“Do you want to go climb Mt. Nittany?” I asked Solomon.
It was early on a Sunday afternoon. Father’s Day, 2020. Solomon’s brother Samson was fast asleep. This was because Samson, like any normal four year-old during a global pandemic, woke up at 3:00 AM in the morning to tell his mother he wanted a cheese stick. So Samson was spent by noon. And Solomon was quietly thumbing a book.
Solomon has started reading by himself. Nothing is more glorious that watching my six year-old son (he’ll be seven soon) grab a book, head to his bedroom, and spend an hour reading quietly. I really want to emphasize the word quiet here. Solomon is a loud boy. Not when he’s reading. He’s an angel.
Solomon’s taken a shine to a series of books called Dog Man. They’re written by the Captain Underpants guy. Dav Pilkey. Dav is not to be confused with Dov Charney, who is a creepy clothing designer. Think Epstein. Yikes. I’m getting lost here. Too much ADHD. Back to Solomon liking Dog Man. The books concern a creature that is part dog, part man, and all police officer. Relevant subject material in this current moment, I’m afraid.
We ordered each book in the Dog Man series from Amazon. All eight of them. We’re poor, but books are essential. Especially with our local library closed down. Solomon eats the books up. Reads in the sunroom. Reads in his bedroom. The English major in me beams. We even read a few chapters from the books together before bed. There was a reference to East of Eden the other night. I loved it.
All of this is to say that Solomon was about to start reading one of his Dog Man books when I asked him to climb Mt. Nittany. His eyes lit up.
“Yes!” He shouted. “I do.”
Penn State University lies at the foot of Mt. Nittany. The university’s mascot is the Nittany Lion. Presumably, this name refers to a mountain lion that lives on Mt. Nittany. I’ve never seen a mountain lion up there. Or a snake. Thank God.
Mt. Nittany isn’t as much of a mountain as it is a very large hill. But it does the job. Looms over the valley. The boys identify it as we drive around State College.
“There’s Mt. Nittany!” Samson shouts from the backseat.
“There it is,” I say.
Samson and I have lots of compelling conversations like this.
The Tanner family drove to the foot of Mt. Nittany a few months after we left our home in Minneapolis. It’s been nearly six years since we moved to State College. Whew. Time moves quickly, man. We brought Solomon’s stroller, because we figured there would be a path for us to walk on near the mountain. There was, but it was all rocks and inclines. So we turned around and drove home.
I’ve been back a few times. Katie and I hiked the mountain for a date a few years ago. I took my friends Mike and Josh for a walk up there when they came to visit. A path circles the top of the mountain. Lots of trees. The mountains in Pennsylvania are green, but there’s some pretty remarkable views of the valley as well. Beaver Stadium stands like a shrine on the edge of this college town. You can get a good look at it from the overlook on top of the mountain.
Six years after we first drove him there, Solomon was ready to return to Mt. Nittany on Father’s Day. We said goodbye to Katie, grabbed our water bottles, and headed to the mountain.
Solomon, like most six year-olds, is very silly. And loud. Have I mentioned Solomon is loud? I really like it when he takes something seriously. Reading a book. Learning how to ride a bike. Climbing a mountain.
Solomon took climbing Mt. Nittany very, very seriously. We began to climb. I went ahead of him. He followed closely behind.
“I’m not going to whine like Samson,” Solomon kept telling me. “I’m going to be a big boy.”
Samson whines if we overstay a trip to a park. Or walk too far. Or ride too far on our scooters. It’s not cute.
Solomon didn’t whine during our hike. He just walked.
Other hikers passed us on their way down the mountain. None of them were wearing masks, but we did our best to stay on the other side of the path as they walked by. We weren’t masked either. Out in the fresh air and all. Still, the global pandemic continues, even for the people who don’t believe that the global pandemic continues. Solomon and I smiled and nodded and waved at our fellow maskless travelers.
Solomon made it to the top of the mountain without a problem. We walked along the path. Stopped at the overlook. It was so peaceful up there. Nobody else but Solomon and me.
“I love this, Dad!” He kept telling me. “Mt. Nittany is my favorite mountain!”
I loved it too. Walking peacefully through the woods with my son. Working up a sweat on our way up and down the mountain. Talking idly about whatever Solomon wanted to talk about. We talked about school. He wanted to know who decided if we returned in the fall, so I told him about superintendents of school districts. We talked about death. Solomon wanted to know what cemeteries are. We mused about the relationship between the soul and the body. Idle chit chat between a 40 year-old man and his six year-old son.
It was heavenly.
God knows that my favorite memories of my own father involve taking walks together near the Mississippi River. It was magical to walk beside him as sunlight hit the water. Those memories are eternal for me, I think. There’s no rivers out here. But there are mountains.
Back in the car, Solomon drank nearly an entire bottle of water.
“That was fun, Dad. I want to come back.”
I felt the same way.