Place Where You Live:

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

For those who live at a crossroads, the landscape carries a logic leading elsewhere. View from City Island courtesy of Nathan Barker.

Our city grew at the balance-point for a river which runs 464 miles to its grave, drowned beneath the Chesapeake. The river branches come together just above this place in the tumbled remains of mountains. Here the water ate through something more massive than the Himalayas, carrying away its flesh to pad the plains below until only ribs remained. From the streets of our city, it is possible to imagine that former range ghosting above, the way bones suggest an animal since decayed.

Travelers for time beyond memory have crossed the river here in the place where the bones of the mountain stopped boats and became bridges. When the water is low, you can cross, leaping from stone to stone. These bones became footbridges then piers for turnpikes and railroads. This place was once the crossing of the canals, and remains the place where interstates tangle.

Harrisburg grew up around its bridges. We are a city of porters, of truckers, of hostlers, and turnpike operators. We loaded the trains, the trucks, and the barges that carried wealth from one place to another, mimicking the Susquehanna carrying the mountains to the sea. We have learned our jobs too well. We host the state government whose power passes before us, and past us. In our city lives the waiter who places the meal before the governor; the janitor that cleans the Senate chambers. When steel died and the railroads slowed, like everyone else we tried computers. Our most successful local company made its fortune building electronic connectors, trying in silicon what we once perfected in stone. There is something of us in every cellphone, computer, and car, though you would have to follow a tortured route back to our name. But we only hosted that company for a few decades, and then even that bounty flowed elsewhere.

Driving to the coast, should I feel pride that such rich places feast unknowing on the flesh we have lost, that Chesapeake could be another name for Susquehanna, that your cellphone could whisper Harrisburg if you listened carefully? Perhaps, but even I have moved away.