Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Midwestern Memories

Wolf Creek Falls

I just returned from six days in northeastern Ohio, the area where I lived until I was 18 years old and where, until recently, most of my immediate family lived. Now, my youngest siblings have moved to the outer suburbs of Cleveland or to San Diego, California, but I needed to visit my elderly mother-in-law, who lives alone in one of the inner ring suburbs.

I decided to drive instead of fly because air fares were high. There's almost no competition between airlines for service between my home city and Cleveland; hence, there's no price competition, either. So, I made the 8-hour trip by car.

As I approached the Cleveland metropolitan area on the freeway, I started to get nostalgic pangs. The area was very important during my formative years, and it still has a grip on me, albeit one that becomes increasingly tenuous with each passing year. Part of the reason for its slipping away is that, when I visit natural places that were important when I was growing up, most have shrunken as a result of suburban development or, worse yet, have disappeared altogether. Thus, the "place" doesn't have the hold on me that it once did.

Most of the time in the Cleveland area I spent working on my mother-in-law's house, but I did escape twice--once to one of the wonderful Cleveland Metroparks, and once to a natural area owned by The Holden Arboretum in the far eastern suburb of Kirtland.

Wolf Creek Falls from above

The first site I visited was the Garfield Park Reservation of the Metroparks system. It's neither one of the larger nor one of the more interesting parks, but it was nearby and accessible. Its system of carriage roads was designed by Olmstead and Vaux (of Central park fame). Naturally, I gravitated to water, which, in Garfield Park Reservation, is either uninteresting and filthy Mill Creek or its more scenic tributary, Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek, too, has always been a sewer--even 45 years ago when I first started to visit the park. It emerged from a big pipe where the stream had been buried in the newly-developed suburbs and was foul from its headwaters. Undoubtedly, sanitary sewer cross connections polluted the water. Despite its poor water quality, though, where the creek entered Garfield Park it flowed over hard, slick bluestone that created a fabulous slippery channel for several hundred feet before the water poured over a falls into a large plunge pool below. I can't begin to estimate how many times in the summer I "skated" along the streambed in bare feet up to the very brink of the cascade. Water quality hasn't improved any, but the creek is still amazingly beautiful.

One of the many crevasses on Little Mountain

For the second escape, I accompanied two docents who led a group of twelve walkers to Little Mountain, one of the natural areas protected by The Holden Arboretum. I would have liked to visit Stebbin's Gulch (another of the arboretum's natural areas, and one that has been called "the most sublime natural area in northern Ohio" [I agree]), but all visits to Holden's natural areas are by guided walks, and the Stebbin's Gulch tour was not scheduled for the time I was in northeast Ohio. So, it was off to Little Mountain, a natural area I had never previously visited.

Little Mountain is a high point in northeastern Ohio's glaciated landscape--hardly a mountain. It is capped with an erosion-resistant rock called Sharon Conglomerate. The conglomerate has a tendency to develop cracks that frost, rain, and ice erode into deep, vertical crevasses. Despite the fact that the crest of Little Mountain was the site of several successive hotel complexes that operated until the early 1900s, there is virtually no evidence of the resorts-- just a mature forest of Canada hemlocks and white pines mixed in with some yellow birch and oaks. A good afternoon walk.

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