A Postcard from Penn State

A crisp winter morning. Seven degrees F. Bitter cold, but quite a bit warmer than the day before. The sky is clear; the light is coming. I have on my warmest winter gear, and I am riding the bus, ready to walk this campus. As we approach the west end of campus, I spot a plume of pink smoke. Pink smoke!?!? Quicker than a wink, I am off the bus, taking pictures!

As it turns out, the pink plume in the sky is created by the light of sunrise illuminating a column of steam emitted by the west campus steam plant. There is a plant on each side of campus: east, and west. They have made the news in the past year or so because of their conversion from coal to natural gas. The new gas pipeline went in last year; it's a move toward cleaner energy, one hopes.

And in the foreground is our famous Nittany Lion statue. I bid "The Chief Nittner," as I call it, a cheery good morning, as I always do. Its face and ears are covered in fresh overnight snow. Just an inch or so; a powdered sugar snow. And then I walk all around and kneel down behind the statue, trying to get the best angle for taking pictures against the light.

I have to admit that I've never seen the lion framed like this, against a pink plume of steam. So this is the shot I select, of the many, many taken on this morning. (A few of the shots end up looking like some kind of apocalyptic alien world of pink fire smoldering against the blue predawn snow; in a strange way, I like that too.)

In case you haven't guessed it by now, let me say this out loud: I am a Penn Stater, through and through. Penn State proud, as we say around here. I bleed blue and white (our school colors). I got two college degrees here. I've had a more than 25-year career; going on 30, actually. They've all been good years, and I am grateful. I never expected to have this; it all started like some unexpected gift. And here I am.

Where have the years gone? I ask that, and at the same time, I admit that I have a sense of an ending time that is coming; yes, even for me. My husband, newly retired last summer, is pushing for me to join him. I have a number, a date, in mind, but I haven't spoken of it yet. Not until it's time for all of that.

To tell you the truth, though, I can't imagine not coming here, not walking this beautiful campus so many mornings with my camera. Working here gives me the best excuse of all to be here. I take liberties: I go anywhere I please. I open doors to buildings I have never been in before, and don't need to go in now, just because I'm curious to see what's inside.

It's like a treasure trove: there are places you know well, of course, but you may not be able to guess what's lurking around some hidden corner. That is some of what I enjoy most: the sense of discovery. There is so much to see behind each waiting door; so many stories waiting to be told.

This place is part of who I am now; it cannot leave me. And one little part of what Penn State is now, it is that way because I helped to make it so, even if only in some tiny way. How do you build a dream? One brick at a time. (Do little things with great love, as a wise woman once said. And watch those bricks stack up!)

I make the conscious choice to live in this moment: to enjoy fully this glimpse of pink steam over the Nittany Lion, even though I know it will not last. It is a sight I have never seen before in all of these years; may never see again. And I take pictures to make it stay; to ensure that I will remember; to carry it with me.

Greetings from Penn State.
It's a beautiful winter morning.
Wish you were here!

The tune: David Gilmour, of Pink Floyd fame, with a really gorgeous "unplugged" version of Wish You Were Here.

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