In the rolling green hills outside Punxsutawney, little yellow signs sprout from the lawns of every third or fourth house: "U Can't Afford to Pay For School."
The Amish grocery is dark and ill-ventilated. There are no locally grown produce. In fact, there are no produce at all. Perhaps this indicates that there is an abundance of local produce in gardens or, maybe, it is a peculiarity of the store. The dusty shelves are lined with expired or damaged goods, paper towels and soaps whose color schemes and font choices resurrect advertising campaigns from an earlier decade. A black wire bin overflows with a random assortment of deformed energy bars, each one in the terminal moments of a long and happy shelf life. They sell for ten cents each, a fraction of their former value, twisted forms of hydrogenation that will, undoubtedly, gather dust for years to come. Bearded men in overalls alternate between English and Dutch at the register. Their transaction done, they head out to the dirt parking lot where an extended cab F-350 waits for them. A woman with a long dress and a bonnet pops out of the store at the last moment and jumps in the truck, followed by a sullen teenager with a flat-brimmed straw hat. The truck backs up and turns onto the highway, revealing a non-Amish driver. As the Ford's diesel engine rumbles into the hills, the teen's impassive face is glued to the rear window. Head static, eyes wide, the focus of his vision is dictated by the movements of the machine.
The temperature plummets as the atmosphere clears. The sun loses power, its filament glowing for a moment before fading into darkness. The chill becomes damp cold. The wind picks up, blowing the last few clouds from the sky. North-central Pennsylvania is a patchwork of state forests and parks surrounding a large elk reserve. Elk idle at the roadsides, methodically working over patches of grass before fleeing into dense trees at the distant sound of a solitary engine. This is one of the darkest areas of the eastern United States, a fact Pennsylvania prides itself on. Looking up through a frame of silhouetted leaves, colorful points of light cover a navy-blue sky like glitter smeared across construction paper by an artistic kindergardener. The trees rustle under pressure from the breeze and small footsteps crunch across dried leaves under their wavering canopy.