by Ben Moyer
I count myself fortunate. My commute repeats a 20-minute immersion in the landscape I call home.
It begins near the Mason-Dixon Line on the Allegheny Plateau, hemmed on opposing horizons by 90-mile ridges that strike southwest to northeast like folds across a quilt. I start west on Rte. 40, the Old National Road, built to open the West beyond the Appalachians. Chestnut Ridge looms in the windshield while Laurel Ridge hulks in my rear-view mirror.
From afar, Chestnut Ridge dips and climbs gently, lofted by sandstone ribs that have borne 300 million years of weather and wear. But as I climb closer, hair-pinning into its hollows, that soft contour yields to ledges and rugged ravines, places where your imagination wants to plant a panther, and where panthers prowled not so long ago. Then I crest the summit and the broad Monongahela valley sprawls beyond; hill farms and woodlots to the planet’s gauzy curve. At this latitude, no other mountain rises short of Colorado’s Front Range.
At the summit I turn north, climbing higher along the spine, the Ohio basin yawning below my left shoulder. From here I can glance right, beyond even Laurel Ridge, to the softer line of Negro Mountain–another parallel ridge–30 miles eastward. When I pass here in June the sun is just summiting Negro Mountain’s horizon, throwing salmon tint across the undersides of oak leaves above the road.
Here I’m on the Old Braddock Road, trail of that English general’s disastrous 1755 campaign against the French and Indians at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburgh’s steel skyline now carves the sky on clear autumn mornings, 60 miles northwest.
As when Braddock passed, this is a country of forest. It’s younger forest now, less native, but it’s forest. Oak, hickory, hemlock and the occasional ailanthus brood over multi-flora rose shouldering against mountain laurel and mountain azalea. Traffic is scant but around any bend I might encounter a black bear, a bobcat or a turkey flock. By the time I settle my mind on work I’ve sensed the mechanics of Earth under the flow of unknowable time.