It was at the top of Bake Oven Knob that I felt peace for the first time in a long while.
What a silly name for a place, I thought to myself as I guided my little sedan over the bumps and holes leading up to the parking lot. It was a crisp Sunday evening, and a few friends and I were eager to get out and explore the newly-melted countryside. For a while, the snow and ice seemed as if they were overstaying their welcome, piling on icy-white layers to the loneliness and isolation that me, along with the rest of the student body, were already feeling. But spring always arrives in the most delicate and beautiful of ways, even if she is fashionably late. This little rock formation in Germansville, PA seemed like the perfect place to welcome the long-awaited warm weather. The hiking app said so.
As we were unpacking the car and lacing up boots, I thought about the peculiarity of this situation. You normally would have never caught me dead scaling mountains, much less wearing a pair of clunky hiking boots. Prior to the virus, I took the camaraderie that came with Village hangouts and sports parties for granted. So many people did. Who knew that we’d soon be living in a world characterized by how well we can stay away from people? How thoroughly we can wash our hands? (Well, that should have never been brought into question) Cover our faces? Suddenly, the community that we create during classes and at social gatherings has to be recreated outdoors. It’s just a matter of how creative you can get; what spaces you are willing to occupy.
My four friends and I set our boots on the winding dirt path, surrounded by a series of tall oak trees and families of songbirds. My friend pointed their camera upward, eager to capture the winged music boxes in action. The path ended at a series of limestone rocks, jagged and leading upward. There was only one option: stay put or climb. We were clearly up to the challenge. We scaled the rocks with youthful vibrance, laughing, teasing one another, remarking what awaited us once we got to the top. I couldn’t help but smile at how silly we all looked, but this silliness was priceless; after so many months apart and online, this silliness was earned.
It wasn’t until I saw all of Pennsylvania that I nearly wept. The view stretched 360 degrees, capturing miles and miles of the beautiful countryside. Large hills stretched and dipped into valleys. Screaming hawks soared above, unknowing of my presence. And nearby cities, maybe including Allentown, looked microscopic from my view. I thought about my campus and how much it’s changed in the past year. I thought about myself and my own growth—how I’ve been forced to realign my priorities and re-examine the many things I’ve taken for granted. But most importantly, I acknowledged a warmth in my heart that had been absent for a long, long time. Surrounded by four good friends, a beautiful countryside, and an uncertain future, I exhaled a breath I’d been keeping in for almost a year.