Saturday, 30 June 2012


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to learn how to do archery. This desire predates my introduction to Katniss and Hawkeye, but may be partly related to my long-term love of Legolas. Whatever its source, it finally inspired me to schedule lessons at Aberfal Outdoor Pursuits, which operates out of Carwinion Garden in Mawnan Smith.

When I first contacted the proprietor, Sam Lonsdale, I was very up-front about my desires: I wanted to take some archery lessons so that I would be in the position to add archery to my long list of hobbies; I was not fooling around. Sam informed me that the best thing to do would be to swing by for a couple of sessions during which he could teach me about posture and technique, and then eventually join an archery club so that I could practice and potentially even participate in competitions. I was very excited to get the ball rolling on all this, but unfortunately I had to wait over a month because Aberfal was booked solid. That is what I get for finally pursuing my archery dream in the months just after the release of two movies--The Hunger Games and Avengers Assemble--in which archery plays a prominent role.

Because I am such a generous person, I scheduled a joint lesson for both Sasha and me--after all, the couple that shoots together stays together, right? We had to re-schedule once because of a work conflict, and I was worried that we might have to reschedule again because of weather. Lucky for us, though, the rain that had persisted throughout the day of our lesson more or less cleared up just as we headed off to Mawnan Smith.

When we go to the garden, we had to wait for a few minutes while Sam took care of some business associated with his other major "outdoor pursuit"--kayaking. This gave us the opportunity to sit in the sun on patio and view some of the many bamboo stands for which Carwinion Garden is famous. The patio offers garden visitors a place to sit and have a traditional Cornish cream tea, in which I think we may have to indulge next time we swing by.

Once Sam arrived, we signed all the requisite health and safety paperwork and then were introduced to our bows--which, as you can see from the picture, were of the traditional recurved variety. We also got forearm guards to protect us from string action. This was something I was terribly paranoid about because one of my friends recently got a massive bruise during her first archery lesson--and when I say massive, I mean huge, 3D, and dark purple. My apprehension turned out to be completely unnecessary, since my drawstring didn't even get close to my arm. Sasha, on the other hand, took a real beating--so much so that he even started bleeding at one point. (I should mention that this sort of thing is not uncommon, and that it did not happen because Sam was being negligent. That's the whole reason arm guards were invented in the first place, and Sasha tried moving his everywhere in order to minimize bruising--but to no avail.)

(Sasha's three-part injury, four days after the fact. The bit in the middle is where he started bleeding because of the way that the arm guard was pinching his skin. Ouch.)

Sam gave us some introductory instructions--stand at a 90-degree angle to the target, keep a straight line through the arms and shoulders, draw the string back to your cheekbone, etc.--but then very quickly let us step up and take our first few shots. Thanks to an unlucky coin toss, I was the first in the spotlight. Although I felt a little flustered at first, I quickly relaxed after my first arrow actually reached the target instead of going rogue and ending up in the nearby woods. I'd passed the first test!

(Here I am, making a gorgeous face while shooting. Although it looks as though I have my right eye closed here, it was actually my left eye that I kept shut, since I am right-side dominant. Please ignore the lack of straight line through my arms and shoulders. Also, I have no idea why I'm twisting my fingers around like that. Clearly, I have a few things to work on during my next visit to the range.)

Sam informed us that even people who describe themselves as "non-competitive" quickly become competitive when learning archery with another person. Well, I have never been non-competitive in my life, but actually I didn't feel too concerned with whether or not I was better than Sasha; I think I was just too happy to finally be holding a bow in my hand. It's a good thing I wasn't feeling too much pressure to out-shoot my husband, because I will admit that he is probably a bit of a better shot than I. (For now.)

I, on the other hand, was able to hit my stride more quickly. During the first part of the lesson, Sam had us aim at the bullseye without performing any adjustments to improve our accuracy. This allowed him to examine the lie of our arrows in order to see if our shooting was consistent. Sasha's arrows were, shall we say, widely distributed, but mine were grouped pretty tightly in the upper left-hand corner of the target. By moving my fingertips down slightly each time I drew back the string, I was able to get my shots closer to the center of the target. Unfortunately, while I was able to repeatedly reach the red ring and the outer part of the yellow bullseye, Sasha was the one whose shooting adjustments put him more consistently in the center of the target. Darn it!

