Cleveland Comhrá: A Christmas Walk
by Bob Carney
Being dog “parents”, Christmas morning, like any morning Mary and I are not working, starts with a walk in the woods. Our walks on Christmas morning have become special in the years since my brother and sister and their families have moved out of state but return to spend Christmas with us.
Usually someone joins us on our early morning walk and it’s a wonderful way to reconnect. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is often our destination. There are numerous trails, 125 miles worth, to hike and explore with varying degrees of difficulty or ease. As I’ve gotten older, we tend to more of the flatter trails.
The park is open year round and I can honestly say we’ve walked its trails in every type of weather Ohio has to offer. Hot coffee in a thermos left in the van, along with towels for muddy paws help when the walk is over. The correct clothing, boots and jackets for us and the dogs make the walks enjoyable even in adverse conditions.
Recreation in the valley started back in the 1870s, when people from neighboring cities would come to the area for carriage rides or boat trips along the canal. In 1880, the Valley Railway became another way to enjoy the scenery of the valley.
Park development began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron’s Metropolitan Park Systems. Planners realized the importance and potential for Cuyahoga Valley being a refuge from the noise, grime and bustle of city living.
In 1929, the estate of Cleveland businessman Hayward Kendall donated 430 acres around Richie Ledges, with a stipulation that the land would only be used for park purposes. This is a beautiful area of the park, with its scenic views and rock formations, early morning visits will usually allow you the opportunity to spot owls hunting along the bottom of the ledges.
Across the road is Virginia Kendall Lake, named for Hayward’s mother, home to beavers, hawks and the occasional coyote. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed much of the parks infrastructure in this area. Numerous outdoor recreational enterprises, inculding golf courses, ski resorts, scout camps and later Blossom Music Center made their home in this area of the park.
As Cleveland and Akron grew, many feared Cuyahoga Valley would succumb to encroachment from the cities. Concerned citizens worked with state and federal government looking for a permanent solution, eventually deciding that the valley should become a National Park. In 1972 the National Park Service set a precedent when urban park areas in San Fransisco and New York City became part of the National Park System through Nixon’s “Parks to the People” policy.
Gerald Ford signed the bill in 1974 that established Cuyahoga Valley as a National Recreation Area. In 2000, the name was changed to Cuyahoga National Park to make it more recognizable as part of the National Park System.
In the winter months, the park is quieter than summer, but in my opinion is, it is more beautiful, especially after a snowfall. Robert Frost’s poems stick in my head as we walk on those mornings. With the trees clear of their leaves, visibility increases, deer and coyotes are easier to spot, along with foxes, hawks and bald eagles.
Cross-country ski rentals and instruction are available, as well as snow shoeing, both great exercise. Photographing barns is something I like to do and wintertime portrays them very dramatically.
This year at the end of October, the new Boston Mill Visitor Center opened. National Park Guide Lidia Murillo gave me a tour of the center and said to think of the center as the front door to the park. It’s stocked with maps and information about the park.
Lidia, and the rest of the folks in the center, as well as every employee I’ve ever encountered in all the years we’ve been using the park are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, making sure that whether it’s your first visit, or like us, a weekly visit, that you enjoy everything the park has to offer. So get outside this winter, you may be missing the best time of the year. After all, a morning walk in the crisp air makes an afternoon nap on the couch well deserved.
One of my favorite poems this time of year is by Patrick Kavanagh. He was born in 1904 in the village of Innskeen Co. Monaghan. He worked his father’s farm until he was thirty-three years of age, when, at the urging of his brother, a school teacher, he moved to Dublin to pursue a career as a writer.
He is well known for his poem, “On Raglan Road” thanks to performers like Luke Kelly. An excerpt is below:
A CHRISTMAS CHILDHOOD
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heavens gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw-
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.
My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethleham made it twinkle.
My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.
– Patrick Kavanagh
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @Pj McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, houndMorrighan and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at email@example.com