Tag Archives: Ohio

Squelch

Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

BY ATHENA DIXON

Last night, I remembered playing pitch dark hide and seek in a muddy field, a ruined pair of Air Max 95s, and the joy of black college freshmen running fearless through the night.

I am certain I will never again find that exact pair of sneakers. I’ve seen the blue, orange, and white colorway in stores, but something about them is never quite right. Maybe I’m holding onto a twenty-year-old memory that’s fuzzy at the edges. Or maybe they are the shoes, but now they aren’t as magical.

What is magical was that night, a crisp fall midnight after a day of heavy rain. In one of the many open fields dotting the campus of Kent State University, we ran with reckless abandon, shoes squelching and sticking in the thick mud. We’d congregated in the courtyard of the freshman dorms, dressed in black, our key cards and IDs slung beneath our shirts on lanyards.

Trekking from the lighted pathways of Stewart Hall, we’d unplugged ourselves from the lure of Yahoo! chat rooms and the newness of an Internet we had never experienced at home. What wonder and joy was a 24/7 computer lab? The lot of us would line the far wall four at a time and slip on the masks of usernames and ask A/S/L?

But that night, when the tentative cross country flirting had died down, we chose to retreat to our individual rooms to change into black t-shirts, sweatpants, and beanies. What a sight we must have been, a bevy of black kids marching across the field to a set of low bleachers. There is no recollection of how we chose teams or what exactly the rules were, but I do remember the sound of our laughter pealing out across the night and the chill that pressed down from above.

We sprinted and dove and rolled in a field torn up by intramural leagues, oblivious to the mud and the wetness seeping into our skin. Sometimes, we tackled each other into the juicier plots of grass and lay there backs flush against the earth, staring up into the Ohio sky. And soon, the group of us were side by side in the night, chests rising and breath clouding above our heads.

We rested there until oxygen pushed back into our lungs and then it was time for another sprint across the field, another squelch of shoes in the mud. We tore through the darkness until there was no more energy to pick up the heaviness of our feet or our bodies from the ground. So we found ourselves on the low bleachers again, the steam rising from our shoulders like spirits to heaven. The laughter still pealing out across the distance bounced back to us from the brick dormitories.

Save the bobbing beam of an officer’s flashlight, we would have stayed there throughout the night, a collection of newly minted clay statues set out to dry. In the morning there were Sunday breakfast buffets at one of the food halls. Monday would bring class and campus jobs. That Saturday night, however, was an endless stream of thighs pressed together, shoulders bumping, the splitting of groups until two figures walked towards the dorms alone.  What was left of that magic was a muddy pair of Air Max 95s, coated to the ankles, left drying next a door and a memory twenty years later whispering Ready. Set. Go. 

Athena Dixon is a poet and essayist. Her work has appeared in various journals both online and in print. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and is a Callaloo fellow. Her chapbook, Way Station, is forthcoming from Winged City Press. Athena is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal. Originally from Northeast Ohio, she now writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia. 

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Bluffton University Nature Preserve, Ohio: Winter Liminal

Bluffton_natureBY DAVE ESSINGER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

The snow in the fields is crisscrossed by finger-wide tracks, and otherwise pristine.  One might imagine sticks dragged by wandering wraiths, absent-minded visitors from the other side, but with no other marks at all, at first I can’t guess what really made these traces.

Eventually it dawns on me that the tracks are made from beneath the surface and not above: mice moving under the snow.  It’s another “other side,” a real other realm, and a reminder: not everything we register at the interface of our world originates there.

The mouse-trails wind and cross and begin and disappear, and show up in any depth of snow, but they never break the surface that I can see.  I imagine furry mouse-submariners pawing and digging, navigating by scent and temperature and pressure and dead reckoning, never breaching periscope depth.  I wonder if lazier mice re-use others’ tunnels or, lacking that kind of foresight, they just go, honeycombing the snow, and with each new errand, extending.  We see only the most peripheral capillaries of a vast temporary circulatory network.  Mouse-bodies moving like blood, pushed by the beat of a heart bigger than them, bigger than any of us.

