Instead of writing these words, I might have been driving around taking photographs today, but the weather would not cooperate. It is very rainy and thundery. Instead, I’ll catch up a little bit on this blog, which, it turns out, I started four years ago this month. In April 2013, blessed with a new camera, newfound knowledge of WordPress, and a new vehicle with 4-wheel drive, a navigation system, and satellite radio, I got the idea of turning a fond indulgence of mine—driving around backcountry Ohio—into something of a hobby, documenting the things that I saw and posting them on-line. Here.
This is not your usual Unearthed Ohio blog entry. As I went on several excursions into rural eastern Ohio in October 2016, in the last weeks of the 2016 election, I noticed something very interesting.
Here are a handful of photographs from an abortive trip I took into eastern Ohio on Christmas Eve in 2014. I am afraid I do not remember what caused me to have to cut this trip short, so I don’t have much of a story to accompany these photographs. If I am not otherwise engaged, I like going on photography trips on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, because everything is usually so quiet and deserted.
It was February 2014. Cold and brisk, but the weather was fine and it looked like a nice day to take an excursion. I decided to do something I had been hankering to do for quite a while, which was to return to Mud House Mansion. I had discovered this fascinating old building located a bit east of Lancaster only the month before, so the landscape (barren, winter) would look pretty much the same, but what I wanted to do was to get there very early in the morning and get some good pictures of the mansion during the pre-dawn and dawn minutes, the so-called “golden hour” of photography. Well, the plans of mice and men oft gang agley and my exquisite timing was ruined completely when a woman driving a jeep mounted with a battering ram rear-ended by Pilot in downtown Lancaster. She had a grill guard on the front of Jeep (designed to protect vehicles from deer and such hitting the front of the car), but it was one that protruded well in front of the vehicle and that steel frame ploughed into the back of my SUV, caving in the rear door and doing about $7,000 or so worth of damage. So much for golden hour.
In which our intrepid hero encounters some bad noose…
This year I “celebrate” my 20th year of studying extremists in the United States, something that began as a completely unplanned and odd little outgrowth of my dissertation (which had nothing to do with extremism or, for that matter, the 20th century). By January 1995, I was spending a lot of time looking at domestic extremists and the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing essentially changed my life forever, causing me to focus on extremism and terrorism, first voluntarily and soon professionally. I’ve done that ever since. But my very first encounter with extremism occurred decades earlier, when I was a child.
In which our intrepid hero experiences his first ever car chase…
Ohio, it turns out, is not a particularly sunny state. Ohio’s major cities average only between 63 and 77 days of sunshine (defined as 30% or less cloud cover) per year. More than half of the days in Ohio have at least 80% cloud cover. Chicago has more clear days than Columbus (which falls somewhere in the middle of Ohio’s range); Boston has several weeks worth of more clear days; Dallas has nearly twice the number of clear days as Columbus; and Las Vegas has three times the number of clear days as Columbus. I was unable to find out how 2013 compared to the average for Ohio, but it seems to me, based on my excursions in 2013, that either 2013 was a particularly cloudy year for Ohio or I must have had been particularly unlucky in the days I was able to drive, because when I look back at the photographs I took in 2013, it seems like it was cloudy on almost every excursion.
In which our intrepid hero is reminded that the world is always changing…
It’s amazing how very different we can feel depending on whether or not we are going somewhere or returning from somewhere. The leaving is filled with expectation—hopefully a happy, excited sort of expectation, but we all know we sometimes leave towards destinations we dread. The return, though, is usually completely different. Sometimes we are simply anxious to get home and it doesn’t even matter what is around us—we have only that one thought in mind: GET HOME. Sometimes we are more relaxed about it and can enjoy the journey, understanding that at its end is the comfort and familiarity of home. I remember once, when I was in high school, returning home in the darkness from some interminable bus ride from somewhere in west Texas. I had a Walkman with me and was playing Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. When the song “Homeward Bound” played, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As I’ve grown older (and am now pretty close to the half century mark), the song has only become more powerful to me and if I ever hear it while I am coming back from a long trip I get quite melancholic.