There are two parts to Ohio: the full one and the empty one; the civilized and the desolate. I always planned on going to college out of Ohio, refused to stay. It’s not that I wouldn’t come back. I would, but I would never stay long. The first part is what drove me away, just like it has been driving out the second part for ages now.
It’s not that I hated Ohio. I did, but only the first part. The second, well, that part of Ohio would haunt me with its contagious restlessness and wildness for the rest of my life.
The first part was the place I was born into, and where my daily life mostly resided in. the second part was where I grew up in, the world my soul was planted in and will always be rooted. I am an Ohioan. I am a native to the part of Ohio that is bigger than my body and my bones. I am not an Ohioan. I do not fit in. I am too big for this small state. I am an ancient being. My roots are dug deep in the Ohioan earth. I am a young life. In this land I am a tree uprooted with no land to call my own.
They say there is nothing in Ohio, and they are right; but, they are also wrong. The first part of Ohio is evident: a great blob of nothingness that drives out the writhen wildness of what we civilized creatures define as emptiness. I live in what you would call a small town, though not as aesthetically pleasing as one would imagine. It’s your typical neighborhood of the 21st Century: pristinely cut grasses, bland, newly built houses with patches of scraggly trees sticking up haphazardly out of the earth like jagged skeletons; fences, though there shouldn’t have been any since there was a lawsuit against that; all republican; and all white (except for that one Indian family down the street who is of course a doctor). There are some animals, but the one scrawny fox that used to reside in the ravine in the backyard was shot and killed by a group of neighbors who were frightened that it might eat one of their “rat” dogs as mom calls them. Our street separates both sides of houses like a line marking two sides of a war. To the right, the road drags out onto the main four strips of street that is neither a highway nor a road with gas stations, car dealerships, and failing take-out restaurants on either side of the already cracking brand new pavement. When driving down that highway/road I never put the window down; there is nothing natural there, only the putrid smell of burned tar and gas and civilized trash. That is the first part, the one I am ashamed of, the part that I agree makes Ohio a nothing state filled with a homogenous blob of nothing people. It is easy to believe that the first part of Ohio is the only part, but that is wrong. There is a second part where I am from, however fleeting. It is mostly gone now, and I along with it.
Years ago, if you had taken the road outside my house to the left, you would have found the second part of Ohio that I truly call home. Just a few hundred feet and there would be no road left to drive on, only wilderness stretching as far back as one could see, a great menacing mystery of a lost ancient world. The wildlands of Ohio, the woods.
To venture back into that forest would be to lose one’s self to the music of the wind whispering through the trees; to pass the magnificent grandness and beauty of the wild deer moving silently through the trees as if they were a part of the wood and not independent beings of nature, only to find oneself at the edge of the great undisturbed lake would be to find oneself again. To stare at one’s own reflection into the dark, impenetrable surface, one would know that there are depths of emotion beneath one’s skin just like one could imagine how deep down the bottom of the lake was and what secrets it hid. I remember what a treasure it was when I had all the time of the world and sat there on the crested earth that arched out above the water, how if I stayed there long enough, the earth itself would reveal its greatest secret to me.
There is nothing left of that world now. When I was five they lacerated a nailed sign into one of the trees at the edge of the wildlands, telling civilized folk to keep out. Soon the workers came and cut down the whole forest, all the way back to the lake in just a few months. I learned how great man could be, that we must be gods if we could destroy a whole world in the breath of a few weeks. Great beings, but terribly cruel, a generation built on a generation before and another one before that of cultivated indifference and heartlessness. Last month they blotted out the last half mile of swampland left to build yet another gas station. That would make four gas stations right next to each other. A nothing state, yes, filled with the nothing people whose souls are rooted in the first part of this world, crowding out that second part of Ohio I hold so dear, just like the Native Americans or the Indians or the savages—whichever century white man deems is not a racist term to call those lost people—were slaughtered and shoved farther and farther west until now a days there is not a trace of them left here. A whole people, a whole world uprooted.
I am not an Ohioan. I do not own the land my house is built on, I do not belong here. I do not belong in this civilization where empty wilderness is considered unholy and undesirable and where blackened tar and trees that are more dead than alive are considered preferable. I am an ancient soul and my roots are deep in the Ohioan earth. I am not a native to these lands by blood, but I am by soul. I cannot say what it was like for the first people of this continent to be driven out in one great exodus of suffering and death. I cannot imagine it, but I can say that like the Native Americans or the Indians and or the Savages, the wild woodlands have confided their secrets in me, and I have learned the savage beauty of the language of the earth.