My own blood pushes up beneath my exposed skin, a constant heat-exchange, a one-sided streaming toward entropy.  It’s five degrees below zero, and I’m not dressed for contemplation.  My eyelashes bead and freeze from my breath.

From here, I could run out on the ice of the lake, above slumbering fish in the grave-cold muck, their own suspended dimension.  The ice could be a bridge to tiny islands I only see from shore in summer.  It also might break beneath me—there’s no knowing its thickness.

No one knows I’m here.

Suddenly, right at my feet, here is a new trail being made: a raised line, a mouse meandering, a drawing tracing itself.  I watch the snow lift as the mouse burrows along.  The arched roof of the tunnel lasts for a while, and I imagine the light shining through, blue-white, the snow holding its dome in the wake of the warm mouse bullet body that made it.

Some trails must end in a scuffle: there are foxes, owls.  Prowling cats.  I could excavate the one in front of me, crash its ceiling, let in annihilating light with my shoe.  Untouched, it will end in silent powdery collapse—and then vanish with wind, or melt, or new snow.

I’m in a moving mandala, traces on a membrane that draws and erases itself.  Already, I’ve stood still too long, the cold grasping for me across all these liminal boundary layers.

No one knows I’m here.

Dave Essinger’s recent work has appeared in Mud Season Review, Sport Literate, Quarter After Eight, and elsewhere, and was listed as a Notable in The Best American Sports Writing 2014. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and now teaches creative writing and edits the literary magazine Slippery Elm at the University of Findlay. He’s shopping a novel about ultrarunning, which was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award. 

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Smithville, Ohio: Storm Krissy

 

krissyBY JENNIFER YOUNG

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

There was an atmospheric shift every time Krissy Peterson walked into the classroom, generally of the variety that sent small animals scurrying for shelter. Krissy was in my 11th grade English class and the meanest, scariest girl in the school. Heavy-set and broad-shouldered, her dirty blond hair typically braided into cornrows, she carried herself with both aggression and pride. Most days she announced her arrival into the classroom by articulating how she had been wronged on that particular day or why she was so angry about [whatever, and anything . . . it changed minute to minute with Krissy].

She stood a few inches taller than me and outweighed me by at least double. On a rare “good” day she might come in and say, in a baby-girl voice, “Ms. Young? I swear I did my homework last night, but I left it in my locker. Can I please go back and get it?” Then maybe I wouldn’t see her for a few days. One day she crashed into the classroom and shouted in a weird baritone, “Yo, Young!! This classroom smells like straight-up ASS!” Krissy had what they call “oppositional defiance disorder,” or ODD, and my God did she live up to it.

She fought about things she didn’t even care about. Sentence-diagramming, for instance. Krissy loved to diagram sentences. She attacked a sentence as though it were her mortal enemy, only to be defeated by her sharpened pencil and her knowledge of the parts of speech. She had no hope of passing English that year, let alone graduating the following, but she diagrammed sentences as though she expected to receive scholarship offers from it.

Krissy was smart, which actually made things worse for her, because she remembered everything. She remembered her own mother breaking both of her skinny legs when she was three years old, and she remembered the sins and shortcomings of every foster parent after that. Now she lived in the Wayne County Christian Children’s Home—an honest-to-God orphanage, for all practical purposes—in this godforsaken rural Ohio town. She once told me she liked this home the best. On her sweet days she’d walk in singing hymns in a clear soprano, and on her worst she was downright psychotic.

One day in the spring I was called to the office during class for an emergency phone call. The shaky voice on the other end was my son’s third grade teacher, telling me that something had happened to him on their field trip to Amish country that day. They didn’t know what was wrong, but he couldn’t breath very well now and the ambulance was on its way. I ran terrified back to my classroom to get my car keys so that I could meet the ambulance at the hospital. I tried to explain to my students, but all I could manage were some disjointed words about my son and not breathing and a hospital. I grabbed the keys from my desk drawer on the far end of the classroom and crossed back to the door, only to be met by Krissy, who’d risen up from her seat and placed herself directly in front of the door. I was far too scared of what was happening to my son to be scared of what Krissy might do to me, but it occurred to me that she was perhaps playing some kind of opportunistic game, or getting ready to tackle me or something.

