Coatless on the tundra


We get to the Valley, to the parking lot at Blue Hen Falls. And I realize: What the? How did? I forgot my coat. It is 27 degrees with a wind chill of 23. I am from the South and simply cannot be outside in the winter for extended periods. No way can I go for a hike. Meanwhile, also: No way am I driving 37 minutes back home without hiking. And so we have two “no ways” here in direct conflict with each other. So I take a look at the rest of me. I see I am otherwise well-prepared, with a good hat, my sister Sue’s homemade scarf, gloves, ski pants and my trusty Keen hiking boots. (Best investment ever for hiking. Go to Wild Earth in Kent. They have sales.) And I’m wearing this super warm sweater I got 15 years ago at Kohl’s that I thought I lost that I just found the other day. Can I do this? Surprise: I can. I was out for an hour and never got cold.



Silver linings playbook: The reason, I believe, I forgot my coat is because I needed to learn that being outdoors in the winter can be exhilarating and fun, even on the tundra. Direct conflict motto: Be prepared. Flip side motto: If you’re not prepared, try it anyway and you might surprise yourself. Also: You never know what nature has to teach you.


On this day, we chose Blue Hen Falls to hike — mainly because it snowed the night before and into the morning and it was cold, so I knew there would be icicles and frozen water, which would be fun to photograph. We hiked to the falls, where Steve braved to tiptoe close to the edge above the falls so I could get perspective against the falls. This was despite his fear of heights. He is such a good hiking companion, accommodating my every whim, including, occasionally when I can let it go, carrying one or two of my cameras for me.


And then I tiptoed up and got close to the edge so I could get some closeups of the falls, much to Steve’s fear (love this face). I wasn’t too impressed with the closeups, the panoramic is more to my liking.



Name: Blue Hen is named for the female blue heron.

Where in the world: Near the intersection of 271 and 80, making it a little traffic-noisy, unfortunately….Here’s the map.

We crept along the edge and then walked north above the falls on top of the frozen Spring Creek bed, and could hear the ice creaking and groaning as we walked. As I am from the South, I have never really understood nor wanted to understood the concept of walking on frozen water. This was a little freaky and fascinating at the same time. I didn’t do it for long. Steve did, though, and he popped through the ice twice and got his boot soaked. But he felt victorious and so happy to be outside with me in the winter, it didn’t matter.



So coming into Blue Hen, there are a couple of things to consider doing: You can go down the path, it’s an old driveway about half a mile long steep going down (steep down on the way there means steep up on the way back) and across this pretty bridge to the falls. and stop right there and hang out. There’s also just above the falls another trailhead for the Buckeye Trail, which in totality is 1,400 miles circling the state of Ohio. Here in the Valley, it’s four miles from this spot to the Boston Mills Visitor’s Center.

FUN HIKE SOME OTHER TIME: We thought that would be a fun hike sometime, to take two cars in the Valley, park one at Boston Mills, both of us get in the other car and park it here at Blue Hen and then hike to Boston Mills, get in the other car together and drive back to Blue Hen and pick up the car.

For this day and this hike, we walked to the falls, then north along the creek bed back to the bridge there, where we saw some happy joggers. Ever notice how people who hike in the winter look so happy.


Then we went on up the (steep start) Buckeye for 20 minutes to this clearing where the sun was just starting to peak out. It was so pretty. And warm enough! Toby loved it, too. He’s 12 but has the look of a puppy when he’s romping in the snow.




Thanks for reading. Happy almost February and happy birthday, national parks.



Going for beavers, finding GOATS

It happens every time. I’m in a hurry and stressed. But then I see the sign “Cuyahoga Valley National Park.” And my heart rate slows. My blood pressure drops. I breathe a little deeper.  I don’t experience this at other places. Not at our local Towner’s Woods in Kent. Not at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. It’s not even like there are these sweeping vistas to greet the visitor like there are at, say, the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s that the CVNP is my space, 22 minutes from my driveway — 33,000 sweeping acres that breathe the words “Nature counts.” It’s a comforting statement that came into being when the CVNP was named a recreation park in 1974 and then again in 2000 when it was deemed a national park. “We the people believe nature counts” is a statement made subconsciously and consciously every day by the society of workers and the people who frequent the park, that calls me from my back yard, up OH 43 from Kent, to Ravenna Road, to 303 and into the Valley. I see that sign. And I know am in solidarity with like minds in solidarity with creation. On this particular Sunday, I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I knew the sun was shining, and the sky was blue. I knew I wanted to see shadows on expanses of snow  — one of my favorite images in nature. I knew because of unrelated time constraints that I had only half an hour once I got into the Valley, which meant my visit had to be quick, which meant this would be a perfect day for parking my car at the lot off Ira Road and walking 15 minutes to the Beaver Marsh boardwalk. I knew I likely wouldn’t see any beavers as they are nocturnal and it was 2 in the afternoon. I would, however, see frozen water and likely the shadows I sought. First, though, on my way to the marsh, just before the intersection of Ira and Akron Peninsula Road, I came upon these munchers. I thought to keep going, but instead, I got out of my car, walked up to the fence on the other side of the road and started photographing with my Nikon 2.8 70-200 long lens.DSC_4309
At some point, the goats started inching toward me en masse. Without looking up from their munching. But there was this one dude, who kept raising his head to stare at me. I got the impression he was the leader.

