This is Where I Live by Robert Thaeler

This is where I live – the South Mountain landscape is home. The naturalist John Muir once wrote that “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” While Muir was writing about Yosemite, to me Muir’s passage offers equal relevance to this place I call home.

And unlike Muir, I do not have to cross a continent to feel this sentiment – I experience it every morning from my bedroom window. My first and last views of the day are the east-facing slopes of the South Mountain. The splashing of morning sun on the wooded hillside wakes me, and colorful sunsets over the mountain provide daily closure.

Many of my core family memories are of recreating in the South Mountain region. In my favorite picture of my wife, she sits at a partially obscured rock outcrop along the Appalachian Trail overlooking the Cumberland Valley. We were still dating at the time, but that picture and setting reminds me of our budding love for one another. And now, my son’s burgeoning interest in the outdoors surely traces to our family’s day hikes in the South Mountain landscape. Playing and exploring in the sparkling streams provide him with pure joy, and offer me some of my fondest memories.

Muir lamented in his writings the potential loss of Yosemite to commercialization and the conversion of a wonderful natural landscape for resource development. I think Muir would appreciate the South Mountain region, where natural settings and sensitive human settlement coexist in a mutually beneficial form. The protected Michaux State Forest nestles against productive agricultural lands. Both “beauty” and “bread” are here, and my family values the local harvest available from local farm markets and pick-your-own farms in the shadow of the wooded mountains.

The South Mountain region is one of those settings that provides therapeutic relief to both “body and soul.” In an era where we are constantly bombarded with negative images and news, it is still possible to escape these influences by connecting with the South Mountain. A short hike on a remote mountain trail is all that is necessary. I often find myself awash in the restorative qualities of the South Mountain as soon as I move beyond the noise of vehicle traffic. Replacing the noise of our built environment with the sounds of nature – the birds, the wind in the trees, the rustling of leaves underfoot, the gurgling of a mountain stream, and everything else – provides for me a personal restoration that is often sorely needed.

There are plenty of regions and landscapes in our country where one can pursue such relief. Places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Shenandoah, the Adirondacks, the Grand Canyon – all of these are wonderful places where personal renewal is possible. But none of these places, as special as they are, represent home. The South Mountain landscape is home – this is where I live.

Borrowing from Muir – the South Mountain is calling me, and I must go!


Robert Thaeler

April 17, 2015