For a jagged second I froze, not sure if I should try to reason with her or if it would make more sense to dart around her and make a run for it. Then I realized her arms were outstretched toward me. She stood completely still, and she didn’t say a word. I stepped toward her because I didn’t know what else to do, and Krissy enfolded me in a giant bear hug. I hugged her back and then I left.

I didn’t think of it again until later that evening, after my son had been released from the hospital (severe horse allergy, it turned out). His eyes had swollen shut, but the medicine kicked in and by morning his breathing released and he could see clearly again. Sometime during those hours, as my boy deflated and I calmed, Krissy grew back to herself, gathering her fallen scales and spikes around her again.

Jennifer Young is a composition instructor and the Director of the first-year writing program at The University of Akron, in Akron, Ohio. She holds a doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and her primary academic interests concern the incorporation of a creative nonfiction focus in the composition classroom. She previously taught high school in rural Ohio.

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Avon Lake, Ohio: A Boy Among Books

The Avon Lake Public Library, courtesy of http://www.alpl.org.

The Avon Lake Public Library, courtesy of http://www.alpl.org.

BY ROBERT MILTNER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I arrive by bike at the Avon Lake Public Library, on Center Road, next to Miller Creek near the high school and half a mile south of Lake Erie.  It’s an old two-story house that has been converted into a library.  It has a flat-roofed porch and an addition added on the back.  The house roof is covered in wide horizontal bands of tarpaper that run parallel to the white clapboard siding.  The library sits snug against the flat landscape on the north coast of Ohio.  The men who settled here cleared the pin oaks to plant apple orchards and Concord grape vineyards that sweetened in the late harvest due to the warm autumn temperature of the lake.  In the fall, during the football season, on a cold clear night the air is thick with a scent like grape jam.

The July morning is warm already and it will be hot by early afternoon.  I get off my one-speed bike and push down the kickstand with my right foot.   Mine is the only bike here, on the front lawn, near the large evergreen shrubs.  I leave my tackle box in the front basket and lay the fishing rod and reel across the handlebars.   There are three cars parked in the cinder lot.

I sit on the lowest of the three steps that lead to the porch.  The shoelace on my left Converse sneaker is getting loose and I want to make sure it’s tight.  I untie it, pull the laces, and retie my shoe.  I have shorts at home, but I like my dungarees better.  My dad told me that he didn’t get long pants until he was in high school, so I feel grown up for an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy.  I walk up the three steps to the porch.  To the right of the screen door is an aluminum glider under the windows, its green canvas seat looks well-used by people who sit outside, reading or waiting for someone to check out or return books.

A small bell rings once as I open the screen door to enter and rings again as I close it.  The librarians can hear someone enter from wherever they are on the first floor.  I stand and wait at the oak desk just inside the front room. In my pocket are eight pennies, two for each book, each book two days late.  I’m bringing back Billy and Blaze and Blaze Finds the Trail.  I like the way Blaze is such a smart horse, always helping Billy.  I wish I had a horse.  I can walk through the woods near my house to a farm where they keep a brown horse with a black mane and tail and a miniature horse colored like a Palomino.  I pull grass from my side of the wire fence and hold it out to them.  The larger horse comes over and I pet his nose while he takes the stalks of grass from my hands.  If I bring apples I pick from one of the deserted orchards, the small horse will come for one of those.  I like the way Clearance William Anderson illustrates the books he writes.  I like that he uses his middle name.  I wish the pictures were in color.

