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The ridges of central Pennsylvania have defined much of my life, and they continue to do so today. I am one of the lucky few who gets to pursue a life of research, writing, and teaching in the town in which he was born.

Nestled along the ridges that compose the start of the Allegheny Mountains, Hollidaysburg is a small hamlet of about 5,000 souls. The town has an abiding tradition of historic preservation, and much of this past harkens back to its integral position along the Main Line Canal of the early 1800s. The canal and the railroad that followed supported local industries, which primarily began with iron manufacturing. Foundries and iron plantations combined with extensive agriculture to make this area largely self-sufficient, even though it participated in trade networks with Pittsburgh. The ridges created impediments to this early trading but also supplied plentiful timber and coal to stoke industry's fires.

Today, we have retained a great deal of the forests that cover the ridges. Although many of us use these areas for hiking, they have been preserved primarily for sportsmen. Subtle in the grand scheme of mountains, the Alleghenies are a permanent landmark connecting the region's past to its future. With few exceptions in this region, human development has remained focused only to the gaps folded between ridges. It is a physical manifestation of a basic reality of life in central Pennsylvania: natural forms resisting at least some of the possibilities of modern life.

These very ridges, though, remain a tool for the nation's progress. Energy extraction has defined life here for generations. Lumber, coal, and petroleum created central Pennsylvania and defined many lives in this place during the last 150 years. Now, the new frontiers of energy impact this place, with fracking of shale opening new supplies of natural gas and wind turbines generating electric power.

So there is great continuity where I live. It forms the strong base from which I travel to and write about other locales. I have made homes at the ocean, in great cities, and in the rural Midwest, but central PA and its ridges will always feel most familiar.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Black. All rights reserved.


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