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You’re a quicksilver lady, A child of the morning.
A flower by day, A slow fire by night.
But he’s taught you things, for all that you’ve shown him.
He’s a gazer of stars, A blue crystal light.

And sometimes he cries, And he says things
That pierce you to your soul,
But he’s still a man who loves you
And it hurts to let you go.

You’re a man with the power, Of rattlesnake lightning
Hard like the mountains, But soft like the sun.
And she’s taught you things, For all that you’ve shown her.
She’s a weaver of visions, In threads finely spun.

And sometimes she cries, And she walks away
Held by the dreams that find her.
But she’s still a woman who loves you
And her heart will always remind her.

So dance for the day, but watch for the signs
That point out your way, when the doubt fills your eyes.
And try to believe, that the sweetest hello
Always comes after the hardest goodbye.

For two ways can sometimes make one,
That’s stronger than either alone.
So dancers join hands, for the two-way waltz
(But) Take all the steps on your own.

For two ways can sometimes make one,
That’s stronger than either alone.
So dancers join hands, for the two-way waltz
(But) Take all the steps on your own.

In these chairs you see the eager parents, grandparents and families of the five and six year olds heading off to first grade next year at Diggs Elementary School in our home town.  My granddaughters, I am proud to say, are two of the many beaming and beautiful graduates who graced the school gym stage. 

This is a wonderful place and the event brought out all the joy and goodness that exists in a community dedicated to its children, its diversity, and building a future of understanding and mutuality among its citizens.  No child was made to shine more than any other and all the children were shining brightly, enjoying themselves, relaxed and proud of their achievement.  They were playful and spontaneous and thrilled to stand next to their teachers to have pictures taken and a final moment of mutual pride.

The students came in singing a song “Special, Special, Special Me, I’m As Special As Can Be!”  Then each class, and there were many, sang its own favorite song.  The event ended with the group as a whole singing the following lyrics to the familiar tune of “New York, New York”:

Start spreading the news
We’re leaving today.
We want to be a part of it:
First grade, first grade

We’ve worked very hard
Our teacher’s so proud.
So open up those doors to–
First grade, first grade.

We know our… alphabet
And numbers too.
We all can write our names
And tie our shoes!

So when summer’s done
And we’re all done with play
Our mom’s will send us to
First grade, first grade.

If we can make it there
We’ll make it anywhere
So here we come– 
First grade, first grade!

Following the ceremony we gathered back in the classrooms for pictures, punch and conversation. I was able to take a few snapshots of my own dear grands!


Will o’ Wisps and Warrior Ghosts

You are lost in the desolate forest
Where the stars give a pitiful light.
But the far-away glow of the Will of the Wisp
Offers hope in the menacing night.
It is lonely and cold in the forest,
And you shiver with fear in the damp,
As you follow the way of the Will of the Wisp
And the dance of it’s flickering lamp.
But know, as you trudge through the forest,
Toward that glistening torch in the gloom,
That the eerie allure of the Will of the Wisp
Summons you down to your doom.
It will lead you astray in the forest,
Over ways never traveled before.
If ever you follow the Will of the Wisp,
You’ll never be seen anymore.Poem by Jack Prelutsky

Probably no where can you go and find more ghosts than along the Little Miami at Fort Ancient, much less fish at such a haunted locale. All that science can really say for certain is that from the end of the last ice age till now man has lived there, Paleo-indians, Adena, Hopewell, Fort Ancient peoples, woodland cultures and finally Scots-Irish pioneers. The hill overlooking the river here is the site to visit if you are interested in native american cultures in Ohio. Two and a half miles of earthworks in places up to twenty plus feet tall, indian mounds, indian burials, villages, farming and religious sites. You name it and Fort Ancient has it all.

Down on the floodplain, where now the canoe livery sits was the site of a pioneer settlement now completely gone. This ghost town had a blacksmith shop, hotel, post office, and was a stop on the Little Miami railroad.

On the opposite bank of the river the Cross Key Tavern, built in 1802, still stands. The Cross Keys was also a stop on the stagecoach line. Local lore has the tavern haunted by a woman that stayed there while the Cross Key was operated as an inn, probably sometime around 1810. Supposedly she found her bed so comfortable that after she died she returned to haunt that bed. Legend also says the antique shop at the top of the hill has tried selling the bed but it keeps getting returned by unhappy buyers. This antique shop itself was originally a church built in the 1850’s. Ive heard the abandoned cemetery beside the shop is haunted itself. Across the road from the grave yard, in Camp Kern, is the Kern Effigy, A stone pathway built by the Hopewell that supposedly resembles a giant snake.

My brother and my great uncle Albert Sandlin fished the river along here in the seventies and saw their own ghosts of sorts, a ball of light floating downriver hanging a few feet above the water. My great uncle mentioned seeing the mysterious light on a previous trip and then it reappeared on a night both he and my brother were fishing the river. My brother described it to me as a circle of soft light about the size as the bottom of a five gallon bucket floating slowly over the river.