The clock ticks.  10:22.  The calendar on the wall says 1957.  Warm air from the west comes in through the screen door behind me, and from the south through the screened window to my right.   On the desk is a deep wooden tray marked Returns.  The Town.  Peyton Place.  Horton Hears a Who. I read that. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.  What Johnny Can’t Read.  No, that’s wrong.  Why Johnny Can’t Read.  The summer library assistant, a high school girl with a pony tail and dark-rimmed glasses, comes out of the back room.  She puts the pennies in a small box that she puts in the desk drawer.  She returns to the back room without saying a word to me.

I walk past the desk to the staircase that takes me to the second floor, which is the children’s section.  The steps are narrow and the walls close.  It’s dark halfway up.  I emerge from the stairs through what was once a trapdoor, into the low-ceilinged, slant-walled half-story of an attic.  Book shelves line the walls and two back-to-back sets of bookcases run down the center, taking up almost the whole length of the second floor.   It’s like a long playhouse filled with books.  In the winter, because there is no heating duct to the second floor, it is so cold I can see my breath.

It’s hot up here today.  Only the north window opens all the way.  Because the window ropes are broken, the other window, the south one from which the air is moving, is barely held open with an old book.  It’s stuffy and the air is musty with the scent of old books. I see dust motes in the sunlight.  Sweat begins prickling at my temples.  I start walking among the books, feeling sweat dampening the back of my neck by the hairline.

The books in the children’s section are arranged by how well a child can read. The shelf starts with picture books and early readers.  Fun With Dick and Jane.   Lassie and Her Day in the Sun.  The Cat in the Hat.  Curious George.   I move on to the illustrated books where I stop and look for Blaze and the Gypsies. It must still be checked out.  I’ll look again next time. The Lone Ranger and the Ghost Horse. Molly the Rogue.  First Book of Space Travel.  Freddy the Pig and the Baseball Team from Mars. 

Walking along the row of books, I hear the floor creak.  Its sound echoes off the low ceiling, like someone saying words aloud.  I stop.  The hot breeze rattles the frame of the window, making a humming sound.  The screen vibrates back like an answering whisper.

Next in line are the chapter books.  Because they are bigger and have their titles on the book spine, I can read the titles without pulling them from the shelves.  My mother has a small bookshelf in her sewing room with three shelves of books.  Grown up’s books.  I took some down to look at because the titles sounded like they’d be picture books.  The Long Goodbye.  The Little Sister.  The Big Sleep.  But there we no pictures.  And they weren’t for kids.

I read each case of chapter books like it is a page of a story, left to right, top to bottom.  I pull out Tales from Shakespeare.  The book makes a cracking sound as I open it.  The illustrations look really old.  Most of the stories are people’s names.  I keep this one in my hand as a move down the row.  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  The cover has some kind of submarine.  Now I carry two books.

A fly buzzes around my head.  A bead of sweat rolls into my eye and I feel the salt sting.  My feet are hot and my sneakers feel tight.  It’s too hot to stay and I want to be outside.  The fly is buzzing against the window, bouncing off of it, trying to get out.  I go down the staircase and check out my books.

After I close the screen door behind me, I stand on the porch, feel the wind against my face, neck, arms.  I sit on the glider, set my books next to me.  It’s a hot breeze, but it feels cool after being upstairs.  I stand up and walk to my bike, get my rod and reel, my tackle box.  I carry them in my left hand and hold the two books in my right hand.

Behind the library, past the cinder parking lot, is a wide concrete bridge made from pouring concrete over a huge steel culvert.  It’s almost as long as school bus, through which Miller Creek runs.  Because the yard is flat, the creek is below me, down about ten feet of broken shale from where I stand looking.   It takes two trips to get the books and fishing stuff down to the creek.

The inside of the culvert feels like going into a cave.  Along the one side is a bank of concrete where I sit down.  It’s cool and shady under the bridge.  The scent of muck is strong.  Miller Creek slows and widens here in an under-bridge pool about three feet deep.   Small schools of minnows scatter and dart.  On the other side of the pool, I see a few mud chimneys the crayfish have built.  But what I’m looking for in the water are bluegill, or if I’m lucky, a catfish.

