Thursday, January 9, 2014


 One night not long ago, I was a passenger, being driven through farmlands that sit above the valley of the Kiski river. Hilltop fields. Barns and homes sparse among the now sparse trees and the stubbled land. You don't feel it at first but you're on a plateau, a high series of clearings which push up east out of Murraysville and drop steeply into the Kiski as it twists toward the Allegheny. 
  The road ran south, parallel to the north running river but far above it. Narrow streets led left down toward what must have been ferry stops or portage points below in the old tangled geography of cliffs and feeder streams. 
   The fields around us were covered in snow. Horses and cows in for the night. Houses shut up. Stores at the occasional crossroad closed tight. 
  While he drove, my friend and I were talking about the kids he teaches, the boys he has in his care. He runs a boarding school- and we were trying to remember one boy, a man now, who'd been my prefect…a word which sounds so arch and means so little to most people but meant so much to us if the prefect, the older brother, the mentor, had been kind.
  I went to a private school. Something which raises all sorts of hackles in most people. And in me. Privilege. Money. Condescension. Parental petting zoos for an elite class. Holding camps for the bosses you'll have to face. The guys who in the future will get the contracts, the acquittals, and the favors, warehoused until they're readied to be handed the reins. 
  I suppose it's often true. 
  But it was the making of me. A scholarship. A handful of teachers who deeply cared. A headmaster who gave me something more than love. I hesitate to try and define it. He could take the noise of fear - its tracklessness- and turn it into….the songline of your life. Where you felt fear walk toward it. Where the hard questions are were the only places you'd find a self worth sending out into the world.
  So here I was….out in that world….in the dark dark dark of Western Pennsylvania.
  Not enough's been said about our particular contribution to blackness, to pitch, and to gloom- the wet ink that surrounds you when you come around a country corner in Westmoreland county and the trees lean in over the road to suck down the glow out of the sky and your car's headlights might as well be water tossed into a hard black furnace. 
  And then you come over a rise and a handful of houses huddled by a bend have candles in their windows or a back porch lit up, a wagon or a horse in silhouette, and it seems like salvation. You wanna run out and hug these people for keeping you among the living.
  My friend and I came to such a place and it looked like a concert was being held in a hollow between two farms. Beacons shown. The snow was white as paint in the sun. It looked like a yard of milk. 
  A hockey game. At 10 pm on a Thursday in January  Somebody'd cleared their pond, grabbed a couple generators and every male within a mile was sliding back and forth from snow bank to snow banked goal.
  It probably took us ten seconds to pass by these men and go out of sight.
  And I thought, how little it takes to get your faith back. To recharge. To remember to breathe. To believe. To give a damn. 
  And I think that it takes so little because the country around here is so tough. It's twisted and hard. It's spare. It's rusty and weathered. The people have taken and know how to take hits. So many.   
  Appalachia. A love child of apples and hatchets, it giveth and oh boy oh boy can it ever taketh away.
  I heard a woman sing at a funeral once. Her song had the verse, "Save us from the gathering storm, because we are not worthy." Now that reads hard, but if you can, in the soundstage of your mind, imagine a voice coming out of her pelvis bones by way of the actual jacket of the heart with no other intent than to wring absolution out of your soul. Then you know what I heard.
   That sounds like something most people would want to avoid. To me it sounds like home. Which most people spend a good portion of their life trying to avoid and then end up running back to. Or from.
   I love how brutal my homeland is. Brutal economics. Brutal politics. Brutal landscape. Brute logic thrust on its people until they ape their jailers.
   I love how sweet my homeland is. Sweet eyes. Sweet beer. Sweet hills and valleys stuffed with trees. Walking out of the airport and into a summer night, breathing in the green, sodden air for the first time in's practically pornographic. I want to drink it, lap it. I want it on me.
   I love her, love her Pittsburgh.


  1. We really do have a special place to call home. And it just keeps getting better!

  2. David, in February 2013 I moved to London (UK), leaving my country, Italy (Parma) and I understand what missing homeland means..
    but still, I believe that home is the place where one feels at peace with himself, alive..
    " Ho deciso 
    di perdermi nel mondo 
    anche se sprofondo 
    lascio che le cose 
    mi portino altrove 
    non importa dove ... " Altrove , Morgan

  3. congratulations, describing landscapes, feelings... like a real writer and you make me see through your eyes. Although of course ... I don't your love for the brutal part of your country

  4. This connection you have with place—your place— highlights the power of your writing. It explores and reveals that elusive draw, that inescapable tie between human and homeland. It is visual, visceral and heartfelt and a reminder that we are formed in part by our surroundings and should never let that go.

  5. David, as I read what you write I am touched. Your writing is deep and it makes me jealous. It makes me wish I could be deep like that. This one especially moved me. It came at a time in my life where I am realizing how important "home" actually is.
    I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania and always called it home. My grandmother had a stroke last week and is now in hospice care. She kept saying in the hospital she wanted to go home. I took a leave from work so she could be at home for the days she has left. As I sit here watching her pray, I realize that home means something else to her right now. I am an emotional person but I don't always know how to express my feelings. This piece got me thinking about how I can put those feelings into words.
    Julia is right about how we are formed by our surroundings. My grandmother has always been a big part of my life and I would not be the person I am without this wonderful woman. I will be here when she decides it's time to go home. I will one day see her again at her "home".
    I want to thank you again David for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You have made it easier to find those words of comfort. Thank you.

  6. A piece on a newspaper made me smile, reminded me of you, the way you write about your homeland while shedding another ray of light about her:

    People that care, deeply, for others. Nice to know they exist :)

  7. Amazingly, this is amazing. I remember how much I love my city, Maracaibo. Very far from you, but the same continent. And we could identify career and written, in hobbies and visions. But the essential here is the importance, delicacy - rudeness with which your words plasmas. You're a gem. Hugs and greetings from Venezuela.

  8. Damn, this is exceptional writing. It actually gave me chills.

  9. Dave, sorry to hear about what happened in Pittsburgh this morning. I hope all your family and friends and you are doing alright. x

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