From her backpack, Mimi extracts a neatly folded sheet of paper. Unfolded, it reveals typewriter-typed lines that begin with the words, “Give me a woods to walk in.” Midwestern author Jean Bell Mosley’s paean to nature appeared in a women’s magazine from the 1960s. Mimi’s mother clipped it out and gave it to her; Mimi has made sharing copies a tradition.
“I want the branches overhead to be so entwined they form a green canopy, making it cool underneath, yet with a blue here and there where one may peek through to see the galaxies,” Mosley wrote. It’s the speech of the hiker’s soul.
A rumble from above punctuates the final line. I interpret this as a thumbs-up from Mother Nature, but Mimi says it’s thunder. She refolds the paper and hands it to me. Time to move on.
The cliffs are named for Josiah Cantwell, an early settler of the Hocking Hills, a region of cliffs, gorges and waterfalls in southeastern Ohio’s portion of the Allegheny Plateau. I can see the attraction: quiet, vast landscapes stippled with hemlock and birch, rocks draped with phosphorescent mosses and liverworts, ground carpeted with ostrich ferns. This lush year-round color softens the high walls of rugged sandstone. Within the gorge, waterfalls don’t roar; they trickle and spray. Pileated woodpeckers with flame-red crests drum trunks and call “wuk wuk wuk.”
As the skies darken, a patter rises — rain caught by leaves and rock overhangs as we thread our way back up the slopes.
“Let me look long at the trees stripped of their foliage and see the very backbone of life. Let me feel the crystal coldness of the wind in my face, the silence of a woods filling up with snow.” Mosley captures the rough beauty that winter brings.
Approaching Fat Woman’s Squeeze, we stop to pick up some trash stuck between rocks. A flash overhead is trailed by thunder.
Exiting the Squeeze, I realize that the essay has popped out of my pocket. “We need to get out of here . . .” Mimi’s voice vanishes as I tramp back down the Squeeze’s now-dark passage. Lightning wouldn’t strike someone tidying up nature’s cathedral, would it? Fortunately, the paper’s easily spotted, glowing white atop wet leaves.
A vibration passes underfoot. Mother Earth just reached out and touched me.
What I call a touch, Mimi interprets as a shove. “Let’s move,” she cries. “Now! If that rumble’s an earthquake, the worst place to stand is under slabs of ancient rock.”
I finally learn to slow down, and she’s hurrying me.
Soslow is a writer and photographer who covers outdoor adventure, culture, food and art. She can be reached at email@example.com.