He looked up at me and then back at the herd.

And then he started walking slowly toward me, his eyes never leaving mine. At this point, the thought occurred to me that he might be coming to head-butt me and that I might  consider running, except surely this was an electric fence separating us.

Smart guy, he got within a few feet of the fence (and me), and stopped. I’m not sure what he was trying to communicate. He stood straight and still, staring directly into my eyes.He looked back at the herd a time or two and then back at me.

I kept my camera on him, whistling loud a couple of times when he was looking at me so I could get a photo of his ears straight out. The ears perk up at sound.

And then he turned and headed back to the herd. “She checks out OK,” his body language seemed to communicate to his buddies.

DSC_4336And that was that. The king of the goats resumed his munching, as did his comrades. And I moved on to the marsh, a place I’d visited only once, about 15 years ago, when my children participated in a Junior Ranger program. It’s called the “Beaver” Marsh, but I knew I wouldn’t see any beaver or other little critters because of that nocturnal thing. The best time to see them, according to my good buddy, Ranger Judson, is around sunset or sunrise. A woman heading toward the marsh, walking a new English cocker puppy, told me she did see a mink the other day. I told her I wouldn’t know a mink from a muskrat.

I do hope one day to know such things. I hope also one day to be able to identify the tiny little footprints I saw on the marsh this day. There were so many different ones.

It will be nice to go back in the spring near sunset and just sit quietly and wait for various animals to make an appearance. I hear there are not only beaver and mink, but otter and muskrat here, too. Meanwhile, I did get to see those shadows on the snow. I saw beautiful blue sky against the crisp white of the land. I saw joggers taking advantage of the sun and the boardwalk. The path was icy in spots, but easy enough to avoid, apparently, when eyes are wide open.


It was so nice to see blue skies.

The gnawed tip of this wood suggests beaver involvement.

The Beaver Marsh, I learned from the information board at the marsh, was once a car junkyard, brought back by the community to its original intent as a wetland for animals to thrive and with a boardwalk so humans can enjoy.

I imagine the work that went into giving this land back to its rightful residents. I imagine the intent. And once again, I am comforted by this solidarity. Thanks, CVNP folks, for putting the marsh back for the beavers and us. There is much to see and learn from this place. For now, I can say I have been to the Beaver Marsh in the Cuyahoga Valley. Thanks for reading. Happy new year, happy birthday, parks.


~~ DLH

Yogi Bear to the rescue




After that first snow, I decided I needed major educating about the Valley. And so, yesterday, after a big event on my calendar was canceled, and I realized I had a full day stretched out in front of me, I went to the Visitor’s Center with my camera and notebook in search of a ranger dude who could help me. I have never met an unhelpful park ranger. Surrounded by beavers and pond fronds, they are usually eager beavers themselves to talk to a human being. Such was the case with Roger Judson, a happy Santa Claus of a man with longish white hair, a turquoise ring and bracelet, sitting at the front desk of the Visitor’s Center in Boston Mills, who turned out to be not only a naturalist but a font of history knowledge. He also turned out not to be bona fide ranger, but a longtime, beloved volunteer, according to the CVNP’s Facebook page. But he sure was a helpful ranger dude that day to me. The Visitor’s Center wasn’t too busy on this chilly, gray Saturday, though several couples came in and out while I was there, including a couple who’d driven up from Cincinnati and another, down from Michigan. Apparently, so Mr. Judson told me, people come from all over the state, all over the country and even all over the world to visit this 10th most visited national park in the country. (Folks at the CVNP are very proud of this stat.)

Along Riverview Road

Much-photographed bridge over the Valley Cuyahoga

First: Mr. Judson directed me upstairs to an 18-minute movie, which promptly put me to sleep. No offense. I’d been up all night starting this blog. I stayed awake for a lot of the film, though, and I’m glad I did, because it taught me, first of all, that the Cuyahoga Valley is defined by the river that runs through it.  Say what? I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that before.

