Natural beauty.

Every so often I wonder if I’m destined to move again, and where it might be. I wonder if I was wrong to leave Columbus, and if I’ll ever go back there on a semi-permanent basis. It’s where my family is, good ol’ Aunt Pam and Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie owns a bar, which would seem to be a nice thing to have in the family in your golden years. My mom, who toiled for the Bell System her whole career, got free long distance for life after she retired. I think, when your brother owns a bar, you might get a free beer every week or so.

(I must always remember, however, the story Charlie told at our dad’s wake, which I think I’ve told here before, so I won’t. We call it “Michelob 3-5-7,” and it involves the entrepreneurial spirit, and its moral is: There is no free beer.)

But eventually I consider that even though I was wrong about Columbus being a hick town, and while I now frankly admit it’s a fine place to live and work, it’s no longer for me. There’s not enough nature there.

Central Ohio is a flat place, cleaved by two brown rivers. It has parks, and it tries very hard with what it has, but ultimately: Bleah. I once covered a suicide at a place called Antrim Park, which has a running/biking path that surrounds a charmless, man-made pond about the size and shape of a football field. A man in a wheelchair had turned it 90 degrees on the path, leaned into his chin switch and drove himself down the bank to his death. I looked around at his surroundings and thought, well, you can see why he did it. There are two “yacht clubs” in Columbus; both sail on reservoirs. The area is so desperate for liquid resources that Buckeye Lake, in my day a fetid near-swamp, is now sprouting $600,000 weekend retreats. My friend Cindy was out boating on it once when they ran out of gas. “Do we wait for someone to tow us in?” she asked the skipper. “Actually,” Skip replied, “we could walk from here.”

Fort Wayne has brown rivers, too — three of them, but they have the advantage of being historically signficant. In their day, they were as important to commerce in the area as the Port of Seattle is to the Pacific Rim. Now they’re pretty well ruined — a doctor once warned me not to kayak in the St. Marys without an immune globulin shot — but at the right time of day, in the right light, you can still see the Indians and soldiers on the banks, going at one another with muskets and tomahawks. If you squint. Also, the Fort is just east of the glacier’s stallout, and one county to the west begins Lake Country, dozens of pretty little kettles and potholes where, if you break down, you can’t walk home, but at least it’s safe to swim.

Detroit is in many ways an environmental disaster. I interviewed someone involved with reclaiming the Rouge River, another flaming ditch that caught fire once, like the Cuyahoga. She said she used to live in southwest Detroit, near where the Rouge meets the Detroit River, and sometimes in the middle of the night tanker trucks would roll into her neighborhood, put their outflow pipes down city sewers, and throw the switch. She’d call the police to report these crimes against the environment and be told, “Oh, they do that all the time.”

But Detroit has the big lake, and the big river, and even as fouled as they’ve been in the past, even with the pressure of millions of people flushing their toilets and running their boats and driving their cars close by, they still retain magnificence. Yesterday afternoon I had an interview in a conference room high up in a nondescript building downtown, and afterward one of them invited me to her private office, to show off her Saarinen furniture. She had giant windows overlooking the south and east, and I stepped in and gasped. It was simply breathtaking. The river is blue, not brown, wide and powerful, carrying ore freighters down to Erie and Ontario. The Ambassador Bridge is framed in the south window like a painting; at certain times of year you get great sunsets there, she said. It’s the kind of office that tells its occupant she has arrived, although I’m sure if it were mine, I’d get no work done. I’d be looking out the windows with binoculars all day long, spying on Canada.

OK. The week is limping toward its finale. It’s more exhausting than the holidays, this end-of-school thing. But at least today it’s over. I need to run off to school for the grand finale, yes, an awards ceremony.


You may not be able to get a flying car yet, but someone is once again taking a run at the aqua-car. Click-through recommended, if only for the photoillustration that suggests a freak accident where two Aquadas collide where the water meets the land.

I’m going to print this story and give it to my Korean dry cleaner. He has a sly sense of humor, and would appreciate it.

This afternoon I plan to catch up on e-mail. If I owe you one, you’re in line. Later, folks.

Posted at 8:14 am in Same ol' same ol' |

11 responses to “Natural beauty.”

  1. Claire said on June 14, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Sigh. There’s a possibility I’ll be moving back to Columbus soon for school. I had first resigned myself to it and then I was ready for it. Now I’m feeling resignation again. It’s really not that bad of a town. Although it is flat and slightly dull geography.

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  2. Jeff said on June 14, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Buckeye Lake, Nancy, is still a fetid near-swamp — even her loyal resident fans warn one and all “if you fall in, don’t swallow.” But she does have history of a near Fort Waynian level — it was the first built lake/reservoir in Ohio, started in 1825 for the Ohio & Erie Canal. I got to be part of an archaeological dig in 1992 where the canal causeway once passed the northbank, and we pulled out of the muck an almost intact canal lock, stones of which are now either at the Ohio Historical Center along the walk back to Ohio Village, or in the garden of the Governor’s Mansion. In the five feet of mud covering the original oak planking at the bottom of the lock were glass bottles going layer by layer from the 1920’s back to the 1840’s.

    The fact that we knew canalboats probably dumped their chamberpots overboard while they waited for the lock to fill kept us fastidious as we dug and sifted. But the fetid near-swampiness of the Buckeye Lake area has a distinguished history.