I release the reel on my fishing rod and when the line goes slack I remove the hook from the eyelet at the tip of the rod and free the line.  The red and white wooden bobber gets removed because I don’t want to fish close to the surface for bluegill.   I open my tackle box and use pliers to squeeze an extra lead sinker onto the line so the hook will lie on the bottom where the catfish feed.  I take out a plastic bread bag, reach in, and remove a piece of white bread.  I break off a piece the size of a movie ticket and roll it into a tight ball that I work on to the hook.  I’m ready to fish.

After setting the rod down, I pick up the books I’ve brought down from the library.  Read the titles to myself.   I settle on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  I cast my line, watch it sink, loop the slack around my index finger.  If a catfish strikes, I’ll feel a quick tug.  I open the cloth cover of the book and begin to read.

Robert Miltner is Professor of English at Kent State University and he teaches fiction and poetry in the Northeast Ohio MFA in Creative Writing program (NEOMFA).  His prose poetry collections include Hotel Utopia (New Rivers Press Many Voices Project award), Against the Simple (Wick chapbook award), Eurydice Rising (Red Berry Editions award), and And Your Bird Can Sing: Short Fiction (Bottom Dog Press).  His nonfiction is published or forthcoming in Los Angeles Review, Diagram, Mochilla Review, Buried Letter Press, Research for Life (Kent State University), and Silver Apples of the Moon: Art and Poetry (Cleveland State University Press).  Miltner edits The Raymond Carver Review.

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Wingfoot Lake, Ohio: Tires, turtles and neo-shamanism in small town Ohio

snapper_turtleBY MATT STANSBERRY

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I grew up in a bucolic little Ohio Township, less than a mile from a 540-acre lake, created by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1916 to create a water supply for its manufacturing operations.

Almost every day in the spring and summer, my younger brother and I rode our bikes to the lake, through our neighborhood, past whispering corn fields planted to the edge of the road.

We sped past the white house with the biting dogs where the farmer had murdered his wife and burned her remains in a barrel; pedaled past the compound of rotting double-wide trailers where the occupants raised a couple dozen goats on a tiny fenced-in plot.

We left our bikes where the train tracks crossed the road, and trespassed on the rails, listening to the frogs and red-winged blackbirds calling in the lily pads. The lake sprawled under the trackbed, under the ballast, spilled even further across the road, a wetland seeping toward our house.

We brought our fishing poles to catch bluegills and crappie and the occasional largemouth bass. We caught bullhead catfish, little olive green slime cats with flopping whiskers. We caught perch, runty and stunted and covered in black spots that suggested mold.

Railroad men had yelled at us from slowly passing trains, warning us for trespassing, but we never considered their threats to be serious or worth heeding. The lake was ours.

The summer after I graduated from Kent State University, the year I thought I was leaving Ohio for good, my brother and I set a trotline on the bank of Wingfoot Lake — five bluegill heads, threaded on barbed hooks, strung along a nylon rope, anchored to shoreline with a metal spike.

The next day we found the line pulled taught, and dragged twenty-five pounds of mud-black snapping turtle to the bank, thrashing in muck, tail and legs flailing as we pulled the cord hand-over-hand.

We prodded the huge and angry reptile into a large plastic tub and took it to our parents’ house.

I was going through a neoshamanism phase, and intended to eat the damn thing and wear its claws around my neck. But my brother and I were a generation removed from eating foraged reptiles and had only the vaguest concepts of what to do next.

We spilled the giant turtle out onto my parent’s backyard, the black rubbery monster wallowing in my dad’s lush grass. My brother goaded the turtle with a broom handle until it violently latched onto the stick, and he stretched its neck out to full extension.  I stood off to the side with my father’s axe raised, and brought it down, chopping its head off in a clean motion.

Then I strung a rope around its tail, and hung it upside down from a tree branch in the woods overnight.

We took to it the next morning with Buck knives and found its headless body still alive.

The snapper clawed my arms as I cut it down from the tree, and then pried its shell apart – jamming the Buck knife between the plastron and carapace, leveraging against its frantic scrabbling. It seemed to grab my wrists as I struggled to pull it apart.

