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turism&travel : The enchanted forests of Hocking Hills

Tuesday 23 November 2010

In 2011, the entire world will celebrate “The International Year of Forests,” a designation officially decreed by The United Nations (General Assembly Resolution 193 session 61).
Dozens of countries are planning festive commemorations to celebrate the beauty and grandeur of their nations' forests and cultural treasures therein. http://www.un.org/esa/forests/index.html

On my most recent press tour, I joined a group of journalists in the graciously charming Appalachian Highlands of southeastern Ohio. Known by the Shawnee as Wea-tha-Kagh-Qua-sepe, a winding river with radiant waterfalls lay athwart of dramatic landscapes; also called Hockhocking by Delaware Indians, this river lends its name to the region, now known in English as The Hocking Hills.

The Hocking Hills comprise a rich collection of state and national wildwoods: Lake Logan State Park, Hocking Hills State Park, Hocking State Forest, Clear Creek Nature Preserve, Tar Hollow State Forest, Zaleski State Forest, and Wayne National Forest. This lovely piedmont timberland, with its organic herbs, aromatic mountain pines, and perfumed flora placed me under a spell of complete tranquility.

We lodged at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, named for the nearby waterfalls which plunge 50 feet in magnificent glory. Upon arrival, I entered the picturesque lobby, where I immediately identified the fragrance of hand-made lavender herbal soaps. I tried desperately not to look in the direction of the kaleidoscopic displays of gaily hued handcrafts, knowing that I can't enter a Cracker Barrel without dropping $200 on stuff I can't resist. The delightful honey bun working the front desk, Misty, gave me a real key attached to a kiln-fired ceramic fob which read “Chick-a-Dee,” denoting which room I was in. Instead of calling rooms by numbers, the inn chose a more classy way to distinguish each “nest.”

The Chick-a-Dee guest room has peaceful views of the meadow and garden. This first-floor room is ideally located next to the “family room” which has a wood-burning stove, rocking chairs, comfy sofas, and refrigerator. A freshly baked cookie lay on my bureau, alongside a burlap goody-bag filled with delightful welcome gifts and a personalized letter from the innkeepers, Ellen Grinsfelder and Terry Lingo. I was honored nestle in the Chick-a-Dee guestroom; chick-a-dees are known for being very smart, and, after the corvids (crows and jays) and parrots, are amongst the most intelligent of all birds. Since there was no suite called the crow or parrot, I secretly gloated I got the “smartest” room. There was a delicate scent of cinnamon apple potpourri somewhere nearby, but I “knew not whence it came” (until later in the evening).

Misty invited me to go to the ale-tasting room while she lugged my suitcases up the hill. A dashingly handsome brewmaster, Matthew Barbee (like the Australian Outback word for barbecue) brought bottles of abbey ale from his private ranch, and home of Rockmill Brewery. The water profile beneath the Rockmill estate contains a minerality very similar to the waters of southern bailiwicks of Belgium, ergo the ranch produces superior ales along the lines of the famous Trappist beers of Belgium.

After a friendly round of ales, our press group continued on to the log-house restaurant. Chef Anthony Schulz prepared a virtual feast of dishes selected from his past specialties prepared for VIPs from the The Trump World Towers, Cartier Jewelers, Tentation Potel et Chabot and the New York Metropolitan Opera. Entrees included “Pan-Roasted Pork Chop with Pear-Golden Raisin Compote, Cider Brown Sugar Gastrique;” “Dijon-Oreganatta Crusted Chicken Breast with Ohio Maple Reduction;” “Grilled Filet Mignon with Caramelized Shallots and Pink Peppercorn Demi;” and for the vegetarians, “Butternut Squash Ravioli, Asparagus, Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Peppered Parmesan Cream Sauce.” It was like Thanksgiving dinner without having to do any work. The scent I thought was apple cinnamon potpourri in the Chick-a-Dee guest room was my highly tuned nose zeroing in on the desserts baking in the kitchen ovens some 100 yards away.

Tummy filled with comfort food, I returned to the cozy Chick-a-Dee, and made free “Google Voice” telephone calls from my mini-computer, drawing the free Wi-Fi signal broadcast throughout the 75-acre estate. The guest room had no telephone, television, or any other distracting devices; the idea is that couples are actually supposed to communicate with each other while guests of the inn. I had to phone Italy to communicate with my better half, but using Yahoo!Voice, the cost was less than two cents per minute.

Before going to sleep, I looked out from my window, across the meadow, and into the night skies. Having no interference from city lights, I could see the hazy glow of the Milky Way galaxy. I thought this would be the perfect vacation getaway place for stargazers, especially next May when Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, and Mars will all be visible within a roughly 6° area of sky.

Overnight, Jack Frost had painted ice crystals across the meadow leading to the log house where breakfast was served. In the crisp autumn air of morning, I could smell from a distance the incense of oaken wood chips burning in fireplaces. Every morning, the inn served incredible breakfasts, like “Banana-Walnut Stuffed French Toast Drizzled with Caramel Sauce and served with Ohio maple syrup.” Not only does the inn highlight local produce for its meals, there is a concerted effort to serve foods gathered from the forests, like morel mushrooms and natural syrups.

