Mimi stops and gapes at me. I guess that’s a “no.”
Details, Ohio’s Cantwell Cliffs
We were kindred spirits — until one of us suggested speed-touring a sacred place where the other comes to meditate.
Modern culture celebrates speed and superlatives. Even on vacation, we’re compelled to zip along, pursuing what’s biggest, tallest, deepest, hottest, coolest. Nature’s wonders become props: things to hike, bike, ski, climb, summit; places to picnic in, bond in or escape to. When did rushing horn in on relaxing?
Slowing people down has become Mimi Morrison’s mission. She named her guide service Touch the Earth Adventures because she wants folks to not only see, but also hear, smell, taste and feel the vast ancient world thriving beyond our frenetic manmade realm.
I’m here for a sense-surround hike in my friend’s back yard, southeastern Ohio’s Hocking Hills. We’re at Cantwell Cliffs, a remote cluster of geological formations that have awed all comers since the Adena people’s arrival here 7,000 years ago.
Slowly is the way to explore terrain that began as bedrock 350 million years ago, when an ocean covered the region. Ages of uplift, retreating glaciers and erosion have sculpted these spectacular layered ledges and recess caves. The rustic trails offer an ideal balance of challenge without pain, solitude without plunging into no man’s land.
Once-underwater mountains appear cloaked in emerald-green moss and topped with saplings. On wintry days, thin skins of ice sparkle on graceful tree limbs stripped of leaves, and waterfalls freeze mid-spill. Time has cleaved huge boulders from the main cliffs. The gorge’s microclimate, protected from weather extremes, shelters an underworld of ferns, flowers and birds.
The setting’s so pristine, so prehistoric, it seems that velociraptors could swoop down at any moment.
After I downshift to a mindful pace, Mimi strides to Fat Woman’s Squeeze. Descending into the gorge, she eyes an immense rock face. “I’m glad nobody’s climbing that,” she says. What some regard merely as a setting to flex their muscles and their bravado, Mimi reveres as a haven for experiencing Earth’s healing touch, a place for absorbing the history and tranquility embedded in this rock of ages.
Honeycomb weathering pockmarks the dramatic rock walls, a result of water washing out loose grains of sandstone. We pass boulders as big as shuttle buses. Called “slump blocks,” they cracked off the cliffs and slid down the slopes. Ramrod-straight Eastern hemlocks reach up from ravines in search of sunlight. Quiet study is rewarded by glimpses of flying squirrels, foxes and golden-crowned kinglets, human-friendly birds native to British Columbia’s forests.