My brother watched as the animal that should have been dead writhed underneath me. I had lost my intention, groping as blindly as the turtle. I grabbed foul sacks of its guts and pulled them free. Its heart beat in my hand, some strange prehistoric physiological quirk that allowed this turtle’s organs to function for hours without connection to its reptile brain.

I cut through mottled, leathery skin and found something that looked like meat attached to the limbs, to the tail. With grim determination, I carved those pieces off the carcass, and placed them in the bowl my brother held out away from his body.

We soaked the pieces in cheap beer, and hours later the golf-ball sized chunks still twitched with some kind of haunted nervous energy. I sautéed the flickering turtle flesh in butter, and threw the pieces into a box of Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix. We gagged it down, every bite, as penance.

I’d wanted to make turtle soup.

My grandfather had always talked about some recipe he served at his bar on Nimisilla Reservoir in Akron, where guys passed out on their stools after a day at the Firestone Factory, slouched against each other, eating turtle soup at the bar instead of going home.

When the cigarette machine went empty he couldn’t afford to refill it. When the tills came up short, my grandpa had to close the bar.

But he made it sound like you could just cast out, catch a turtle and make a soup.

Matt Stansberry is a Cleveland-based nature writer with three kids and a day job. He used to fly fish. Follow him on Twitter@LakeErieFlyFish. Belt Magazine recently published a collection of Stansberry’s  nature essays, featuring artwork by David Wilson, Redhorse: The Rustbelt Bestiary Volume 1

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: On a bend in the Cuyahoga River near Red Lock

BY MATT STANSBERRY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

On the last warm day of October, I sit on a muddy cutbank, feet hanging over a horseshoe bend in the Cuyahoga.

There is an island in the river, smothered in a thicket of Japanese Knotweed. The woody stems stick up like wiry red hair. Nothing eats it. It spreads like cancer.  Cut it down, and two bushes grow back. Dig it up, and the slivers will root downstream.

The limbs of dying ash trees reach up out of the floodplain, raking the blue sky. Girdled by Emerald Ash Borer, crown cut off from the roots, the ash trees will all be gone soon.

The plump creamy grubs of these Asian wood-boring beetles have fueled a population explosion of woodpeckers across the Upper Midwest. A brief flourish of birdsong in the woods marks the loss of forest diversity.

I have complex feelings about this place. Part of me wants to try to fix these things, to tear up invasive plants by the roots, to inject each ash tree with insecticides. I think I can stop the world from slipping through my fingers.

Some other influence urges me to accept things as they are.

All around me, tall weeds with dried husks rustle in the breeze.  Gone to seed — the phrase connotes shabbiness, an unkempt quality –but in these plants, withered but still supporting their progeny, it is completion, success.

“Every generation has to die in order that the next generation can come,” said Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth. “As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one.”

My middle son sleeps in a stroller I’ve pushed to the edge of the river, wind playing on his closely cropped hair. Shadows flicker across his innocent face in the breeze. The price for his life is paid in sleep, cognition, concentration, the ability to do a single thing for more than ten minutes uninterrupted.

I stop here often to look at this moving water. It reminds me of Oregon, the place my wife and I lived before having children.

Every October, I would wade in a river where the tides licked the roots of an ancient rainforest, wait for salmon to swim up from the beach, to climb into the hills to the clear water where they were born. Females swept shallow gravel beds to lay their eggs. The males turned dark, grew fangs and fought like dogs. As soon as the salmon entered their natal rivers, they started dying.

Now I’ve returned as well, born in Akron where the Cuyahoga makes its U-turn and runs toward Lake Erie. I have come home to raise my sons downstream from the old Jaite Paper Mill, where the pickle liquor flowed, and the river ran foul.

Forty years ago, the National Park Service adopted this valley. The water looks clean and the landscape has grown over most of the scars from the river’s industrial past, 33,000 acres carved out of the mass of unbroken suburbs from Cleveland to Akron. There could be more forest, more fish, and more deer thriving in the Cuyahoga Watershed today than in any other time in the last half-century.

