The Pioneers

I’ve just finished David McCullough’s new book, The Pioneers.  If you’re a native Ohioan, like me, it strikes home.  If you’re not an Ohioan, but you like history, you’ll find it an interesting exploration of the early American pioneer experience.

The Pioneers tells the story of the settlement of the Ohio territory in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with a principal focus on the town of Marietta, on the Ohio River.  The book sketches the history of the Northwest Territory and Marietta from the days when the Ohio lands were viewed as a tempting, but dangerous, far western wilderness and advocates of settlement were seeking congressional approval of the Northwest Ordinance and settlements, through early settlement days and the Burr conspiracy on Blennerhassett Island, to Ohio statehood and the development of the state school system and early state colleges, to the role of Ohio as a principal stop on the Underground Railroad.  Along the way we meet many interesting characters, like Manasseh Cutler, a formidable preacher turned lobbyist who skillfully managed the interests of the advocates of settlement in Congress, his son Ephraim, a spelling-challenged champion of free public schools and opposition to slavery, Samuel Hildreth, a curious and inquisitive doctor, painter, scientist, and naturalist, and Rufus Putnam, the Revolutionary War veteran and common-sense general who held the Marietta settlement together during the early, difficult days.

If you’re an Ohioan of a certain age, like me, you’ll remember learning about some of this in your Ohio history classes in grade school.  The Pioneers is a reminder of our state’s early history, when Ohio was an untamed wilderness with gigantic trees and forest prowled by panthers, bears, and wolves.  And the story of Ohio is unsettling, as most pioneer stories are — unsettling because of the treatment of the native Americans who were forced from their ancestral lands by the flood of settlers and the massacres and battles that resulted from the inevitable clashes that occurred as the natives desperately tried to preserve their way of life.  The book is also a useful reminder of how close Ohio came to being a state that allowed slavery, as opposed to a bulwark against the spread of slavery and, ultimately, one of the chief supporters of the Union cause in the Civil War.

The Pioneers is a good read.

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Looking For Amusement?

The tripadvisor website has come out with its ranking of the best amusement parks in the world.  Universal Studios Islands of Adventure — a park that the kids and I hit multiple times back in the ’90s, a few decades and no doubt a number of new attractions ago — got the number 1 ranking, and the Disney parks, both in the United States and abroad, fared well.

5e4b37fa-c64b-4b58-8521-659e3ee4bc00-large16x9_cedarpointnewcoasterBut as I scanned the list, I couldn’t help but notice an obvious omission:  Cedar Point, on the north coast of Ohio.  It’s not only not in the top 10, it’s not in the list of the top 25 parks in the world at all.  To find Cedar Point, you have to go to the ranking of parks just in the United States and click down to find “the Point” coming in at number 18.  It ranks behind parks I’ve never heard of, like “Santa’s Village” in Jefferson, New Hampshire, “Knoebels Amusement Resort” in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and “Bay Beach Amusement Park” in Green Bay, Wisconsin — none of which look all that exciting, frankly, from the photos that accompany the rankings.

For most amusement park aficionados, and particularly roller coaster buffs, Cedar Point is one of the premier destinations in the world.  In fact, some people say it’s got the best collection of roller coasters and other thrill rides, anywhere.  If you go to Cedar Point on a fine, blue-sky summer day — and if you love coasters, it’s basically a requirement — you’ll see cars and RVs from across the country in the parking lot and hear every kind of language being spoken by visitors.  And many of those visitors will come back, year after year.  Can “Santa’s Village” say the same?

It all goes to show you that you should take rankings with a grain of salt, and exercise your own judgment based on your own interests.  Want to hang with elves?  “Santa’s Village” no doubt is right up your alley.  Want to experience the “It’s a Small World After All” ride until the annoying theme song is permanently seared into your brain?  Go the Disney route.  But if you want to go somewhere where there are great roller coasters, old and new, at every turn, and get your adrenaline supercharged as you rush along at 60 m.p.h. and do loops and circles and deal with serious g forces?  That’s where I’d go, and that means getting to the Point.