Science says these lights are made by the gasses formed by decaying vegetation in  swampy ground. Down here at Fort Ancient the steep hillsides would shelter a gas ball from the wind that might break it apart allowing it to linger on a muggy summer night.

Legend tells a different story, calling them Will o’ Wisps or Jack o’ Lanterns and claims they are the ghosts of unbaptised children caught between heaven or hell. Other legends say the lights are the souls of men who have sold their souls to the devil. Certainly a better place than Fort Ancient, with it’s ghosts town and indian burial grounds, could not be found for a haunting.

Here the river runs in a series of long runs and holes better suited for catfish, crappies, and sauger fishing without alot of the classic smallmuth riffles. My smallmouth fishing here consists of walking five or ten minutes between fiffles and runs then fishing each one thoroughly. But with the exceptional water quality each spot usually yields some fine fishing making the effort worthwhile.

I’ve found that in early morning before the canoe crowd is out in full force this is a great stretch of river to fish with a flyrod.

(Here I have omitted a long sharing re: fishing details and his skills set)

For a few miles each side of the Fort Ancient bridge the hillsides are covered in just about the finest forest left in sothwestern Ohio. Early visitors to Little Miami river valley in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s described the valleys as having the most magnificent forests they had ever encountered. Considering the entire country was cloaked in forest these woodlands must have been quite majestic to earn such praise.

Along the river just upstream form here I found a few years ago what I’m sure was bobcat scat on the end of a log about chest high off the ground. Deer are frequently seen crossing the bike trail in early mornings and in spring the gobbles of wild turkeys ring thru the woodland.

Up atop the hillside at the Fort Ancient museum there are relics also of paleo-indians dating back 12000 years. Large clovis spearpoints that would have been used to hunt the mammoths and mastadons that roamed here after the last ice age. Some mastadon skeletons have been found in Ohio of animals that were eleven feet tall and estimated to have weighed ten thousand pounds. Imagine hunting that with a spear!

Other megafauna that would have lived in the Little Miami valley in those days would have included the dire wolf, giant beavers and ground sloths, saber toothed cats, and the meanest monster of them all, the short faced bear. The short faced bear stood up to twelve feet tall and weighed up to 2500 hundred pounds.

In the earliest years of the eighteen hundreds the woodlands from here upstream to past waynesville were known for their fine black bear hunting. Although by the end of the seventeen hundreds indians still had villages along the little miami, the Hopewell and the Fort Ancient peoples were long gone. The earliest white explorers to Fort Ancient tell of finding mature trees hundreds of years old growing atop the earthworks.

One theory holds that the little ice age that so devastated europe from 1300 to the mid 1800s caused the Fort Ancient people to adapt from their settled ways into the woodland culture Shawnee. Another theory was their culture was wiped out by disease sweeping up from the south caused by contact with the first Spanish exlorers to North America. To me some combination of the two seems logical.

The Fort Ancient people who lived all along the length of the Little Miami and the Shawnee shared many ways of doing things and artifacts from both cultures are very similar. The Shawnee, many archeologists believe, are the most likely descendants of the Fort Ancient people. Since most of the Scot’s Irish settlers of Kentucky and Ohio ended up with traces of Cherokee and Shawnee blood in their geneology I like to think so, having the blood of these Scot’s Irish hillbillys running in my veins. Maybe some tiny tiny fraction of my own heritige dates back to these amazing people.

Although called Fort Ancient, this place wasn’t really a fort at all, the walls are broken by 63 large gateways that would have been impossible to defend. It is thought that instead this was the religious center for villages from the surrounding countryside, their Mecca of sorts. I rather like the idea of Fort Ancient as a place of pilgrimage and worship instead of a fort. Any theory that has one of my favorite fishing spots being holy makes perfect sense to me.

These ancient peoples would have grown corn and squash here and gathered wild foods such as ramps or acorns from the surrounding forests. Pearls and shells from the Little Miami were much used in jewelry and they would have traveled the river in dugout canoes trapping and catching it’s plentiful fish. Whether or not their spirits now haunt the river scaring fishermen as glowing balls of light is of course another thing entirely…

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A dancer from the celebration held every year at Fort Ancient.

 

 

Some say you can’t go home again.  But all my life I have returned and returned.

I grew up in rural Ohio near Cincinnati and left the area when I was thirty-one.  Southwestern Ohio is an extraordinary place of natural beauty with many rivers, lakes and and rolling hills.

My husband and I met at a local college, connecting in all sorts of ways:  in studies, in opportunities for community service, in organizing efforts for civil rights and peace, and in day-to-day participation in a diverse student body.   Wilmington College is a small Quaker school and both of us were in a work-study program to help meet the cost of our tuition.  We began our relationship when I was a freshman, but decided to marry when I was a junior and Lewis was a senior about to graduate.