And yet, Aldo Leopold writes in The Sand County Almanac, “The autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

The grouse is unmade, wild. The deer feel like cattle, thriving in the environments we have created. We have this godlike ability to shape the landscape, but no way to breathe wildness back into the wilderness we resurrect.

The boy who took apart his father’s watch can’t find all the pieces to put it back together.

When I lived in Oregon, the act of fishing became a ritual, heavy with meaning and spiritual resonance. As if in some cosmic joke, Steelhead that evolved in the Pacific Ocean swim past my backyard in the Cleveland suburbs, up the Cuyahoga River each winter. Throughout the Great Lakes, wildlife agencies stock Pacific Salmonids in tributaries where they do not belong. In some areas of the Upper-Midwest with cleaner, colder water, the fish have naturalized. No feral breeding populations occur in Ohio, and none are planted in the Cuyahoga. But their tendency to wander compels Lake Erie-run rainbow trout to swim to Akron.

I do not find any connection to my version of God chasing lost Steelhead around the Midwest.  Instead, I spend my days looking for glimpses of wilder animals, trying to create a relationship with this place. I’m searching for a story to tell my sons about what lives in these woods.

There will be times in the coming months when the sky will look like wet newspaper, and the deadened landscape like strips of corrugated cardboard, cinders sticking to every frozen thing. I’ll look through the leafless trees and see a line of cars passing on the road and I’ll think that it is too much effort, too much self-delusion to focus on the fragments of living wild beauty here.

Today the warm wind could buoy me up, and I could soar on an updraft and see the whole valley like a Red-tailed Hawk.

But who would watch my son when he woke on the riverbank? Who would keep him from being swept into the current?

My son wakes as I push his stroller back onto the trail.  I point to a Red-bellied Woodpecker scolding us overhead, and start to tell him a story about this red and white bird circling the dead ash trunk.

Matt Stansberry is a Cleveland-based nature writer with three kids and a day job. He used to fly fish. Follow him on Twitter@LakeErieFlyFish.

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KIRTLAND, OHIO: Lakeland Community College holding 27th Annual Poetry Contest

LakelandLakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio is holding its 27th Annual Poetry Contest with a deadline of Friday, April 18, 2014. 

This year’s judge is John Repp, the award-winning poet, fiction writer, and essayist from Erie, Pennsylvania. Find his website here.

There are separate contest categories for high school students, Lakeland students and the general public. Submit one to three poems, no longer than two typed pages, to one of those categories. 

Entrants should include a separate sheet with name, address, phone, category and titles of the poems. No personal information should appear on the poems themselves. Manuscripts will be returned if entrants supply a self-addressed stamped envelope. The competition is not open to Lakeland employees, but family members are welcome to submit.

Prizes in each category are $40 for first place, $25 for second place and $20 for third place.

There is an entry fee of $5, payable to Lakeland Community College.

Prizes and certificates will be presented at the awards ceremony at the Lakeland Library, C-3051, 7:00 p.m., on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Winners will be invited to read their work at the awards ceremony. Winning poems will be published online, with permission.

SEND SUBMISSIONS AND FEE TO:

Prof. Robert M. Coughlin  B-2051 
Lakeland Community College
7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio 44094-5198

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TOLEDO, OHIO: Undying love and a truck stop

van 2BY JODIE FLETCHER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

With concrete as unforgiving beneath me as a cushionless church pew, I gazed up hundreds of feet into the sky, expecting the TA sign steepling high above the outskirts of Toledo to provide the answers to life’s greatest questions: How had I gotten here? And how much farther could I go? Expecting a religious experience, I instead fell in love.

These were the early days, when I could only get about halfway through a cigarette before starting to feel slightly queasy. It would be during this trip, in fact, that I would become firmly cemented in the class of “smoker,” a status that even five years after quitting still feels like home. Somewhere along the endlessness of I-80, a line was crossed and I left behind the realm of “wanting” a cigarette to become a permanent resident of that seedier place called “needing” one. It’s this trip that I blame every time someone lights up and the ever-familiar lust — so long denied — winds its way through the smoke and into my soul.