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  3. Dave said on June 14, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Nancy, I thoroughly understand, I let my job make a Hoosier out of me many years ago, about eleven years ago, I had such a yearn to go back to Central Ohio, where most of my family still is. Trouble was, I think I would have had to go alone, the rest of the family, particularly the children, didn’t have the same attachment, and my wife has no near relatives in the Columbus area anymore.

    I am (sigh) old enough to remember when the amusement park was still operating at Buckeye Lake, when I was small, my father was in the Navy stationed at Port Columbus Naval Air Station, and they had a picnic there every summer. I remember it being lots of fun, being a small child. I’m sure it was closed by 1960 or so.

    I did student teaching at Millersport High School in 1972 and the kids there talked about Buckeye Lake and all their lake-related activities like it was a major, fun-filled, waterbody. Having grown up only 12 miles away, boatless, it was a big surprise to me to find out how they looked at their swamp!

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  4. LA mary said on June 14, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    The Passaic River, running through Paterson, NJ was horrible when I was a kid. I think there’s been some clean up in the last twenty years, but even going back to my father’s childhood, the river used to run different colors from the dyehouses flushing out into the river. That river has a remarkable history going back to Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, and George Washington. Paterson is a fascinating place. I wouldn’t live there again, but fascinating.

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  5. Ricardo said on June 14, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    I was a telephone installer in SW Detroit, River Rouge, sMelvindale, and Ecorse in the late 1960s, all nearby the Rouge. I saw River Rouge burning near the Fort Street bridge once. All I could think was “ do you put out this kind of fire? Obviously not with water..” One could look up the river to the Ford plant and down the river to the mouth and Detroit River from that spot.

    By that time swimming was not recommended in the Detroit River either nor eating its fish. Things may be better now, but I think a lot of places are going to have water problems soon. It doesn’t seem right that the Great Lakes can’t provide clean water to our children.

    At least there was never that sulfer smell of the Maumee River.

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  6. nancy said on June 14, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I should have known Buckeye Lake was a canal feeder at one time. Most of the lakes of any note in central Ohio were, as well — Grand Lake St. Marys, Indian, Buckeye. Some are so shallow, and conceal the stumps of the trees that were felled to make them, that one is advised to buy the flattest-bottom boat you can find. Either that, or enjoy the sound of muffled thumps belowdecks.

    The Rouge is improving, as are many of the rivers in this part of the country. A huge part of it is simply stopping factories and cities from using them as sewers, which was so common until the 1960s and ’70s that no one thought anything of it. The rest is stewardship, education and some infrastructure, like adding settling basins to catch combined-sewer runoff in heavy rains. It’s really hard to convince people that if they live near a body of water, they shouldn’t pour fertilizers and weedkiller indiscriminately on their lawns, but progress is being made.

    (A bigger problem emerging now is falling water levels due to hotter, drier summers and less snowfall in winter. People my age who grew up here talk about “skating to Canada,” something no one can do anymore, even in the depths of winter. To think that gangsters used to smuggle whiskey across the ice during Prohibition seems crazy today.)

    Oh, and Claire — cheer up, it’s not so bad in central Ohio. If nothing else, you’re less than an hour from the Hocking Hills, which has enough natural beauty for the whole state. Try Old Man’s Cave state park.

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  7. brian stouder said on June 14, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Also, the Fort is just east of the glacier’s stallout, and one county to the west begins Lake Country, dozens of pretty little kettles and potholes where, if you break down, you can’t walk home, but at least it’s safe to swim.

    My neice graduated from Tiffin (Go Dragons!) a few weeks ago and her graduation party was at the Potawatomi lodge on Lake James in Pokagon State Park. I hadn’t been up there for years and years – and it was more lovely than I remembered.

    One of my (many) idiosyncracies is reading informational markers whenever possible, and that’s why the “kettle” reference above didn’t get past me! I learned that Lake James is a kettle lake, and that it’s a bit more than 80′ deep. That, and – if you sit still long enough, and gaze at those madcap boaters and so on – you’re sure to see boobs! (of all types)

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  8. Connie said on June 14, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    I have very fond memories of a long ago weekend at Old Man’s Cave state park. I have never seen so many fireflies at one time as I did there, it was magical.

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  9. Colleen said on June 14, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Having lived in FW and Cols, I’d move back to Columbus again in a heartbeat. Having lived in western Kansas, the flat and boring of central Ohio doesn’t look so bad by comparison.

    My mom is from Lorain, on Lake Erie, and when we were kids, we couldn’t BELIEVE that they used to swim in that lake. ICK! That was back in the day when we could stand on gramma’s porch and see the sky glowing orange from the steel mill.

    Too bad the waste management motto for too long has been “The solution to pollution is dilution”.

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  10. Claire said on June 15, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Oh, I know Nancy. I’m being a little melodramatic.

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  11. Ricardo said on June 15, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    It took me many years to realize that all lakes in Southern California are man made. Yes, even Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead are resevoirs. Perris, Isabella, Castaic, Silverwood, Henshaw, all holding tanks.

    Of course, Salton Sea is man made also. Created from an Army Corps of Engineers mistake trying to connect an area below sea level with the Colorado River.

    And real lakes to the north like Mono Lake and Owens Lake were real lakes ruined to pump their water hundreds of miles to Los Angeles.

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