There is no place like home. There is no place like home- that's how I remember Dorothy hoping those words would bring her back to Kansas. But it is certainly true, as we all long for home, no matter how much we may deny it. Coming home brings with it a rush of memories, some good, some bad, but for all, I think we all hear a homing signal (pun intended) that will eventually lead us back to where we got our start. What memories do you have of home? I go home to visit my parents, my grandfather, and my brother. But for the botanical side of me, seeing a red maple tree brings me back home.
Munroe Falls, where my parents live now and have lived since I was born, sits in the glaciated region of the Allegheny Plateau. The once flat plateau was eroded down through the eons, and once the Wisconsin glaciers plowed through 20,000 thousand years ago or so, things really got jumbled up. Gentle hills and ravines now make up the landscape. Glacial erratics dot the ground, and the soil is a thick, sticky clay. And very acidic. All making excellent habitat for the aforementioned red maple tree that I just don't see here in calcareous western and central Columbus. The red maple was the tree I grew up with. Oh, a few maples and oaks, and even a sassafras, but red maple ruled the yard.
My parents live in suburbia. You can drive for 20 miles in each direction and not see any signs of rural Ohio. It wasn't always like that, as their neighborhood was once an farm. Their street cut through an old apple orchard. The land here was too steep for crops, but apples, and possibly cherries, grew where my parent's house now sits. There aren't many apple trees left- actually, they have all died, at least the ones in our yard. The woods behind their house were once reserved for a park but now is young forest that serves as a convenient yard waste dumping ground.
The woods are dotted with spindly trunks sweet cherry trees (Prunus avium) that look like somewhat like black birch. Their trunks no more than two feet in diameter, i'm not sure if these trees escaped or were actually planted long ago. They were always distinctive. They bled this gross amber colored sap that looked like puss from a wound. To the touch it felt like rubbery jelly. The bark, which strips off in horizontal bands, was always good for starting the backyard campfire. Those were the woods. Throw in a massive pin oak, a few red oaks and sassafrass, a white ash, a sourgum, and a wild black cherry, and you have the whole woods. These are the trees that remind me of home.
I also mentioned the shallow ravines that carve through eastern Summit County. The streams in this part of the state lead to the Cuyahoga River, and I was lucky to have such a stream in my backyard. This is where I caught creek chubs and black nosed dace. I moved up to catching two-lined salamanders under rocks, and then finally wised up and learned about the red backs and slimy salamanders that hid in the leaf litter further up the slopes from the creek.
A bend in the creek. It doesn't have a name, but I spent my childhood exploring this stream and it provided the basis of my love for natural history.
And finally, I got into the rocks themselves. The Pennsylvanian sandstones, siltsones and shales at the bottom of the ravine were rich in fossils. 280-320 Million year old fossils. I first remember thinking that I was finding dinosaur bones, but later, I would learn that the fossils were from ancient of the horsetail plants that we have in Ohio today in the genus Equisetum.
This fossil now sits in my paren'ts backyard. Several years ago, I brought it up from the creek and ravine pictured above. It warps my mind that a plant left this impression in sand at least 280 million years ago to create what you see here.
All of these things reminded me of home. Growing up, took them for granted, and I shouldn't have. Today I travel across Ohio, but still haven't found this same combination of geology, topography and biology that defines home for me.