Leaves softly crunch underfoot, with colors of sunset orange, cardinal red and amber yellow. The neighboring river constantly babbles, swiftly flowing over boulders, rocks and pebbles. Thin tree branches hang from the ground above and dip into the water. Whitetail deer, blue birds and red-winged blackbirds, brown squirrels and coyotes hide in the shadows of the forest, only emerging when safety and security is certain. There is an aroma of a recently extinguished campfire, dirt and fresh rain on leaves. The sky is a pale blue without a cloud in sight. The summer wind feels cool against my sunburned skin.
The brown cabin sits at the top of a gravel driveway, nestled between patches of trees. Located in Jefferson County in southern Ohio, it was built in 1988 by my father, his father, and a few close friends. The adjacent barn was built from repurposed temporary shelters from a long-ago abandoned project. The inside is simple and practical: one bathroom, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. There is electricity, running water, and a television. Cell reception and Wi-Fi cease to exist here. We are forced to abandon the luxury of social media and email and mindless technology. The goal is to get away, to escape the modern world. It is a place where man can truly reconnect with nature and allow it to consume his entire being. A lot of time here is spent hiking and exploring the trails, planting, shooting old pop cans with a BB gun or pistol, and hunting turkeys or deer.
The swinging chair on the small wooden porch creaks back and forth with every slight gust of wind. This is the place I often come to spend time by myself and often read a book. My feet dangle from the edge of the chair, kicking little pieces of gravel and stones across the driveway. My fingers repeatedly smooth out worn bookmarked and doggy-eared pages, indicating my favorite passages or chapters. Effortlessly, I become absorbed in the words and the story. The sound of trickling water, chirping birds and buzzing insects soon becomes deaf to my ears.
The nearest grocery store is twenty minutes away. There are no chain fast food restaurants or big shopping malls. There are no cars blaring their horns, no ambulance or police sirens, no tourists. People are more genuine, most shops are family-owned, and every street corner tells a story. When the sun sinks beneath the horizon, there are no blinding skyscraper lights or flashing store signs. A single yellow porch light illuminates the driveway, allowing me to walk back inside after a night of wandering. The stars are clear and bright as can be, sparkling across the night sky. Most nights we would sit in battered and rickety lawn chairs around the fire pit, roasting marshmallows on an open flame. The combination of a crumbly Graham cracker, melted milk chocolate, the smell of burning wood, and the heartfelt company of family and friends always made it feel like summer.
Starting at a very young age, my father instilled a deep appreciation of nature into my two sisters and I. If you catch a toad or a lizard, let it go; do not keep it as a pet or for your own entertainment because it has a home and a family of its own. When hunting, shoot the deer right behind their front legs, through their lungs, so they do not suffer. Always use fertilizer when planting flowers or trees. Spend as much time outside as possible.
I remember one weekend where I was ten years old, maybe eleven. My sisters and I had spent the day splashing around in the creek across the street. We submerged our entire bodies in the refreshing clear water. Our Boykin spaniel swam next to us with her little hind legs and gulped at the water like a fish. Her dark brown floppy ears comically floated above the surface. My sisters and I would form a pile of cool and interesting-looking rocks we had discovered from the shallow end. We would jump from boulder to boulder, careful not to misstep and get our bare feet wet, or worse: wipe out and fall in completely. We would put our hands underneath the little waterfall and splash it onto our face. If we were lucky, we would find an Eastern box turtle, with its gold and brown speckled shell and red eyes. Life was so simple back then.
Another memorable weekend occurred many years later. I was almost sixteen. I joined my dad and grandpa on their quest to plant forage for soybeans, brassica and clover seedlings for the upcoming hunting season. Planting these crops not only helps keep the deer healthy and thriving, but it helps other wildlife as well, such as the songbirds and the turkeys. As we made our way up the hill with the four-wheelers, I was able to notice the passing of time first-hand. These decade-old Gobbler Sawtooth Oaks and Pinetrees that I helped plant when I was just five years old now tower over my head and provide shade from the unforgiving sun. These trees literally grew up with me. Time is such a relative concept, and it passes faster than you think.
Deep in the woods of this cabin is where I hunted and killed my first deer. I was twelve years old. Hunting whitetail deer runs in my family, just like so many others in the Buckeye state. It is an act that requires patience, preparation, and practice. The whitetail deer is one of Ohio’s only big game animals. It has provided meat for families for hundreds, if not thousands, of generations, dating back to the Native Americans and up to the thousands of sportsmen and women today. Hunting can be used as a means to regulate population, to put food on the table, or for sport. I remember practicing with a target for weeks on end, trying to get the perfect shot. That day, it felt like I had been up in that tree stand for hours. I will never forget that warm feeling of excitement and accomplishment in my chest when I heard his body hit the ground after pulling the trigger. I remember my dad would later doubt me because of the lack of a noticeable blood trail, despite my huge smile and overconfidence. This is near the place where my younger sister would also shoot her first deer a few years down the road.
The eternal sense of calmness this cabin possesses can be slightly overpowering. The serenity and sublime of nature itself can be found under every overturned rock, in every drop of water, and around every colorful flower. It can feel as if time itself has stopped in its tracks. I am often left alone with my thoughts and am forced to reflect on how much my life has changed since the last time I visited this surreal place. It is more than tractors and four-wheelers, hunting and swimming, shooting guns and planting seeds. As I grow older, I can appreciate this cabin for what it truly is: a direct connection with the earth and creation.