But this was the first day of that trip, so the American Spirit perched between the index and middle fingers of my right hand was making me a little bit sick as I sat on the curb with a silk scarf tied around my head and my long tie-dyed skirt modestly shoved between the peaks of my knees. I looked every bit the part beside the rainbow-painted, Grateful Dead Bear-adorned Chevy conversion van my friend Leela had purchased off eBay for $800 the week before.

The “Sweet-Ass Van,” as it had been dubbed by another friend, seemed so vibrant and vivacious when we climbed aboard the night before, even as we crossed the George Washington Bridge and traversed the Garden State Parkway. It was somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania that Sweet-Ass seemed to lose her lust for life and now, nearly 18 hours later, this first leg of Leela’s exodus from New York City had taken us nearly twice as long as it should have. This being the first day of the trip, we had no way of knowing this was “making good time” by what would become our standards — the drive to California ended up consuming my entire three-week break from school.

Even in patchouli-soaked company Sweet-Ass was something to behold. For the salt-of-the-Earth folks at the TA — their T-shirts tucked into jeans, work boots actually distressed by work and literal trucker hats perched atop their heads — she must’ve been mind-blowing. But we were back in the Midwest, where politeness prevails, so even the people who rushed past us in a hurry took the time to make eye contact and smile. Those with a bit more afternoon to spare stopped to see “what’s the problem?” It was one of these kind fellows who confirmed the worst of my fears.van behind

We had already nursed this beauty through so much, pouring 12 quarts of oil into her increasingly exhausted engine between the Poconos and the sanctuary that was this truck stop. We’d emerged from the night surrounded by sun-illuminated cornfields, which proved to be a picturesque backdrop for us to pose against, gas cans in hand and thumbs outstretched. Traipsing through maize on our way back to the van, life felt so much like a lark that we didn’t even pause to consider, in light of Sweet-Ass’s broken gas gauge revelation, what else we didn’t know about this bitch.

I was a month shy of my 19th birthday and three weeks shy of having lived in New York for a whole year so, needless to say, I was pretty secure in my credentials as “The Shit” and quite certain I knew absolutely everything. This trip would prove me wrong in almost every way, but it turned out I did in fact know one thing: That knocking under the hood was the harbinger of doom.

The unmistakable sound started just outside Toledo and blessedly within sight of the corporate beacon of TravelCenters of America — the blue and red TA under which the unforgiving concrete and slightly-nauseating cigarette were about to bear witness to a moment of pure solace.

Shortly, it would be discovered that Leela’s AAA had expired five days prior and we would nurse the dying engine a few more miles, crossing the Ohio/Michigan border and arriving at my Aunt Jennie and Uncle John’s farm in Ottawa Lake.

But before all that, as I gazed out at the choreography of semis going to and fro and inhaled exhaust fumes between the puffs from my smoke, I had an experience of true presence. This truck stop — with its rows and rows of foodstuffs and car care products, its displays of kitsch, its walls of cold beverages, its islands of coffee and full stock of cigarettes — provided everything I could possibly need at that exact moment. I began thinking about its trucker showers and its laundry room, its full-service restaurant and its fast food options and realized that this truck stop actually provided everything I could possibly need for the rest of my life.

Sitting next to the Sweet-Ass Van, I fell profoundly in love with that truck stop, and with all truck stops, really. It didn’t matter how I’d gotten there or how much farther I would go, I had everything I needed within reach. And whenever I see that blue and red TA, wherever I may be, I will forever feel that same sense of overwhelming contentment.

Jodie Fletcher is a former newspaper reporter who left the glitz and glamor of a small-town daily to fulfill her freelancing dreams. Her work occasionally appears in Traverse Magazine and she serves as the co-editor and designer of The Mitten, a publication of the Michigan chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She will also be editing the upcoming comic, 2 Cents from a Shopgirl.

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