During the next phase of the lesson, Sam gave us a challenge: Shoot an arrow into each of the colors of the target, starting with white and ending with yellow. We had six arrows to make five shots, and we were only allowed to shoot in order. This was by no means easy, but after a few rounds we were showing improvements in our ability to aim; Sasha, in particular, was good at this task, though he did manage to shoot one arrow under the target, while I sent one flying over the top. And here I'd hoped to go the whole evening without an "airball."

The hardest challenge was trying to burst balloons that we blew up and attached to the target. Sasha and I took turns shooting, and although the first Pop! was mine, I didn't get too many afterwards. Both of us were frustrated by the mild breeze that had emerged--on multiple occasions our arrows thudded harmlessly next to a balloon that had been blown out of the way at the last minute by the wind. Sasha even managed to have two arrows that audibly squeaked along the side of balloons without ever bursting them. The final tally of that contest was 5-3, Sasha to Caitlin.

After the competitions were finished, we went back to normal target practice. By this time our shooting had become much more consistent and accurate; we both were hitting the bullseye more often than not. If I may be allowed to gloat a bit, I was having particular luck getting my arrows into the yellow section of the target (though I'll also admit to having a few wild shots here and there; also, Sasha's arm was in pretty bad shape by this time, so it wasn't exactly an even playing field).

As things were drawing to a close, I asked Sam whether it was common for people to have the kind of success we were having, or whether we were making the target because we actually showed some talent. It wasn't that I thought we were particularly awesome, but rather that I wanted to know whether I could allow myself to think I might actually develop into a decent archer. In response, Sam said that it's not so hard to hit something that's only ~10 m away, but that the going gets a bit tougher at more realistic distances--in competitions, targets are not only farther away but may also be much smaller. To give us a taste of "real" archery, he invited us to step back and shoot from ~20 m away. I'm glad to say that while our first couple arrows landed to the outside of the target, we were able to adjust our shooting style in order to get them closer to the bullseye. Still, that was only 20 m; I can't imagine shooting at 100!

All in all, with the exception of Sasha's injury (and emerging hayfever symptoms), the evening was a great success. The range was quite peaceful, and Sam was knowledgeable, friendly, patient, and generous--he welcomed us to keep shooting for as long as we wanted, and left it up to us to decide when to call it a night. Sasha and I will definitely be going back for some follow-up tutorials, hopefully with some friends in tow. Once we have a little gang of amateur bowmen, we'll have to head over to Idless Woods Truro in order to try out Aberfal's field archery course, which combines nature, walking, and archery. What more could you ask for?

Thanks to Sam and his iPhone for all our pics!

Close encounters

The first time I visited my now-husband in England, we took a road trip to attend a picture-perfect wedding on a lovely rural Welsh estate. Some time after dinner had finished but before the dancing began, we went for a stroll around the grounds. I was mostly concentrating on keeping my high heels from sinking into the incredibly soft soil, but Sasha was paying attention to something else: the silence. There were no sounds of crickets or tree frogs or owls or any other night animals punctuating the stillness. I was more than happy to have finally found some peace and quiet, since, at the time, I was living in an apartment that overlooked a busy street. But now that I live in the UK full-time, I have come to understand Sasha's desire that the wilderness be a bit more...rambunctious.

 (The Cornish countryside)

There's no denying the beauty of the British countryside, and Cornwall is especially spectacular. But, in comparison to the US, it is a bit tame. For example, I've only ever seen one snake the entire time I've lived here, and the person I was with when I saw it said it was the first one he'd seen in five years. As far as I can remember, I've never seen a British turtle, frog/toad, salamander, or fox, and Heaven knows I've never seen anything larger than a badger, because such things don't exist here any more. That's a thought I find particularly incomprehensible: There are no longer any large predators in this country because they've all been hunted to extinction.

The contrast between my new home and my old one was particularly evident during my most recent visit to the States, since I went at a time of year when wildlife is especially active and visible. I was surrounded by critters at every turn:

(I know, this is a terrible picture, but you'll just have to trust me that it shows several bats snuggled up together in the rafters of a picnic shelter at Strouds Run State Park, Athens, Ohio. I was there taking photographs of the lake and kept hearing the high-pitched twitter of bats chatting to each other. I followed the acoustic trail and found these guys tucked away in the shade.)

(Wee grasshopper on a touch-me-not leaf.)

