Erie, Pa: You Fulfill Me

I never would have predicted that Erie, Pennsylvania would become my contemplative home away from home.

I mean, Erie’s kind of a smaller version of Cleveland, where I live. It’s perched on the shore of Lake Erie. It’s got Victorian-era neighborhoods full of grit and beauty. It’s got hulking factories, many of which appear to be closed.

And it’s less than 90 minutes from home. Meccas are supposed to be far away, aren’t they? Halfway around the world, or at least reachable only after a grueling trek across mountains and valleys.

Erie’s just a quick zoom away on Interstate 90. The last time I went, I barely had a chance to make a phone call and listen to Roxette’s Greatest Hits before I arrived. (Granted, I did play “Dressed for Success” about a half-dozen times on repeat.)

So what’s the draw?

Primarily, a cabin. A cabin about which I don’t want to give too many details — not out of any sense of secrecy, but because to try to describe it would compromise the mystery of the place. The silent corner it occupies in my psyche.

I’ve been going there for the last couple of years, thanks to a tip from a friend. I’ve made a handful of visits now, including one each at the very end of 2013 and 2014 to take stock of the preceding year and think about the next.

The cabin and its surroundings are lovely enough. But on this last trip, I also explored the city of Erie and the region a bit more. I hung out in the cabin in the mornings, then ventured out in the afternoons for some physical movement and extraversion.


Whole Foods Co-op, Erie, Pa.

Here’s what I found:

* A neighborhood along the city’s 26th Street that boasts not only an independent food co-op, the Whole Foods Co-op (not to be confused with the national chain), but also sustenance of another sort — the geeky sort — in the form of a super-friendly comic book shop, Above & Beyond Comics, Inc., where I bought the first issue of the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic. (Yes, the teen witch — what can I say, I still miss Buffy!) Everything’s within walking distance.

* A great yoga studio, Yoga Erie, that offers hot vinyasa classes.

* A series of marquee-style signs on buildings along 12th Street that read: “Excellence comes only from making mistakes.” Preach it, Erie! I never could figure out who was responsible for these — whether it was a nonprofit group or a series of private businesses — but I decided to make it one of my mantras for 2015.

* Some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen in Chautauqua County, N.Y., about a 20-minute drive away. I’d driven through this westernmost corner of the state before — but mostly on interstates, so I’d missed the wooded loveliness of its back roads. State Route 6, which I drove to visit the Chautauqua Gorge State Forest, was especially replenishing. Just everything you want from the western Appalachian Plateau: steep hills, cozy hollers, human-scale farms.


Chautauqua Gorge State Park

Oh, I’ll still seek out more glamorous pilgrimages from time to time, to ashrams and parks in farther-flung places.

But it’s both a comfort and a thrill to know that in the meantime, when I need an easily accessible time out, there’s always Erie.

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