A Clintonville Resident Finds Healing in Walhalla
The ravine provides comfort in an uncomfortable time.
Sometime in late March 2020, the noise in my head wouldn’t stop and was growing louder. My mind is a frenetic, sometimes unhelpful place on normal days. It tells me that I’ve said the wrong thing, that I’m not good enough, not smart enough. That I’m bound to make an enormous mistake.
In the first weeks of Ohio’s confrontation with the pandemic, my mind was threatening to become a full-time adversary. I’d taken a stretch-your-limits job in the fall and felt, as one often does in these cases, like my head was barely bobbing above some powerful waves. I should mention that the job was in public health—the waves were shifting direction and picking up speed.
More than four decades into this life, I’ve learned techniques to quiet the mental racket. Go to the kitchen, the garden. Head for a yoga mat or a snowboard, or—best of all—to the lose-yourself embrace of live music. Some of these saviors were within reach in lockdown, but they were failing me. Or I was failing them. Doesn’t matter.
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The first day I walked the 2-mile loop from my home in southeast Clintonville to High Street and back through the Walhalla Ravine, I was fueled by desperation to find some way to get out of my racing head. I don’t remember much from that day about the ripples of the water or the early blooms, nothing about the ravine’s creatures or humans. But I remember feeling like that walk just might be the raft I needed.
On the next trip, my mind slowed enough that I started to look outward. I marveled at delicate, abundant white blossoms for which I didn’t have a name, at the red-orange beauty of a flowering quince. I spied a trio of deer, nestled in the back garden of a home overlooking this slice of verdant woods tucked into the city. I heard the music of Mother Nature persisting with beauty and life and promise—the high, hopeful chirps of the sparrows, the stream bubbling gently over stones, newly unfurled leaves rustling in the breeze.
On the north side, at the top, was a home graced with expansive windows—in which someone had affixed a message in the colors of the rainbow: “6 FT APART YET CLOSE TO OUR HEARTS.”
I wept a little. Listen, I’ve wept a little a lot of days in the past five seasons in that gorgeous, restorative place. Small, yet profound joys that I’ve found there have brought tears most often. A stranger’s eyes deeply crinkled in a smile above a mask. Painted stones left along the roadside, cheering us along during times that were difficult for all and much worse for some. The right song at the right time in the right place coming through my headphones. Maybe Susan Tedeschi covering “Angel from Montgomery” or Leon Bridges crooning “River.” Definitely Tom Petty singing “Wildflowers.”
I’ve circled the seasons in the Walhalla Ravine, seen two springs come and go, welcomed two summers. I’ve made friends with the mallard duck couple who never did seem to produce ducklings but still stuck reassuringly close to one another. I’ve doubled in laughter as boys screeched past on racing skateboards and their parents rolled their exhausted eyes. I’ve stopped in disbelief 30 feet from two bucks tussling, gasped as a fawn, with its knees buckling, walked toward me, not away.
She seemed fearless. I admired her and recognized that I, too, had become a little less afraid in the months that had passed since that first walk.
Nature’s way is to remind us of our connections, of time’s passing, of renewal, and of our place within something immense and at times unpredictable. The ravine has given me so much—perspective, space and a reminder that I owe myself a little grace.
This story is from the September 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.