A cold, tired, icky, late fall day. Yesterday.
Woke up, decided that I just didn't want to go to class, reset the alarm, went back to bed... somehow managing to set the clock forward a few hours, too.
Woke up again, without the alarm, looked at the clock, jumped up, shocked to read the time, 4:00. Realized that I had to start moving. Ate some random food, started chatting online, a little e2...
Looked outside. No desire to go to my afternoon class. None at all. Had to get off campus. Away. Far away, preferably. Washington or Chicago or something.
No time for that this weekend, with a term paper to write and all. But still, needed to get away.
To the Ohio River! That body of water, defining the southern border of the state I have lived most all of my life in. Have travelled so far, yet not been to this defining thing, so close.
Ate random food, ingested caffiene, and was off.
Still in a bit of a daze, driving south, the minivan chugging along. Fifteen miles or so south of home, realized the need to actually look at a map. Pulled over at a gas station, checked the map, drove on, south and east.
Passing through rural Ohio, continuing to realize how many people really live there, so far away from cities...not the farmland one sometimes thinks of. Nice fall colors. Yellow and orange and red, striking blue sky. Crisp air.
And it changes, farther south and east. The land becomes more rolling, the houses poorer, a few more trees, a lot more cars parked in the front yards, rusting, used for racing and totalled. The yards get a bit smaller. Pass through Salem, once the largest manufacturer of dinnerware in the US. And then continuing south and east.
The houses are getting older. These are old roads, too, though they do not always show it... small, almost fortress like buildings, of stone, from the 1810s, perhaps.
The land continues to change... in a way that eludes description. Perhaps it is the road, a divided highway, taking the minivan through the landscape so much faster, eliminating the nuances of it all.
Finally, the downward slope to the river begins. Didn't realize just how high I was, just a few miles before... the road keeps going down. More and more cars on the road, lots of semis, too, loaded with steel and steel products.
The road reaches the river bottom. East Liverpool, OH, home of the toxic waste incinerator people keep claiming they will close. A poor area.... this whole river bottom is. Homer Laughlin China, on the opposite side of the river. People who make such bright, colored pottery live in a place so gray? Republic Pittsburgh Steel. Gray.
Not the little road I expected at the river's edge, but a highway, sometimes divided, sometimes not, linking industry and people, transporting goods. Small, worn, dirty houses, dirty from time, from pollution, crowed along the river bottom. Valley walls, still, for the most part, covered with trees, their tops punctuated by cell towers. A few years ago, they were just smooth ridges... just a few years ago. The leaves on the trees are changing colors, bringing a little color to the area... a little - a color that matches the houses, strangely, only the houses are much more muted.
The road does not meander, but speeds along, it's sharp curves smoothed out, much like those of the river. The dams, locks, all these things.
The huge, lone, smokestack of a power plant, looming ahead. The road goes under part of it. Under it.
The valley is full of industry. Old industry. Old homes. Steel and electricity and other manufacturing. And it is all the same.
Continue south to Martin's Ferry. Stop, get some food at a McDonald's. Would like to drive further, but it is getting dark... and late, too, perhaps.
Sitting in the McDonald's parking lot, looking at the map... could almost go home via Columbus, but that would be out of the way. No, north along the river, back the way I came, but with the river on the right.
Hitting scan on the radio until the familiar public radio voices come on. West Virginia Public Radio. They sound... different. Not like stereotypical West Virginians, but different. More laid back. Driving, north, the light fading, fast. And then, that familar theme music, All Things Considered. And I continue driving, thinking.
North through East Liverpool, then along another anonymous divided highway, to the Ohio Turnpike. West, to home, snowing.
This is not the Ohio Valley that my ancestors came to, when they came to Marietta, settling, plowing under the effigy mounds. It has been transformed much in the past 200 years. Such are the patterns of settlement.
These are the choices we have made. Do we want them for the rest of the world, too, as we develop it?