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Across the Hocking Hills

Posted on Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 12:12PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in | Comments2 Comments

“We have some friends who’d like to meet you,” my hostess had said over the phone before I arrived. “Would you mind if we had a dinner party the night you come?”

— No, of course I wouldn’t mind!

And so it was that, within an hour after I arrived at the bed and breakfast southeast of Adelphi, I was shaking hands with a retired biologist and his wife, and we were ushered out to the deck behind the building, where our hostess proceeded to lay out a simple, but delicious meal. The steep hills on either side of the narrow valley sheltered us there. Horses were grazing just upstream.

I hadn’t known what to expect of this meeting. From similar events in Iowa, I’d assumed that the people who wanted to meet me, wanted to do so because of my leading to walk across the country; I feared they would be disappointed when they learned about my bursitis and my inability to walk more than three miles a day. But it turned out that it was the environmental connection with the church world that interested them.

“People want to feel that they are part of the solution,” the biologist said. “It’s hard for them to take a lasting interest in a problem unless they feel there is something useful they can do. That’s why they focus on recycling.

“When it comes to the larger picture, I’m afraid I’m a pessimist,” he said. But we talked about some ways in which ordinary people can do things that contribute to the solution even of such intractable problems as habitat destruction and species extinctions: dedicating parts of the land they own for habitat for locally threatened species, even if it’s only a back yard; co√∂perating with their neighbors in the creation of local wildlife corridors; working with organizations that specialize in such work, such as the Wildlands Project.

Green frogs and a barred owl serenaded us as the evening light began to fail.

The biologist told me that the area I was in, the Hocking Hills, sheltered relict populations — little bits of ecosystems that had evolved for the colder climate of the last Ice Age, and that had lingered on in cool, sheltered spots here after the ice retreated. Of course, these relict populations are now endangered not only by real estate development, but also by the changing climate: it stopped snowing in the winters in much of the Hocking Hills three years ago. This could be an ideal entry point for local folks who wanted to be part of the solution for species-preservation issues. But of course, there are things that people can do almost everywhere nowadays, to help save species.

The following day — Tuesday, July 10 — was a rest day; I soaked up the ambience of the hills and worked a bit on catching up on my reports to this blog site. On Wednesday, I set out again. My route took me northward, over the thickly wooded ridge behind the bed & breakfast, on a partly unpaved road barely more than one lane wide. Some of the pitches on that road were steep enough, they wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a jeep road in Colorado! But unlike Colorado, here were houses, even quite prosperous houses with well-groomed yards, every hundred yards or so. Wretched roads and emerald woods coexisted with suburbia.

On the far side of the ridge, my route joined a secondary highway up a flat valley between ridges. Corn here was planted in patches, not in seas, and alternated with hayfields and pasture. The sky, overcast all morning, thickened up and began to rain. At a fork in the road I turned left, the road climbed steeply onto the top of another ridge and wound about, and I found myself at Hocking Hills State Park, where I was scheduled to camp that night.

My fellow campers were packed closely together at the site; what with the soggy tents everywhere and the kids playing in the rain up and down the road, I felt as if I was sheltering among refugees. But refugees they most definitely were not; they were having a fine time. The kids at the campsite two sites east of mine stayed up talking and laughing far into the night, watching the nocturnal burglary attempts (some of them successful!) of the campground’s raccoon population, while the warm rain continued to fall.

jul 12-14.jpgThe next day, July 12 — again a rainy one — wound through some of the finest woods I’ve seen so far on this journey — secondary growth, but older, with healthy great trees and rich soils beneath — to a region of the Hocking Hills where corn fields entirely vanished, and the areas not wooded were given over to pasture. Here, at the hamlet of Starr, Ohio, was the last scheduled bed & breakfast on my route. Dinner was pizza at Etta’s General Store, where the owner has what is without doubt the largest collection of old lunchboxes in the state of Ohio. I slept in a loft, surrounded by the sounds of thunder and pouring rain.

The day after that, just past the Coonville Holiness Church (wonderful name!), I spotted the first abandoned coal mine I’d noticed in these hills — they are common here, of course, but not, apparently, along the precise route I’ve taken. There was the spill of coal down the hillside, visible among the trees; there the churned, toxic-looking soil — Steep slopes alone, of course, are not enough to protect a land from human ravages! I learned a little later that there are serious problems with creek pollution hereabouts from toxic run-off from the old mines.

The damage wasn’t pleasant to see, but just a little ways further was another stretch of very healthy-looking woods, where I was glad enough to sit in silence with the green life of the woods for a piece of the afternoon.

Then up and down again the highway ran, and I came to the home of one of my co-workers from the early days of the Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN), the environmental network I’d helped to found. Here I was scheduled to stay two nights with this Friend and his family, and meet with the Friends of Athens Monthly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting [FGC]). It would be my last stay with Friends on this journey (so far as I know, anyway), and my last meeting with any Friends community until I come to the very end of the road.

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Reader Comments (2)

The iron furnaces of the Hocking Hills were abandonned when the Mesabi Range deposit in Minnesota was discovered. The soil had been acidified by the smelting process and charcoal making, and what patches of level land there were, had been rendered unfit for a decent vegetable garden. Both people and land got poor fast. Then the Depression arrived, and the New Deal people called the county and said, we're making a Forest in the Hocking Hills. The county people said there were no trees there. That's ok, said the New Deal, we'll build the park, and the trees will come. And by god that's what happened. FDR sent out CCC guys who cleared paths (which damage lines of landscape but preserve everything around it), built picnic tables and piers into the tiny reservoir lakes, and planted trees. At first they planted ridiculously unlikely exotics, but in March '07 I was assured by a lady in charge of much of the Wayne Forest that they've been planting only native and attested trees since the 80s. The 80s!! No great greed without some local intervention. This was all expounded at a meeting of the West Virginia Native Plant Society.

Mar 4, 2009 at 01:34AM | Unregistered CommenterEllen Martin

Thank you for the bits of background, Ellen!

Mar 5, 2009 at 05:26AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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