HISTORY:::The Valley was once a bustling commerce area because of the river and because of  the Ohio & Erie Canal that carried freight into and through Ohio. The canal started losing business in the mid-1860s when the railroad took over freight-moving, and the deal was clinched 50 years later when a major storm flooded the canal. At the same time as commerce had been developing around the area, recreation had also been developing. Cleveland residents escaping city life took to the area for boating and leisure. In the mid-1900s, as urban sprawl began to threaten the Valley, residents took up the cry to preserve and conserve the beautiful and diverse area. The Valley was designated a national recreation area in 1974 and a national park in 2000.

Second: After the movie, I went back to Mr. Judson, who brought out the signature CVNP map. I asked him to show me the spots on the map I already knew so I could get my bearings.

SO GET THIS: Not only does the river run through the Valley, north to south, but so does the railroad, the canal, the TowPath Trail and Riverview Road. Riverview Road is on the west, or left side of the river. And Akron-Peninsula is on the east side, but just for half the Valley, from uh, Akron to Peninsula.

Mr. Judson told me about the main trail, the Towpath Trail, which helps add up to 150 miles of total trail throughout the Valley. This is the world-renowned hike-and-bike path that follows the length of the canal (See “SO GET THIS” above) and beyond, 100 miles from Lake Erie in the north to New Philadelphia to the south. The Towpath Trail is the reason, Ranger Judson proclaimed, that the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the 10th most visited park in the country. (There’s that proud stat again.) Mr. Judson also told me about a wonderfully FLAT hike-and-bike trail that parallels the railroad though the Valley and that also follows the canal for a stretch. Because railroads can’t incline more than 3 degrees, he told me, this makes this trail relatively flat, which makes it especially attractive to hiker/bikers. Glad to know this as I hate riding my bike up trails. Not so much down. I don’t mind down. Third:  Ranger Judson pointed to a display of one-page information sheets.

All these little brochures, very well-done and accompanied by photos, can be found online in their entirety. Titles include : “Monarchs on the Move”:  “Bald Eagles Return”; “Great Blue Herons”; “Bird Watching At Its Best”; “Beaver Marsh.” I sat with the brochures and made notes and then took my questions back to Mr. Judson so he could help me find everything on the map. This includes: the two best places for butterfly watching,  the two heron spots, where the bald eagle nest is, how to get to the beaver marsh, where the cross-country trails are, where the best falls are, where the best lookout spots are. If you go to that link above, you can get that information, too, in the various info sheets. I hope to photograph and post more information about each of these spots, as well, as time goes on.

Just the Facts: You can rent cross-country skis at Kendall Lakes when snow is at depths of six inches or more, and snow shoes when snow is at depths of four inches. The cost is $7.50 for three hours of skiing or $15 for all day and $5 for snow-shoeing as many hours as you want. I knew about the skis, but I didn’t know about the snow shoes, which I’ve always wanted to try. Can’t wait for four inches of snow, which I’m not sure will ever come during this least-snow-of-all-winters.

One title that’s not on the web-site page has to do with the approximately 10 farms located in the Valley. I asked Mr. Judson if they were organic, which is of particular interest to me. “They’re all organic,” he said. I couldn’t find anything in the materials to support this, and I will be trying to get the definitive word at some point. Apparently, meanwhile, organic or not, farmers do for sure sell local produce during the warm months at a market near Howe Meadow on Saturdays. Local Valley farmers also hold a market on limited Saturdays indoors during the winter. I left the Visitor’s Center that day, a lot more grounded, happier that I might actually know where I am going when I’m in the Valley or at least where I want to go. On this day, I went on to drive along Riverview Road, which indeed casts a view of the river. Wow, that river really is crooked. I went up to Brandywine Falls where there were icicles along the falls. (That’s Brandywine at the top of this post.) A few visitors were out, but not many.

 Brandywine icicles
                                                 Black and white?
                                                             Or color?




The (dirty) Sorento I usually drive into the Valley

 Next step: I’d maybe like to synthesize the information I gathered or color-code with Sharpies on the map the things I found most interesting and kind of stake out a plan for what’s next. Or maybe I’ll just close my eyes and wing it. Either way, I feel so much better after meeting Mr. Judson. Volunteers and rangers rock. Thanks, reader, for reading. Happy new year and happy birthday, parks.