High Water In A Shallow Lake

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.  This spring, however, the constant rains have raised the level of the Lake by almost three feet.  In some places, like Sandusky, the water levels are the highest that have ever been recorded.

nqgkc7isfve23fnjclhlsjjowmThe high water levels are doing some real damage, too.  Some docks and parts of shorelines have become submerged, and increased erosion caused by the high waters is eating away the Lake Erie coastline.  From the North Coast communities of Mentor to Vermilion to Sandusky, officials are dealing with the impact of high water taking down trees, rendering docks inaccessible, and leaving low-lying areas underwater, and homeowners along the lake also are dealing with flooding issues.   The water levels in Sandusky are so high that the normal outfalls from Sandusky Bay to Lake Erie have been reversed, and water from the lake is now raising the water levels in the bay — causing officials to take drastic actions to try to pump the excess water out.  And the impact of the rain and high water has been compounded by a persistent wind from the north that is pushing the Lake Erie waters against the Ohio coast of the lake, increasing the damage.

The conditions pose special peril for boaters, in ways you might not expect.  The high waters will affect bridge clearances over lagoons and access rivers and is submerging some break walls that would otherwise be visible.  And, with increased erosion and trees collapsing into the lake, there is increased risk of debris messing with motors and propellers — all of which means that boaters had better watch it when they are close to shore.  And any experienced Lake Erie boater will tell you that the lake is legendary for its sudden storms that can appear in the blink of an eye, whip the water into a frenzy, and, in some instances, put boaters at risk of losing their boat — and their life.  The high waters won’t help in that category, either.

One lesson that you learn from reading about the impact of high water levels — there’s not much human beings can do about it, short term.  What the communities around Lake Erie need right now is a break in the constant rains and a period of sunshine and warm temperatures to allow evaporation to play its intended role and reduce lake levels back to normal.  In short, we need Mother Nature to show us a little mercy.

Focus On The Farmers

It’s pouring in Columbus right now, and the weather forecast is for more of the same — all day, and for that matter all week.

As I sat on my back porch listening to the rain pound the roof this morning, the phrase that popped into my head was: “It’s good for the farmers.” When we were kids, that was Mom’s inevitable response to a rainy summer day. Forlorn kids would be staring out the window, saddened by the fact that a precious day of summer vacation would be lost to thunderstorms, but Mom would try to put a happy spin on the showers. She was a master of the power of positive thinking In the days before spin even had a name.

Here’s to you, Ohio farmers! Let’s hope the rains produce a bumper crop this year.

The Coming Storm

It was clear it was going to rain this morning. Knowing that, you can go inside, shut the door, and watch TV.

Or, you can sit outside on your porch, drinking your morning coffee and listening to the thunderstorm approach from the west. You watch the sky over the neighboring houses grow dark and roiled, illuminated by the occasional flash of distant lightning, and listen to the booms and cracks grow steadily louder.

I prefer the latter course. Thunderstorms make a lot of interesting sounds — ultimately ending in the patter of sheets of rain striking roofs and patio umbrellas and the leaves on overhanging trees. And it’s interesting, too, how the birds respect the storm — they hold their chirps when growling sky puts on its performance, fit a little snippet of song in between the rolls of thunder, and then find a quiet, sheltered spot when the rain ultimately comes.

I find the sounds of thunderstorms comforting. It’s a set of sounds that really hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. To this native Midwesterner, thunderstorms mean . . . Summer is finally here!

Domes Versus Lid

Idaho has a beautiful state capitol building.  Built in the early 20th century, it is an elegant classical structure that anchors one end of downtown Boise.

Like many state capitol buildings in the United States, the Idaho state capitol building has a soaring dome that bears a clear resemblance to the dome of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  The dome puts the Idaho capitol building into the clear majority of U.S. capitol buildings.  By one count, 38 of the 50 states have a state capitol building with some kind of dome.

Ohio isn’t one of them.  Instead of a dome, Ohio’s state capitol building has a rotunda with a kind of lid on it.  Whereas the domes project lofty, aspirational sentiments, Ohio’s lid has a more practical feel to it.  It’s as if the architects of the building worried that the debates within might some day reach a boiling point, and designed it so that a giant hand could reach down, remove the lid from the top of the kettle, and relieve the pressure.

Idaho’s state capitol is beautiful, as most domed buildings are.  Ohio’s is pretty in its own way, but also has the benefit of being unique.

State Pride Grillework

I saw this car in the parking lobby of the hobby shop down the block and thought it was pretty cool.  At first, I thought the Jeep Corporation had manufactured some Ohio-specific models and wondered how the company had managed to keep the center parts of the “Os” in place.  Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that the “Ohio” grille was the creation of the car’s owner, who strategically placed a few strips of black duct tape on parts of the standard Jeep grille — which features six vertical lines — to create a message that indisputably identifies the driver as a proud Buckeye.

Duct tape — is there anything it can’t do?