Homespun doesn't mean ho-hum

September 13, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

Why do we tend not to value that which is right under our nose?

This past weekend, I returned to the rural area of northwestern Pennsylvania where I grew up. As my family drove along a country road toward the house my brother and his wife recently purchased, we were struck by the beauty of the green hills surrounding us.

"This is really pretty if you stop to look at it," my husband said.

He had spoken my thoughts, except "pretty" might have been an understatement. I had been gazing out the window and the sight was stirring.

I knew this road well. I had traveled it hundreds of times in my younger years. I'd even spent moments one night huddled on its embankment, giggling with friends after we'd toilet-papered my boyfriend's house.

I should have known the terrain. I should not have been surprised by its loveliness. But I really was.

Maybe it was part of the "grass is greener" phenomenon. People frequently don't appreciate that which is familiar to them. Yet they are impressed by similar things if they happen to be elsewhere.

I began to consider other treasures of that region that I overlooked. There are rivers and recreational areas I rarely visited. Now I will travel a distance to camp or kayak in such spots. There is a free-roaming herd of more than 300 elk that people drive miles to observe. I'm told they are majestic and unforgettable, weighing up to 1,000 pounds. I've never seen them.

There is a winery and antiquing, and an international chainsaw carving festival. I wasn't interested. A Benedictine convent dating back to the 1850s, which I now find historically and culturally significant, used to be the butt of my jokes. I'd see a nun in full habit on a tractor and dub her "Sister Mary-Mow-the-Lawn" as I drove on by.

The sad weirdness of local opportunity missed reminds me of work I did as an editorial assistant for a college professor.

He was conducting music ethnography research. Time and again he found that musicians and their music that was esteemed and sought after from afar typically was overlooked or thought of as "just those local guys" at home.

I want to guard against seeing quaintness as exclusive to the foreign. It doesn't need to be in someone else's town for it to be cool.

Our Tri-State area is alive with quilters and knitters, painters and potters who peddle their wares at local festivals.

Others make soap and lotion, instruments and jewelry, wine and beer. A heritage museum offers demonstrations on wood-firing bread in an outdoor oven and on four-square gardening. Bluegrass porch-pickin' at the canal, an annual mile-long yard sale and south county poultry swaps are the stuff living magazines are made of.

We have access to a well-regarded art museum and a symphony orchestra.

I took my daughter to the City Farmers Market the morning of her seventh birthday. A handsome, buoyant woman swayed as she commanded the keys of a timeworn piano and the sounds of lively standards swirled through the building.

Vendors hawked fresh meat, cheese, produce and confections. Breakfast sizzled on the grill while we perused handmade wooden toys and metal crafts. It felt like vacation.

I finally took my kids to Antietam National Battlefield this summer.

Though it's less than 20 minutes away, my youngest two had never been there.

As we parked the van, they noticed license plates from New England and far southern states. That's not surprising, I suppose, given that more than 330,000 people visit the battlefield each year. We ascended the park's observation and talked with a ranger for clues in a scavenger hunt.

"This is awesome," my kids said. "Can we come here every day?"

Well, given that we live here, I guess we could.

The grass is pretty green right here. I should graze.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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