Here we are, last week of September, taking our annual camping vacation. Because Rick has his favorite state park in the fall, and I have mine, we divide our time between the two. We go to Rick’s choice first, Mohican State Park, because there’s a top-notch restaurant nearby, adjacent to a modern-day castle on a hill, a fantasy built five decades ago by a publishing magnate. We go there for our anniversary every year, so it’s a matter of timing. The Mohican area (named for the river that runs through it) is a mecca for outdoor tourism, with canoe and kayak liveries, horseback riding, miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, and campgrounds galore.
We had glorious weather for our long weekend at Mohican. We put out our fall decorations and our yard art, positioned the lawn chairs next to the fire ring, set up the shih tzu corral, and generally proceeded to make ourselves at home. We did hike a trail and ride our bikes along the nice, flat road, but mostly, we just relaxed. This morning, it was time to pack everything up and move to our camping spot for the rest of the week, Pymatuning State Park, in the northeast corner of Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border.
As we were taking our time breaking down our campsite, I reflected, as I usually do, how one small chunk of land on a state-owned property, with its trees, brush, and river view, becomes home for a few days. It’s “ours” for as long as we’ve reserved it; up until our motorhome actually pulls off the pad and into the road, this little spot belongs exclusively to us. Of course, two hours after we leave, it will belong to someone else, but we won’t be there to see new people take possession. When they come in, it will be just another campsite, completely bare, stripped of our “welcome” banner with pumpkins and leaves, along with the potted mums and the pile of miniature gourds I got to celebrate the season.
It occurs to me that, somehow, we’re more invested in our campsites in spring, summer, and fall than in winter. When the cold weather sets in, the bikes and kayaks are put away, and our outside decorations are limited to a snowman banner. Depending on the weather, we sometimes don’t even put out the big awning that shades the passenger side of the motorhome. Meaning that, when it’s time to leave, it’s just a matter of unhooking from the power mast, retracting the stabilizer jacks under the motorhome, and driving away. It’s a much shorter good-bye. Not necessarily worse than when taking our leave is a complicated business, just a slightly different feeling.
The route to the second park was a circuitous one, involving long stretches of narrow county roads, and made more complicated by a detour to Rick’s favorite homemade cheese emporium. As we were driving along—and driving, and driving—a whole series of unrelated, odd questions popped into my head:
Why are so many barns painted red? How long has that been a thing? (Turns out that iron oxide, or rust, was a free paint ingredient, so the color choice was simply a matter of practicality, once barns began to be painted in the early 1800s).
Who puts out the capital-letter, tiled “JESUS” signs along the highway? (no answer on that one)
Way out in the boonies, probably one in five properties boasts either a motorhome or a travel trailer parked on a driveway extension. Why is that? Fairly often, the property has trees, sometimes even a small pond. If the idea of buying portable living quarters is to venture out to the middle of nowhere, what’s the point with these families in already-isolated areas? To find some other middle of nowhere? Or do they go and park in urban Walmart lots to get away from it all?
How did all the tiny burgs spring up exactly where they are? Why not a mile farther east or west? If such towns are surrounded by flat, open land, not graced by a river or other natural feature, what prompted a group of families to say, “This is the place”? There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of such one- and two-street villages in Ohio, with names like McKay and Williamfield. Probably in every other state, too. Outlying homes tend to be a bit ramshackle, while the homes in the centers of these towns are usually beautiful, perfect examples of Victorian or Italianate architecture. The gas stations and the mini marts are located at the peripheries, so as not to sully the quaint atmosphere. Most are fascinating to pass through.
Why is quirky a prevalent characteristic out in rural areas? Odd-shaped, rambling houses, mini buses rusting away in yards, picket fences that don’t surround anything… There’s no end to the unusual formations, buildings, and artifacts gracing remote byways. Or are they merely more noticeable because they’re frequently plopped in the middle of acres of fields? We passed one place where a thoroughly nondescript yard was saved from gray-brown anonymity by a large, round patch of brilliant purple flowers planted near the road, the property’s only ornament.
Rick’s great-uncle used to say that a person could spend his or her entire life in Ohio, and never run out of interesting things to see and do. In our almost-three-decades of adventures, we’ve found that observation to be true. We haven’t begun to see everything in the state, and we’re not talking about world’s-biggest-ball-of-string-type attractions, either. Art museums, zoos, sites of archaeological importance, Golden-Age millionaires’ mansions, historical places, and, on the other side of the coin, nature preserves/wildlife refuges, caves and rock formations, state forests, rivers and lakes—the list is inexhaustible. As is my mental pinball en route from one destination to the next.