have so many fun memories of parades and they organized, of trick-or-treating in their fire hall. Several of my high school classmates were involved then and are involved now.

In fact, when Jonathan told me that he wanted to join the fire department in New Kensington, I was supportive because of all of the good things that I remember about the fire department in Berlin.

When you travel through these mountains – on Route 30 or 31 or the turnpike – do you ever think about the towns that you pass? Do you ever think about the ones that you might end up depending on there?

(I left the mountains, but they’re not out of my mind and neither are the people who live there. Still, I don’t have any good photos of the mountains in the winter. I definitely need to work on this. This photo at the top is the Mt. Ararat Lookout Point after a July thunderstorm. Here is the blog entry that I wrote about the day that Jonathan took this photo. )