I heard the scraping, metal wrenching against rock, and imagined the end.
My Honda Civic jostled down the rutted logging road carved into the hillside in Centre County’s northern wilderness. Clearly, by the ugly sounds coming from beneath me, I could have used a Jeep or at least a few more inches of clearance.
Any second now, I thought, my expedition to explore the ghost town of Kato would come to a halt with the crack of a broken axle or the rattling of key parts bouncing in the trailing dust cloud.
A dismal vision flashed before me: stranded miles from anywhere, no cell phone reception, a long trek back to civilization with my elderly guide, the Clarence man who had assured me that my car could handle a trip to his childhood home.
He looked unfazed, as if descending into a remote river canyon with a stranger in an ill-equipped vehicle threatening to fall apart happened every day for someone pushing 90. I didn’t feel as calm.
In search of a story, I was in danger of becoming one.
As luck would have it, we reached the canyon floor in one piece. My unflappable companion directed us to Kato’s overgrown site, then put a damper on my Indiana Jones fantasy by tilting his seat back for a nap after wishing me luck.
While he snoozed, I found my ghosts: leaf-filled depressions, like shallow graves, where houses once stood; the crumbling stone walls of a general store reclaimed by the woods over decades, trees snaking through its window frames.
Worth every jolt, every anxious moment, the eerie spot was among the many unforgettable places I visited as a Centre Daily Times reporter and editor — a wonderful run that recently came to a close.
I’m now the communications director for the State College Area School District, an exciting new chapter in my life. But I’m leaving behind a long and rewarding one. For almost 20 years, first with sports and then with features and news, it was my privilege to write about Centre County’s people, places, culture and history.
My car — a trusty 1998 Civic with which I reluctantly parted this year — racked up more than 200,000 miles criss-crossing the county to people and experiences I probably would have never encountered otherwise.
I’ve flown in a glider, hot air balloon, medical transport helicopter, aerial survey plane and two World War II bombers. Down a country road I’ve roared in the passenger seat of a vintage Mach 1 Mustang.
Behind a blind in the dawn mist, I’ve crouched with a father taking his daughter deer-hunting for the first time. In kitchens, living rooms and dens, I’ve sat across from inspirations: children and adults triumphing over injuries, illnesses and genetic conditions; combat veterans who quietly told harrowing tales; parents coping with the ultimate loss and the permanent hole it tore.
It never ceased to amaze and humble me, people sharing their hopes, joys and sorrows, their remembrances and dreams, each interview the rarest of gifts. Nobody goes into journalism to become wealthy, but like many who have put up with its pressures and demands, I’ve been enriched beyond financial measure.
To everyone who invited me into their homes and lives, I offer my eternal gratitude. Our conversations taught me volumes about life and the human spirit, and for that I’m luckier than a lottery winner. You gave me much, and I hope that I’ve always repaid that trust.
To all the readers, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You took time from your busy lives to spend a few minutes with me, an honor I will always treasure.
And to my former colleagues, thank you for the drive and talent you brought to work daily; for the jocularity at lighter moments, the grace and teamwork shown under stress and pressure and the friendship throughout. I’ve left a paper that’s moving forward in good hands, committed as ever to covering this community across the board.
Now, I’m off to new challenges, different stories to tell, more people to meet.
But I’m not letting go completely.
On a freelance basis, I’ll continue writing this Sunday column, looking for human-interest stories excluding anything to do with SCASD or the other local school districts. Please send ideas to either Assignment Editor Alison Boston at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Japan, where I lived for two years after college, “sayonara” means goodbye but carries an air of finality, like bidding farewell to someone for a long time or forever. Friends instead may say “mata ne” to each other at the end of the day, meaning “see you soon.”
I’ve said goodbye to the CDT, but not sayonara to the people and places that have made work a pleasure for two decades.
See you soon.