The Possum Lodge van runs out of gas and I’m nearly run out of Ashtabula County

A winter canoe trip adventure

The Schwietzer Road bridge over the Grand River. Last I heard, it hadn’t tumbled into the river.

The Schwietzer Road bridge over the Grand River. The last I heard, it hadn’t tumbled into the river.

For canoeists, the most frequently asked question is, “Where do you go canoeing?”

For me, the answer is simple. I generally don’t know until the last minute.

That’s because water levels and weather conditions dictate where I go.

Being retired gives me a little more leeway, but I didn’t make the decision for my last trip until the morning of. It came down to heading south and paddling the Walhonding and Muskingum rivers from Six Mile Dam to Dresden, or heading north to the Grand River. Earlier weather forecasts called for rain and 37 degrees in both places on Tuesday. Not fun.

But, on Sunday morning, the northern forecast had changed to colder temperatures and all snow Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The clincher was three inches of snow early Sunday afternoon.

When I pulled into the Grand River Canoe Livery, Bob Three Spirits and his family had two log splitters going and were working their way through a huge pile of wood. I didn’t want to distract them, so I just slipped on down the hill to the canoe landing and set up a base camp.

On Monday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I drove up the hill to the livery and made arrangements to take my Canubaru downstream.

Bob started his Ranger pickup truck, but couldn’t get the four-wheel drive to work.

He tried to start his Chevy Blazer, but it wouldn’t turn over.

“You’re jinxing me,” Bob said.

Fortunately — or not — he managed to get one of his old canoe livery vans started. It was mid ’80s model Dodge that bore a striking resemblance to the Possum Lodge van on the Red Green Show.

We dropped off my Canubaru at the Tote Road landing. Bob pointed to a house across the river and said, “Just remember to look for the house with three dormers, and that will tell you you’re coming up to the landing.”

It was kind of a unique house with three dormers on the side facing the river. There was a small window in the middle one and large windows on the left and right dormers.

Bob said he needed to gas up before heading back to the livery. What he didn’t say is he was running on fumes. Apparently, we ran out of gas as the van rolled up to the pumps. After gassing it up, Bob couldn’t get it started.

We went inside the gas station and got a cup of coffee, hoping the van might start if it sat for awhile. The main topic of conversation was whether I was a jinx in general, or just Bob’s private jinx.

After coffee, and spraying half a can of ether down the carburetor, the van started.

When we got back to the livery, I asked Bob how much he wanted for helping set up my shuttle.

“Nothing,” he responded. “Just don’t jinx me anymore.”

I’m not superstitious, but as I paddled slowly down the Grand — enjoying the wildlife and solitude — I began to wonder if Bob wasn’t right about me being a jinx.

When I arrived at the canoe landing, firefighters from the Austinburg Volunteer Fire Department were hosing down the smoldering ruins of the three-dormer house.

I drove back to base camp, where I spent a sleepless night listening for a mob of vigilantes bent on tar-and-feathering me.

On Tuesday morning, I slipped out of Ashtabula County — just before the big snowstorm hit.

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Greater Mohican Audubon Society – Enjoy and Help Preserve the Region’s Unique Resources

GMASWinter2013-14six

Greater Mohican Audubon Society continues to promote the appreciation and preservation of birds and other wildlife in our region, which includes Ashland, Richland, Wayne and Holmes Counties.

Our quarterly newsletter lists  opportunities to observe area wildlife, many of them open to the public.

When You Come to a Fork in the River, Take It

The river calls

The river calls

Farewell column for the T-G

Oct. 31, 2013

Thirty-three years ago I came to Ashland County to go canoeing with a group of friends. I had no particular interest in canoeing, I just came along for the ride. But, the second the canoe settled into the water, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

As the canoe floated downstream, it felt as though I’d entered another world — gliding beneath a canopy of maple and sycamore leaves, banks draped in wildflowers, steep forested hills peeking through in the distance. I knew this was where I wanted to be.

I returned many times during the next 17 years. At first, it was a few weekends in the summer. Then I started coming in the spring and fall — and eventually the winter.

Mostly, I came to canoe. Sometimes I’d stop off on my travels between Cleveland and Columbus for lunch or a quick hike in Mohican Memorial State Forest. Or I’d pick up a newspaper or stop at the Loudonville Public Library to read up on local history.

The more I visited, the more I wanted to be here. In the summer of 1997, the Times-Gazette ran a want ad in the Columbus Dispatch for a city government reporter. I sent in a few story clippings and a crude résumé and landed an interview with Gere Goble, who was editor at the time.

For some odd reason, she hired me. Maybe she was impressed that I had spent 14 years at Cuyahoga Community College.

It was a big adjustment at first — for me and the Times-Gazette. I hadn’t worked for a daily newspaper before. Or in a real office, with coworkers, bosses and schedules. Eventually, I got used to all that. And my bosses and coworkers got used to my eccentric behavior and strange handwriting (after I explained to them that it was shorthand).

In time, the people on my beat and Times-Gazette readers got used to me, too.

That also took some adjustment. Mostly on my part.

In this job, it’s not so much about figuring out what we do as why we do it. It took a little while but I figured out that journalism isn’t about journalists. It’s about the people we cover. It’s about telling their stories fairly and accurately as possible.

Through telling your stories, I’ve become a part of the community that I was drawn to 33 years ago. Thank you for trusting me to tell your stories. And thank you for trusting me to spell your names right. Most of the time.

In the past 16 years, we’ve shared joy, pain, some laughter and, yes, a few tears.

My father told me the hardest thing about getting old is watching your friends die. This job exposes you to that. During my watch, some people I had come to know and admire died. And there were those I came to know through death by natural causes or tragic circumstances. They were never faceless statistics to me.

Over the years, I wrote many eulogies. Not just for people considered pillars of the community, but for common folk, such as Richard Baumgardner, a much-beloved regular at Friendly’s on Claremont Avenue. And John and Peggy Edwards, owners of Nardini’s restaurant on Church Street. To me, writing their eulogies was the most sacred of trusts — to do them justice, to put into words the essence of who they were and what they meant to us.

During my watch, a number of local institutions also were laid to rest, including Nardini’s and Friendly’s. Richard would have been devastated.

On the other hand, there were a few happy endings, such as the eleventh-hour wrangling earlier this year that kept the prized Thornburg insect collection in Ashland.

When word spread about my impending retirement, people began to speculate about the fate of the Times-Gazette. I wouldn’t be too concerned. The Times-Gazette survived 150 years without me. And 16 years in spite of me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the river is calling.