(This is a female black widow spider that I encountered on my cousins' hot tub in North Carolina. Specifically, she had built a nest right next to the control panel, so I had to very carefully reach around her in order to turn the water jets on and off. My excitement over seeing my first-ever black widow was somewhat tempered by the threat she posed to my hand. I have since been told that she's been relocated to a less dangerous spot.)

(Also at my cousins' house was a resident pair of eastern bluebirds, raising their four chicks in a bird box on the porch. I got there just in time to see the nestlings on their last day before fledging. I could tell they were anxious to leave because one guy kept sticking his neck out of the box entrance in order to see what awaiting him outside.)

SIDE NOTE: To be fair, I guess I should point out that one thing the UK has no shortage on is birds--even in the middle of Falmouth. We routinely have wagtails, pigeons, and gulls landing on our balcony, and I see/hear many other species during my daily commute between school and home. I even sometimes have close encounters with baby birds, such as these blue tit nestlings I photographed in Cosawe's Woods the month before my trip to the US:

Okay, back to the American fauna:

(An eastern box turtle, the state reptile of North Carolina--where this specimen was found near my cousins' house. A couple weeks later my cousins sent a photo of a turtle that had dug a nest in the hard clay of their front yard, deposited her eggs, and camouflaged the whole area very neatly before departing.)

(Snail on a beech tree leaf. I think this is actually the first and only snail I have ever seen in the eastern half of the US.)

(A lightning bug. When I was in college, I was highly amused by the amazement of one of my West Coast friends the first time he encountered lightning bugs. I got to see things from his point of view this summer, since I'd been away from these delightful little creatures so long I'd forgotten they even existed. I made a comment to this effect on Facebook one evening, only to discover that a high school friend who was also in town had shared almost exactly the same thought at almost exactly the same time!)

(Three pleasing fungus beetles--that's their actual name, not my opinion of them. As you can see, the two in the background were, uh, working on the next generation of their kind.)

(A toad that I encountered one night in my parents' garage. Its eyeshine makes it look a bit demonic. Of course it was necessary to pick this guy up, but once I had finished my examination I had a hard time convincing him to leave my hand. I'm just glad he didn't pee on me, since that is usually what happens in these situations.)

(Daddy-long-legs, or, as they call them in the UK, harvestmen. I saw loads of these while I was home; the top one was at Hocking Hills, the bottom one was in Chapel Hill.)

Ironically, on the very day that I went to publish this post, I encountered a tiny little silverfish in my bathtub. Not that I find silverfish particularly exciting--in fact, they can be a real pest species and eat just about every type of material in your house--but this one was a sign that unexpected encounters with animals can occur in Britain, after all. Maybe next time I'll run into something a little more exciting--like the Beast of Bodmin Moor, or the Mawnan Owlman. Talk about rambunctious wildlife!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Trelissick Garden

Prior to my recent visit to the US, I took a day to explore a bit of England that I'd not yet seen: Trelissick Garden. Of the many gardens in Cornwall, Trelissick is one of the closest to us, and one that Sasha has escorted many guests to over the past several years, and yet I'd never been--though my parents and I did see it from afar when we took our Round Robin boat trip up the Fal.

I've recently developed an obnoxious habit of stopping and photographing practically every blade of grass, which I'm sure was very trying for Sasha. However, he didn't complain at all, and even whipped out his own phone to take a couple portraits of me:

(The photographer at work. That look of concentration on my face is the same look my mother has when she is thinking hard, making the photo on the left one of the few in which I look more like her than like my father.)

As one might expect given that we were at a garden, the primary purpose of the trip was to look at all the flora. There were many species on display, including some that were being visited by local insects:

(Meadow crane's-bill)

(Perennial cornflower bud--looks kind of like an alien creature) 

(Dewy saxifrage)

(Bee on a hawkbit flower)

 (Ladybug on a mint plant)

We stopped by Crofters Restaurant at the beginning of our visit in order to have lunch, and then again at the end for a cup of tea. Although the day was intermittently cloudy, the sun was shining while we dined and it was very pleasant to sit outside. Eating al fresco gave us the opportunity to watch the birds come and go, which turned out to be unusually interesting because, in addition to all the house sparrows you'd expect to see nabbing crumbs from under the tables, we also saw a nuthatch and some chaffinches:

(Male chaffinch in bullet flight formation)

Although I would have been satisfied with just seeing plants, animals, and food, the garden has a number of other interesting features as well, including this fairy tale-inspired tower near the entrance:

(The Water Tower, a "holiday cottage") 

...and this holiday house (not open to the general public), which can be seen from the orchard:

(When I saw this, the first thing I thought was that if it were in a Jane Austen novel, it would probably be described as a "cottage." When I later visited the Trelissick website to try to find out more information about this building, guess what it was called? You guessed it: a "cottage.")

We also passed an unusual...I'm not sure what to call it, really...while walking through a wooded section of the garden. A tree trunk had fallen quite a while back, and passers-by have since stick many coins into the wood. The first thing I thought of was "wishing well," though I've since done a little research and discovered that it's a British tradition for bringing good luck. I suppose my guess wasn't too far off.

(Coins--old and new, foreign and local--inserted into a fallen tree trunk.)

Perhaps the most interesting (and unexpected) find was an outdoor art exhibit, You Are Here, in the Carcaddon section of the garden. According to the sign at the entrance, "You Are Here brings together site-specific artifacts designed and built to define a sense of space by level two students on the BA(Hons) Contemporary Crafts course at University College Falmouth." Students were asked to study Carcaddon and then "produce a crafted object that told of their experience of the garden." Although I found a number of the installations to be inexplicable and a bit pretentious, many were interesting, beautiful, or some combination of the two:

(Cardboard coffee cups were used to create manmade fungi to remind viewers of the impact of human consumption on wildlife.)

(Daffodil-bird hybrids representing "the globalization of flora that exists within the artificially made landscape.")

(Ceramic mushroom-men. I'm not actually sure of the source of inspiration for this particular piece, but seeing it made me feel as though I'd stumbled into an animated film starring these guys.)

(Teacups decorated with designs representing some of the many plants at Trelissick--a play on the Victorian practice of stenciling flowers onto fine china)

(One member of a small garden of tortured-looking ceramic people)

(An installation drawing attention to the endangered species status of the European stag beetle--whose head is poking out at the bottom left from underneath the log)

(One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit--a multi-part apple that looks like separate pieces when viewed from the side, but like a single piece of fruit when viewed face-on. I believe this piece was meant to draw attention to the fact that the UK imports many of its apples from abroad--a process that requires many separate, environmentally-unfriendly, steps.)

 (Another beautiful installation: a miniature model of Trelissick carved out of a book, sitting atop a tower of old library books)

I've always been an advocate of collaborations between artists and naturalists, so it was fun to see the product of this effort by the National Trust and the University College Falmouth. I keep hoping that one day the University of Exeter will get on board with something like this.

The Carcaddon section was accessed by crossing a bridge, at one end of which we found this:

(I had to look twice at this carving because at first I thought it was a living plant. Instead, it's a pineapple carving hiding amidst the wisteria growing on the bridge. Pineapples remind me of (Ohio-)home, because my mother often decorated with them when I was young; they are a colonial symbol of welcome.) 

All in all, it was a good outing, and we lucked out by departing just as the clouds decided to produce rain. We'll have to go back at some point in order to explore a bit more; although we saw everything in the garden proper, we did not go hiking on the trail that winds around the outside of the grounds. As nice as it is to see all the beautifully maintained cultivated species, you just can't beat the raw beauty of wild-growing plants in the meadows and woods of Cornwall.

(A view of the River Fal from a bench at the edge of the garden. Luckily it wasn't quite this cloudy and dark the whole time we were there.)

Friday, 22 June 2012

This is Athens


(an entry in the Start it Up Athens! storytelling competition)

This is Athens, the seat of Athens County, Ohio.
So is this…
(The Hocking River, as seen from the bike path)

…and this.
  (Athens City Hall)

I was born here in 1981 and spent the next 18 years of my life enjoying all that Athens—by which I mean the town and county both—has to offer. I left town for college in the autumn of 1999 and have spent my time since then living in and visiting a number of other places. However, despite my growing experience with life outside of Ohio, I find that I still think of Athens as the gold standard against which to judge other towns. I even refer to it as “home” sometimes, regardless of the address listed on my passport.

Here are a few of the reasons why.



One path to the heart is through the stomach, and Athens has many eateries whose atmospheres and delicacies are unique; although I have tried to recreate certain dishes in my own kitchen, or locate replacements at other restaurants in other towns, there are some culinary delights that can only be found in Athens itself.

(Good Fella’s pizza—criminally good)

When I was in high school, my friends and I would visit Good Fella’s, which not only had addictively good pizza, but also sold it for as little as a mere $1 a slice. I always used to request a corner slice so I could have maximal crust. The best place to enjoy it was on the bench outside the door, where we could sit and people-watch while eating.

  (A bag full of taste—a Larry’s Dawg House footlong with ketchup only, just the way I like it)

Larry’s Dawg House is another Athens institution—one that I especially appreciate now that I live abroad in a country that just doesn’t do hot dogs. Nothing says summer like a milkshake and a footlong from Larry’s. During my last visit home, I could hear the sounds of a Little League baseball game wafting on the summer breeze as I ate my hot dog for dinner. You can’t get much more American than that.

Of course, Athens has more to offer than just junk food (though junk food is so hard to reproduce that it is what I always crave the most when I am out of town). I still remember the pre-Prom meals I had at the Ohio University Inn (at what is now called Cutler’s Restaurant) and Lui Lui, along with the New Year’s Eve celebrations at Zoe’s, Latitude 39, and (the now-closed) Blue Alligator. During my husband’s first visit to Athens, he and my parents got acquainted over a gourmet meal at Stephen’s; when my in-laws came to town to meet my family, my husband and I took them to Salaam in order to break the ice—and the pita; later that evening I got to know my siblings-in-law better at Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. It’s amazing how many delicious options there are given the size of the town.

When I’d rather prepare my own food, I like to swing by Athens’ famous farmer’s market to see what fresh local delicacies are available. Perhaps my family’s favorite purchase, and our most common, is a bag of Gillogly Orchard’s winesap apples, which have no equal for mixing tartness and sweetness all in one perfect fruit. Other essential local products include Frog Ranch salsa, Herbal Sage tea, Integration Acres pawpaw jam, and Crumbs Bakery crackers. The less fragile of these were often included in CARE packages that my parents mailed me during my college years, and my family still stock their cabinets with these treats when I come to visit.  

(Graffiti in the first stall of the women’s restroom in Casa Nueva)

Also at the farmer’s market, as well as in uptown Athens, is Casa Nueva—which, as far as I’m concerned, is the jewel in Athens’ culinary crown. Judging by the graffiti in one of Casa’s bathroom stalls, at least one other person shares this opinion. This is the restaurant where my parents had their first date and where they still celebrate the end of nearly every working week; it is where my husband and I held the unofficial pre-party for our wedding celebration, and where my friends and I rendezvous whenever we are in town. Usually at least once a week I see a Facebook post from an Athens native who is yearning for a Casa burrito or quesadilla; personally, I always crave their jasmine rice salad with sesame soy dressing. Perfection.


  (One of the practice rooms on the top floor of Glidden Hall)

Thanks in large part to the presence of Ohio University, Athens is never short on culture, including music, dance, theater, literature, and art galleries. As a little girl I was a frequent visitor to Glidden Hall, where I took piano lessons and sang for many years in the children’s choir.

I also accompanied my parents to “Mem-Aud”—now more lengthily known as the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium—to take in the diverse shows that cumulatively made up the Performing Arts series. In recent years, I have made special trips home in order to see Mem-Aud performances by some of my favorite musicians, including Nickel Creek, the Avett Brothers, Feist, and Kathleen Edwards; one of my annual holiday visits overlapped with a talk by Jeff Corwin, and I even got to help my dad interview author David Quammen prior to his lecture on Charles Darwin. Having lived in a number of other college towns since leaving Ohio, I can verify that Athens’ quantity and diversity of performers is unusually impressive; I hope the OU students appreciate all that entertainment and enlightenment right on their front doorstep. 

(The Dairy Barn—once a home for cows and now a home for art)

My family also spent quite a bit of time at the Dairy Barn Arts Center, where we not only enjoyed the art on display, but also volunteered at the front desk. Even before I began to appreciate art on an intellectual level, I enjoyed browsing the gallery during annual shows such as Quilt National. Author Peter Catalanotto once visited the Dairy Barn to give a reading of his children’s book Dylan’s Day Out, followed by a brief drawing workshop. If I recall correctly, my artistic efforts were abysmal, but I can still remember the thrill of being so close to a real, live Famous Person. As a child I also adored the Dairy Barn’s cow-themed paraphernalia; I proudly wore my hoof socks and cow shorts until they were threadbare.

  (The colorful boxcars of the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway)

The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is a boon to those who enjoy the culture of the past as well as the culture of the present. During elementary school, I once had a chance to ride the railroad and see historic reenactments at Robbins Crossing, the beautiful mid-19th-century pioneer log village assembled on the Hocking College campus (I’ve also visited the village at Halloween, when it receives an eerie makeover). For those who would like to accompany their history lesson with some athletic activity, there is always the option of traveling to Robbins Crossing via the beautiful and impressively long (17.9 miles) Hockhocking Adena Bikeway—a route I have traveled countless times over the years, both on foot and on wheels; during the early summer, travelers can take a page out of my book and munch on some of the sweet wild raspberries lining large sections of the path.

Nelsonville is also home to Stuart’s Opera House, an integral part of the local music scene. During a visit to Athens a few years ago, my parents generously bought me a ticket to Stuart’s see the unique Luminescent Orchestrii, a New York band fronted by Athens native Sxip Shirey. Also deserving a mention is the Fur Peace Ranch; although it is located in Meigs County rather than Athens, this is a cultural resource that is regularly visited by many Athenians. I am lucky enough to have seen Mary Gauthier perform there several years ago, and I still proudly sport the FPR T-shirt I purchased that night.

(Recording and broadcasting equipment in WOUB’s Studio A)

Perhaps my favorite cultural location in Athens is actually not so much a “destination” as a starting point: the offices of WOUB radio, part of Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication. To others, WOUB is an essential source of news. To me, it is also the place where I spent many hours as a little girl, visiting my father in the newsroom. I used to find the studios fascinating and thought it was delightful to sit and erase old newscasts from used tapes (yes, it was so long ago that things weren’t done electronically, and yes, I was easy to amuse). Now that I’m older, I can also enjoy the content being broadcast over WOUB’s airwaves—everything from new and unusual music to important updates on local issues to nationally broadcasted NPR shows.


Athens has always been a fun place to shop, offering products ranging from clothes and jewelry to locally made crafts. In fact, there are so many potential purchases that I usually travel with an extra suitcase in order to accommodate all my indulgences.

  (White’s Mill, founded in 1809)

One retail landmark is White’s Mill, a 203-year-old entity that currently houses a lawn and garden (and so much more) shop. I have bought more gifts at White’s Mill than I can even count. My previous purchases include bluebird boxes (for my grandparents), Ohio-made pottery and baskets (for my mother and in-laws), bird food (for many different people), and Christmas tree ornaments (for myself!). However, the thing I buy most often is jewelry—from the Mill’s extensive selection of (mostly) silver pieces made by Native American artists. My mother and I have started a tradition of visiting White’s Mill each time I’m in town and adding to our already impressive collections.

Another important source of unique and elegant gifts is Court Street Collections, which as a little girl I knew to be the place to find something perfect for my mother. Years later, I realized that this shop also contains many things that suit my tastes; a piece of their stained glass currently hangs in my home across The Pond. Other favorite shopping haunts include Artifacts Gallery and Mountain Laurel (or, as I still think of it, Mountain Leather—where, indeed, I bought many leather goods over the years).

(Haffa’s Records on West Union Street, Athens)

I have always had a weakness for music, and my addiction has been fed over the years by Haffa’s Records, reportedly Ohio’s last independent record store. In addition to selling brand new albums, Haffa’s also has an extensive collection of used music, including vinyl. I have frequently taken advantage of the store’s willingness to buy used CDs, or—more importantly for me—offer in-store credit for them. On many occasions I have entered the store with a large stack of old CDs, only to leave with an even bigger stack of new ones.

(The Rocky Outlet, and the many faces of its ungulate mascot, in Nelsonville)

A more recent addition to the Athens County shopping scene is Nelsonville’s Rocky Outlet. This store opened while I was away at college, but my parents made sure I was introduced to its wonders the next time I visited home. Although it does feature a wide variety Rocky brand boots, as you might expect given the name of the establishment, you can find a huge variety of other things here, as well; it’s rather like an old-fashioned general store. I’ve bought jewelry, sandals, clothing, picture frames, Christmas ornaments, coffee cups, spice rubs, and handmade candies. Part of the fun is not knowing exactly what will be stocked, and so getting the chance to stumble across unexpected must-haves (such as my beloved pink satin-lined black velvet jacket, bought on sale for a mere $7.50 a couple years ago).

(Passion Works flowers in the shop on West State Street)

Of all the unique shops that Athens has to offer, perhaps the most heartwarming is the Passion Works Studio. On sale there are interesting and unusual pieces generated by “collaborations between artists with and without developmental disabilities.” Money raised through the sale of these products is used to help fund arts programs and to provide opportunities for people with disabilities—thus furthering the studio’s goal of “inspir[ing] and liberat[ing] the human spirit through the arts.” One of the shop’s most recognizable products is recycled metal flowers, which can be found decorating many facilities in the Athens area—and at least one house in Maryland, thanks to a gift to my in-laws from my husband and me.


(Looking back at The Ridges hiking path from Radar Hill)

In my humble opinion, there is no place more beautiful than Appalachia, and many of Athens’ aesthetic charms stem from the fact that the county is nestled in the rolling foothills of this lovely mountain range. Shortly before I left for college, I stood atop Radar Hill (in the area of Athens now known as The Ridges) and looked out at the hills stretching away into the distance; I knew then that no matter how many picturesque landscapes I might see in the future, that vista would always be one of my favorites. In fact, it is such a favorite that I make sure to see it at least once every time I visit town.

  (The old Beacon School building at The Ridges)

I have had a soft spot for The Ridges since my dad first took me there when I was in elementary school. I love not only the woods and grasslands, but also the former mental health center’s dilapidated old buildings at the base of the walking trail. I was even lucky enough to tour one of these shortly before Ohio University began its remodeling process; the interior was both eerie and intriguing—the perfect setting for a horror film or psychological thriller.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned to fully appreciate the natural wonders of The Ridges—its field sparrows and indigo buntings, eastern bluebirds and American kestrels. I once took my mom and one of her students on a bird walk there in order to share my ornithological enthusiasm; during my last visit to Athens, my parents accompanied me as I went on an expedition to find and photograph wildflowers. The area seems especially lovely now that I spend the bulk of my year in a place that is cooler, rainier, and much less lush.

  (Multiple views of Strouds Run State Park)

When I was younger, I found relief from the sunniest and hottest summer days at Strouds Run State Park. As much as I loved swimming in the lake, I was always disconcerted by my frequent physical encounters with aquatic wildlife—I still have vivid memories of shrieking after brushing up against harmless little fish. I also remember how my best friend and I dared each other to swim out to the buoys that marked the boundaries of the swimming area; both of us made it but then high-tailed it back to shore after panicking about how deep (we thought) the water was.

(Canada geese on the Hocking River at sunset)

For those who would rather see the water from afar, there are many places to stroll along, fish in, or boat upon the Hocking River. It is especially picturesque at sunset, when it reflects the pinks and purples of the darkening sky. I particularly like the view along the stretch between White’s Mill and Ohio University’s iconic Convocation Center; in the summer, you can enjoy the view there while being serenaded by the resident red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows.

  (The Athens Angel)

Several years ago, Athens was listed as one of the most haunted places in the world. Although I am unconvinced that this distinction is deserved, I will acknowledge that the county contains many cemeteries—some of which are, contrary to all the ghost stories, actually quite peaceful and pleasant. One of these, on Athens’ West State Street, contains a monument that I have always found arresting—an angel statue dedicated to the unknown dead. I usually refer to her as the Athens Angel and have found it interesting to see her demeanor change over the years as she has been increasingly covered by moss and lichens.

  (One of the Athens Block bricks that you find all over town, from Court Street to The Ridges to the Dairy Barn parking lot)

It would be easy to extend my list of Athens landmarks, especially if I included not just favorite spots but also sites where I set personal benchmarks—for example, the parking lot where I learned to drive, or the Ohio University dorms that I cleaned during my first ever paid job. After you’ve spent nearly two decades in Athens, there is a point of interest around nearly every corner; it is a place full of memories—and, for newcomers, a place of memories waiting to be made.

My parents would probably both agree with that sentiment, having arrived in Athens about forty years ago unaware that they would meet each other, get married, start a family, and put down deep roots in the county. Theirs is only one of many Athens love stories, though of course it is my favorite because it is the reason I am here today. Mine is another love story, but of a different variety: The story of a resident’s affection for her home, persisting even after she has left it to live somewhere else. Athens is an eclectic and versatile place, so there are probably as many love stories in town as there are people. For those that haven’t been already, Athens is worth a visit. What kind of story is waiting there for you?

  (Clouds over Athens at sunset)

All photos by Caitlin Kight. Thanks to everyone who allowed me to take photos on their premises.

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