Hello readers. I’ve been gone a while. You deserve an explanation for that. This past July, on the afternoon of the 10th, my grandmother passed away at the age of 97 after a months-long illness. From helping my parents with caring for her and her home, as well as dealing with the aftermath of her passing, I was in no emotional condition to do any traveling and precious little writing. It took until now to finally get back the desire to start putting digital pen to paper again. I didn’t know if I’d come back to doing this blog or not, but as the summer wore on and normalcy began coming back to my family, I realized that it was time to get back to doing the things that provide food for the soul, such as going on these little journeys.
It feels awkward combining all of this deep pathos with a post about a new coffee shop. Here’s the thing though: you have to keep going. When someone you love is gone, you go to that dark night of the soul where you feel like there’s less meaning to everything. When that happens, you need to get out of the world of your own mind because that kind of introspection will eat you alive. It will also do no good. That’s my experience at least. The thing of it is, me not adventuring would be the last thing my grandmother would have wanted. She was driving herself to Florida on vacations well into her 80s and packed a lot of life into her years. May we all live that kind of life.
This latest trip took me to a place I’d never gone before but have always been curious about…Columbia, PA. Columbia is one of those small river towns you find here in the Susquehanna Valley that has an industrial vibe. Columbia’s size belies its importance in history: it was the first commercial crossing of the Susquehanna River. Such was the town’s vitality that it was also just a few votes short of becoming the first capital of the United States! Now it’s known for having one of the world’s few clockwork museums, as well as a gorgeous and commanding view of the river. Even so, you don’t hear much about Columbia these days; certainly it’s not one of the towns that’s “plugged in” to the art scene in the midstate the way that York and Lancaster are. Yet it was that unknown quantity of Columbia which caused me to look the place up and decide to take a random drive there.
The coffeehouse I found was called Cafe 301. They mentioned food on the little Internet blurb so I wasn’t quite sure if this was a restaurant-style cafe or a bona fide coffee house. It is not only a coffeehouse, but quite a coffeehouse. More on that later. My first view of Columbia as I drove down was that aforementioned beautiful view of the river from the top of a hill as you descend into the valley. South Central PA is replete with winding country roads, and the path to Columbia was no exception. I didn’t know I was even close to the city until I was looking down upon it from the little rise.
As I drove in, I could tell that the people here had a sense of civic pride that’s missing from a lot of towns in Appalachia these days. There were signs everywhere pointing the way to historical sites and a beautiful mural painted on the side on an old industrial building. The coffeehouse was pretty easy to find, and the parking was actually non-extortionary, unlike Harrisburg, but we’re not talking about Harrisburg right now. We’re talking about coffee.
Cafe 301 is a pretty spacious coffee spot; it has a streamlined, modern atmosphere to it which I find really sophisticated. The whole place feels new, and it is relatively new, having just started up within the last year! The shop already seems to be a community center; there were pamphlets and business cards set out on one of the tables in the main dining area, so local businesses are obviously keen to advertise here. Importance is a key to permanence in the coffee business.
The coffee I had there was one that immediately struck my eye when I saw it. There’s a photo of it below…it’s called Sasquatch. The coffee is made by Square One; a micro-roaster in nearby Lancaster. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m into the paranormal. And every year near Columbia there’s a thing called the Albatwitch Festival, named after the eponymous local mythological creature (similar in size though not in stature to a Sasquatch, or Bigfoot). The most distinct thing about the coffee was its nutty flavor. I really enjoy that in a coffee; as well it has a nice acidity balance to it. Really a satisfying mouthfeel, the kind you want to swish around just to feel it. Square One really knows its craft, and these folks were wise to get their product from them.
On my way out of town, I couldn’t help but feel that this really was the start of a whole new chapter in my travels, as well as my life in general. Sometimes, although I enjoyed driving around and doing this blog for its own sake, I would let things just whiz by, figuratively and literally. I’d be a little emotionally detached, in other words, even as I was enjoying things; too focused on the outcomes and not on savoring my surroundings. That was foolish. The world is really something to be savored.