Several of you know that in the past year I have suffered over the fact that, despite it’s obvious beauty in the midst of all these trees, I began the new year distressed that I had yet to find a place of magic in Cincinnati. I’m talking about an inspirational place. Like the hay mow when I was a kid. With mystical qualities–where you could imagine the visit of an angel or appearance of an apparition — the voice of a dear departed coaching you on the finer points of life and the all too soon after.
Yes, I make light, but it isn’t funny. This is my version of church. Where I can see more than the mundane and monotonous. A place that channels the creative and spirit quenching energy that leads me back to writing, singing, or the easil.
After the boys left at Christmas, I had three days to get my head together and find the enlightened thoughts and visions that would let me return to work with boundless energy and the conviction that my ideas had the power to transform. New Year’s Day I traveled frantically to several places recommended by others for their other worldly characteristics. All disappointments. With the prospects exhausted, I was inwardly panicked. My time to start the year as a new woman had run out. I can’t remember ever before beginning January 1st feeling worn out and “unadjusted.” Nevertheless, my well-groomed inner-survivor kicked in short order and reminded me that dates are just dates and a celebration or ritual can take place whenever the planets align. And, so I learned to let go of my dramatic annual entrance. For the time being, but not forever.
Moderation and Other Over-rated Disciplines
Moderation is not my strong suite as many of you know. Like a junk yard dog, I pursued fellow workers, the internet, and perfect strangers in search of a fitting magic place. By mid-March, I had constructed a short list including some locations that required a drive. I determined to save my top candidate for Bonnie Neal’s visit in early April. If my magic place elect turned out to be a letdown, I knew we’d find something to laugh at or jeer about. And that is how B and I came to visit Hocking Hills.
The B List
B’s biannual visits are centered around celebrating our birthdays, both on the 26th five months apart. The truth is that the trips are an excuse to be precocious on the road. Given that I have the new surroundings, Cincinnati has been our wilderness of choice since my move. B is another who cannot spell “moderation” nor does she want to. We know more about Cincinnati and its undiscovered haunts than many of the natives. But back to the story …
April 13, the talented, whirlwind B touched down in River City. We have a pattern of activities as she arrives for her fourth visit—a list of regular stops as it were. We’ve made friends at a sweet, little antique mall and a quirky shop in Milford that has crystals and pretty polished stones, handmade jewelry and mythical figurines along with a variety of new age goodies and art. We indulge in guilty pleasures at Jungle Jim’s (the foodie destination) and conduct movie marathons. Before she arrived, we discussed a field trip to my prospective magical place. And, of course, she was onboard. In my pre-visit planning, I’d also learned that a salvage warehouse to which I’d become attached had moved to a bigger location. When I went to check it out, I stumbled on an asian outlet. We did all of the above including a visit to a new tea shop and a sale at Coldwater where I came out a winner. In all, the “list” delivered to me a buddhist prayer altar (table made of alder), a distressed utility table (holding my plants in the pantry), and a red-striped patio umbrella. And, that was all the first day.
Over the River and Through the Caves
The real adventure of this trip was Hocking Hills. People talked highly of the beauty and spectacle hidden in the ravines and hills near Logan, Ohio. And again we take off. Three hours from Cincinnati in the foothills of the Appalachians and
through familiar looking farm country and skirting south of Columbus (with thoughts of Tom Waters and an aborted winter trip to see him there while on his sabbatical) we eventually come to an unpretentious rolling landscape much like Ridgeway, Dodgeville, and Spring Green. We pass nice looking cabins and some spas that fit the landscape but look far from rustic. The visitor’s center points us in the direction of caves and waterfalls. Hard to imagine given what we’ve seen. We search for the shortest trail since it’s already pushing 3pm. Down and around. Curves and trees. Finally a park wayside where we see colored balloons floating in a creek.
Later we will learn that these are part of a red, white, and blue double wedding being held nearby. But for the present, we head across the street into a valley that reminds me of a big Parfrey’s Glen (a favorite spot near Baraboo, Wi). About a quarter mile in, we see the mouth of an enormous open cave and a spectacular waterfall. Totally unexpected. We are blown away. No words are necesssary. This is the magic place.
Every few feet we see a picture we think we cannot live without. Later B talks about how I will return for my own little retreat in the fall or winter. I will write or paint there for a weekend and figure my life out and recharge my engine. She talks as if this is a done deal. And it is. I am sold.
My friend and colleague, Ray, rents a cabin with his wife and daughters and they steal away each fall to unwind and watch the birds at feeders outside each window. “It is bliss,” he says. And now I know why.
The second large falls picture below shows B by the falls. You get a sense of the enormity of the cave.
must see it. So off we go. Over a meadow. Past more cabins. It is quiet and lovely and peaceful. We see the cave site sign and park the car. This trail takes us into a large ravine with a paved walk running through fallen moss snakes that were once trees. We gaze with amazement at rock faces that would make a mountain sheep draw a long breath. There is such phenomenal contrast between the dark of the ravine wall and the bright sun at top. We make some great photos and wonder what summer and fall and winter look like after this fresh limey green of spring. After a while, we hear the faint echo of water. And pass a few couple headed in the opposite direction. They tell us we are close and that they used to visit here often when their children were small. We wish each other happy trails and hike off wondering what the next waterfall will be like.
Finally, we are there. It is different. Darker, smaller, quieter. Like a chapel to a church. But beautiful and serene. More pictures . . .
I finally have my magic place. Only wish that it was closer so that I could escape there more often.
Return to Muchmore
We find a great barbecue restaurant on the edge of Logan and complete a divine day with ribs and brisket. On the way home, I demonstrate to B my command of the Italian language by singing phrases I have learned listening to Berlitz’s musical cd “Learn Italian on the Road.” B is sure the only way I will remember these phrases when I eventually go to Tuscany, will be to sing them and we surmise what a scene that will make– or not. Afterall, it is Italy.
Apple Annie and Cleo
Along the way, we fit in a trip to the Ohio Antique Mall and the Museum Center at the old railway station. We get sucked into the time vortex and revert to school girls and we both leave the mall with dolls. Neither of us are collectors (OK, I’m not). B is looking for characters to photograph for her children’s books. So no surprise when a gangly Apple Annie attaches herself to B’s heart and handbag. I, on the other hand, mumble some secret wish to find my Ginny doll from childhood. How do I know the universe will take this as an incantation and deliver the doll in the next aisle?! I am dumbfounded. Be careful what you wish for. Now that I have found Ginny 2, what to do with her?! I decide to ask Mom to make her clothes like she did for Ginny 1 and will put her away with hopes that one of the boys will have a daughter someday.
The Museum Center, the old art deco rail station, is our final outing. For several months, the center has been running a show of antiquities from Cleopatra’s empire. They were recently retrieved from the sea and are touring the US. B has a thing for Cleo and this last stop is a real coup. Dramatically done and, well, what can you say when you realize how long that stuff has been sitting on the ocean floor. Fabulous!
To Verona Again
There wasn’t much we didn’t do and an extra day to play made the visit more satisfying and took the sting out of seeing B leave. And, so, I send good tidings to Apple Annie and regards to B and her Dog-in-the-Hole studio. You will be back in October and we will do much more . . .