After our marriage we soon transitioned to live back in Cincinnati where both of us had lived and worked in our teen years.  Before long, we were in the thick of life of an urban landscape:  trips to parks, connections with neighborhood organizations, the ups and downs of having all kinds of neighbors next door.  Fossil collecting, skiing, canoeing, and river boating were some of our favorite destinations and  pastimes.  In the winters we frequented the beaches of Florida.

We had no children yet to keep us at home and carrying the responsibilities of parenting–so we could go on short and long vacations up and down the East Coast, especially the seaports and small towns of New England, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

After our first son was born I took a job in a nearby small city to work as the director of the Child Welfare agency there.  However, the position was a political nightmare and I decided after being there only a year to resign and that is how we happened to move on to West Virginia which was commuting distance away from my husband’s job in a mental health center.

We soon made many friends with people our own age and became connoisseurs of Appalachian life and traditions.   We grew to love the mountains, lakes and rivers around us and great variety of natural places of unique beauty.  We discovered the best areas for camping and skiing and hiking and the festival life of West Virginia’s many small towns.

When the local economy faltered in the late 1980’s we moved on to the East Coast where we could count on a better economy and provide our children advantages of the nation’s capitol area.

We lived together in Southern Maryland the next twenty-one years and raised our sons here.  They each have stayed in the area and we relish our times of extended family life.

Over the many moves and years we kept very close to family and friends back in the Cincinnati area and when my husband Lewis died last year, they immediately came here to be near and offered their comfort and support.  Just weeks after Lewis’ death I learned that my long life friend Carol, one who had come to Maryland to be by my side at the time of Lewis’ death, had been diagnosed with the early stage of in situ breast cancer.

After months of deliberation and use of naturopathic methods Carol finally undertook a surgical alternative and began care in a National Cancer Treatment Center program.   She had surgery and immediately thereafter had a very close call with an onset of severe pneumonia. It was a touch and go experience for her as she turned her professional life upside down to adjust to the demands of her rigorous medical routine.

In May we decided together that it was time for me to pay her a visit.  We went over many possible choices of timing and even changed the “plan” once to postpone my trip to Memorial Day weekend.  It happens that Lewis died on Memorial Day, so driving on that weekend at the time of the first anniversary of his death became a definite challenge for me in every possible way.

The distance is five hundred and fifty miles each way, and the roadways home take me near the places Lewis and I lived together in Ohio and West Virginia.  On the route home, I wept and kept driving more than once.  I even got a speeding ticket in rural southeast Ohio.

Finally, I arrived safely at Carol’s in time to spend a quiet evening together, to share our stories and fears, and to laugh together about the craziness of our lives.  We went to see Robin Hood at her local theater and had dinner at a favorite Mexican eatery.

We connected and enjoyed the opportunity to be close and cherish our time together.   She had just had a chemo injection days before my visit and I was amazed and heartened to see how good she looked and the sparkle that stays in her eyes.

I took some three brief side trips, including a visit with friend of mine in West Virginia who was disabled from an aneurism, another to the home of a ninety-four year old minister and friend of our family who lives in the town where Lewis and I were married, a brief visit with my late husband’s ninety-two year old mother, and finally a visit to the grave of my parents.

At another point in my journey I diverted my course a few miles to drive through the town where Lewis and I lived when our oldest son was a toddler.  Our home was in the quaint downtown area and on the Register of Historic Homes, and having left it so suddently I guess made this driveby a quite painful experience because of a flood of old but fragrant memories: how hard we worked together to fix up the place, the beautiful small park where we took our son to swing and an anxious moment when he wondered out the front door and down the street around the block and enter an ice cream shop where he was brought home by a kind neighbor.

I took a picture of it now in all its current care and beauty and thought for a long time about our life in Chillicothe and how it had become a turning point in our lives and led us to move to West Virginia.

Lewis’ work was a commuting distance away and just across the river from West Virginia and I jumped at a chance to work with the mental health center in nearby Huntington.  That ended up being a good choice.

We hopscotched the Ohio river in our daily lives for a number of years before we moved on to Elkins, West Virginia our last home before we settled permanently here in Maryland.

Memorial Day weekend in Ohio is always, weather permitting, a time to plant the summer crops.  The farmers are up and down the roads with their implements often taking space in the lanes in both direction.  Farm folks never hurry or fuss at these farmers because we know they are dealing with pressures of planting and have to move when they can and the weather permits.  I love to see them do their work and couldn’t help but capture these reluctant farmer road hogs in action.

The final photo is taken as I crossed the Little Miami River.  I stopped on the bridge and took several shots and chatted with the couples as they came under the bridge.  I told them that when my husband and I were in our twenties we had spent many wonderful days there.  Their response:  “It is a great day, today, so you ought to get a canoe!”

They are right.  I need to move on, to put my canoe in the water and enjoy what is left of my life’s brief days.  Grief takes its toll, days and nights continue their ebb and flow in my life, and I am left to move forward.  I will know that I can go it alone and I can go back to Ohio whenever I need to feel the comfort of home.

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory