When I moved to Holmes County, Ohio more than four decades ago, one of my initial purchases was a county road map. I wanted to learn my way around the ridges, valleys and hamlets of the area.
I drove both the highways and back roads in order to get to know the topography and citizenry of this place. Geography buff that I am, landscape variations between the glaciated and the unglaciated portions of the county greatly intrigued me.
I marveled equally at the steep wooded hills that defined the broad Killbuck Valley, and the rolling farmlands and rivulets in the county’s northern section. The common elements of picturesque scenery and practical people reoccurred despite the demographic differences.
All these years later I still drive the roads, still learn, still enjoy my bucolic and human encounters. I think about that often, especially when I inspect the roads for which I am responsible as a township trustee.
My main objective is to ensure safe road conditions, and check for potential problems like plugged culverts, leaning trees and slippery roads. I do those duties, but the pastoral vistas and the genial people I encounter along the way can easily distract me. I don’t mind in the least. The diversity of the countryside and characters in my township are truly remarkable.
My regular route takes me up hill and down vale, through densely wooded ravines with sharply slanting walls that rise abruptly on both sides. In several places road and stream are pinched with just enough room to navigate side-by-side.
In minutes, I can motor from forested valley to high, rolling fertile fields that surround coffin red bank barns and white farmhouses. Various shapes and sizes of purposeful farm buildings cluster around the intentionally unadorned agrarian castles.
It was inevitable that over the years the views would be altered. With the population regularly expanding and the land not, cottage businesses and manufacturing buildings sprouted up out of necessity. Many are Amish run and involve some aspect of the lumber industry. Other shops create products specifically for the benefit of the Amish lifestyle, like buggy shops and farriers.
The commerce is nice. The views and residents are better.
Near one of my favorite hilltops, the land falls away gradually, cascading toward the Killbuck lowlands. It is a sacred place for me, and yet it is at this precise spot where a new Amish country murder mystery novel is set. When I read about the book’s release, I wondered if the writer had ever met the good folks on the homestead he had impugned.
Last winter, during a fierce snowstorm, a semi-tractor trailer truck got stuck on the slippery incline in front of this very farmstead. The kind farmer cranked up his bulldozer, puttered out the long lane in blinding snow and pushed the teamster and his rig over the hill and on his way.
When it comes to beauty, seasons are really insignificant as I traverse my lovely township. Refreshing summer breezes flap wash lines loaded with pastel clothing. Gaggles of youth skate and play on frozen ponds. A Golden Eagle roosts on a chubby fence post. Leafy rainbows of the mixed hardwoods compete with those in post-storm skies.
Then, too, rounds from paintball guns plaster stop signs, runaway streams wash away road banks, and citizens rankle at impassible roads. Fear not. Repairs can be made, relationships mended.