Not Mr. Judson, but helpful, also on another day.                                                                            A volunteer on the left and an intern on the right. Thanks, guys, for all you do!



Open your eyes, look to the skies and see


Finally, after weeks of a no-snow-winter, a big snow had come. It started on a Monday night in mid-January and was still falling when I got up that Tuesday. “This is the day I go to the Valley to shoot,” I told my husband. Let me say clearly that I am not a landscape photographer. I am a columnist, a print journalist and a former newspaper reporter who learned photography by watching other journalists take pictures of people and events. I have shot some nature photography, but my abilities are nowhere near those of the pros who hang out in the Valley waiting for lakes to freeze and eaglets to fly.  (You can check out some of those spectacular photos, BTW, at their site.) What I do have is a couple of cameras, a love of artistic composition and a bursting addiction for challenge, the latest of which I have deemed is exploring the Cuyahoga Valley in the winter with my camera. And so, on that blustery Tuesday in January, I grabbed batteries, memory cards, Nikons,  Keens and my willing spouse.



We took off for CVNP parts unknown — literally. “Where do you want to go?” he asked as we pulled deeper into the Valley. All that Ohio winter brown and gray and white. “I have no idea,” I said, and then, “OK, pull over at that bridge.” I can’t tell you its name. It was on Majors Road near Oak Hill. The bridge had some nice features, I thought, and maybe could offer a back drop to something I couldn’t quite see yet. As my husband sat on the side of the road with the car idling, I tromped across the woods and got a few close-ups of the bridge, with the curve of the wood in the foreground and the bulk of the bridge blurred in the background. I got a few wide angles, and thought to go back to the car and keep driving. It was cold. I am from the South. But as I shot, with new snow still falling, I started seeing and feeling beyond the brown and gray and cold.


I looked under the bridge to see the beautiful ice formations along the river. I found beauty in the contrast and composition, grey-green, brown black and and white as it was.


“My driver” ended up getting out of the car and joining me.

 And we walked on across the bridge, up the path in the deep and falling snow, we found just around the bend, the Hunt Farm, an old farmhouse turned visitors’ center, where our kids did Junior Ranger programs in the summer. The property seemed Laura Ingalls Wilder in the stark snow and the quiet. Not another soul around, except for one  lone photographer I noticed with his long lens some distance away, scanning the landscape for something to shoot, too. I shot a bit of the house and the out buildings until a spot of red caught my eye in the snow under a big tree. It was a cardinal or, depending on your perspective, my mother. (I decided after she died 11 years ago that any time I saw a cardinal, it was she, come to say hello — even if I later learned all red cardinals are male.) I got only a couple of photos before the blur of her wings took flight. But then it was just good to know I’d seen a cardinal on this first day of winter’s snow in the Valley.

We went on to the famed and much-photographed covered bridge on Everett Road. I went down along the river bed into some prickly stuff to get some different angles and eventually, had to be pulled away as we had other things to do that day.


And so, the inspiration begins. Thanks for reading. Happy new year, happy birthday, parks.


Take me to the river


It’s the 100th anniversary year of the National Park System. And since there’s one in my backyard — the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — I think I need to give it a go. Sure, I’ve been there before. As a 19-year resident of Kent, Ohio, 22 minutes away, my family and I have hiked the Ledges, cross-country-skied the Kendall Lake loop, downhill-skied Boston Mills and contra danced at GAR Hall. We’ve looked for fossils under the covered bridge on Everett Road, splashed in the water at Blue Hen Falls and dodged the spray at Brandywine. We’ve biked the Towpath Trail, looked into the depths of Deep Lock Quarry and watched a dam in the making at the Beaver Marsh. We’ve visited lots of dots in the Valley. But I’ve never known exactly how the dots connect, where exactly we were standing or hiking or biking in proximity to everything else. As a journalist, I kind of like to know these things. And so, enough is enough, I decided. This is the year I’m going to teach myself about this 10th-most-visted national park in the U.S.

Just the facts: 1. There are only 59 national parks in the whole wide country. 2. Most of them are in the west. 3. Only 10 are east of the Mississippi. 4. The CVNP is one.

My goal is to visit a piece of the Valley every week and then blog about it. I hope for a lot of reasons that I’m hale, hardy and dedicated enough to do this in the long-term. I’m super excited to be blogging here in this new space, which is, BTW, not going to be a bona fide, end-all Cuyahoga Valley National Park visitors’ guide, but more like an excited-kid-in-the-candy-store meander. Thanks for reading, happy new year, and happy 100th birthday to these remarkable pieces of preservation in our midst. May there be many more — birthdays and parks.