High Flying Adored.

The phrase "Birthplace of Aviation" is etched on Ohio license plates because the Wright brothers made their plans and constructed their aircraft in their workshop in nearby Dayton. According to NASA, 24 astronauts are Ohio natives, with another ten astronauts calling Ohio home, including John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

Comedian Harry Sowers is a flight instructor, and pilot of scenic air tours over The Hocking Hills. Harry took us flying in his private airplane, pointing out the many landmarks in The Hills. From up above, the autumn leaves looked like flakes of gold ornamenting the forests. As far as eyes could see, God's natural beauty carpeted the majestic hills in a mosaic of cranberry reds, cocoa browns, pumpkin oranges, and the occasional cyan blue lakes. The Hills appeared magical, as if elves and fairies were painting every leaf by hand. It was surreal, like a stage set for a Shakespeare performance of “A Summer Night's Dream.”

I felt like Peter Pan, gliding o'er yon oaks, seeing the world from a different point of view, gasping at the expansive wealds of the piedmont. My new friend Wendie, just like in the Peter Pan Broadway production, set out to fly through the air with the aid of some steel wires. For three hours, Wendie zipped through the treetops on a network of cables and adventure sky-bridges suspended high above the forest floor, on a thrill-seeking expedition organized by Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. This world-class zipline adventure was listed number one in the nation by USA Today.

I prayed to God for strength to ride the zip-line like some frenzied Pinocchio on amphetamines. Instead, God chose instead to give me wisdom; I went back to my comfy bed in the Chick-a-Dee room and had a delightful nap. As W.C. Fields said in the 1940 film My Little Chickadee: “Sleep! The most beautiful experience in life. Except drink.”

Catch the Brass Ring.

Our merry-go-round tour of The Hills included visits to a number of gourmet restaurants. At the Brass Ring Golf Club, a private and meticulously manicured property, Chef “Moe” served a decadently delicious carousal [not carousel] of sinfully scrumptious larder that could raise Karen Carpenter back from the dead. After endless glasses of fine wines and parch-quenching beverages, the waiters paraded a medley of aphrodisiacs like “House-made Potato Chips with a Creamy Bleu Cheese Sauce and Crumbles,” “Hand Cut Fries Loaded with Cheddar Cheese and Bacon, Served with Sour Cream,” “Deep Fried Cheese Cubes,” and intoxicatingly ambrosial fare that would make even Paula Deen gasp. "Food is love, baby!" said my new soul-mate Chef “Moe.” She knows the way to my heart.

Annie, Get Your Gun.

The following morning we departed for breakfast at The Spotted Owl. At this family style café set in un-pretentious downtown Logan, a faux rock formation and waterfall provide an ambiance of woodsy down-home Appalachian hospitality served up with heapin' helpin's of heavenly victuals. The waitress brought yummy blackberry jam to slather on my biscuits, as we Yankee whippersnappers commented on the café's wall art – things like Appalachian hunting women holding their rifles, and the dead carcasses of animals they proudly shot.

Who's Your Daddy?

Ohio's most unique festival is the “Annual Washboard Music Festival,” held annually on Fathers' Day weekend in Logan. http://www.washboardmusicfestival.com A myriad of performers come pouring in from around the world to show off their washboards and celebrate the good life. By washboard, I'm not referring to Ryan Reynolds' or Calvin KIein model Mark Wahlberg's abs. Think more along the lines of Toby Keith's country music video “Who's Your Daddy?” or a scene from “My name is Earl.”

On the Ace Hardware website, “Earl” (I assume that's really his name) from Eugene Oregon reviewed his Columbus Washboard purchase in a humble, folksy way:

“Now, why would someone want one of those? Well, for a number of reasons: in case the gas or electricity is out for the washing machine, or if it's broken; to remove grit and stains that require special attention; to wash a few items without having to turn on the big machine; to wash something late at night when you're traveling, or to clean something without waking someone; to celebrate pioneer days; or personal preference. I bought one because I got tired of all the price raises at the Laundromat. I've had it for a couple years or so, and I've no complaints. I even like the rhythm of the work….Seems like solid construction to me, and I have worked in manufacturing in Ohio where these washboards are made. It looks good enough to fit in with your tools or utensils, but it is not something for display in the living room unless you are looking for that rustic touch. It's small, though, and easily concealed.”

Easily concealed? As in hiding it inside the front of your flannel shirt in case someone bumps against you, and they'll think you have washboard abs?

Our press group toured the Columbus Washboard Company, home of the world's largest washboard. “We are proud to be the last manufacturer of Genuine useable Washboards in the USA” writes the factory owner James Martin. The company was founded in 1895 by Frederic Martin, Sr. James Martin hails from England, where he owns the Carbolic Soap Company, a manufacturer of traditional, natural and aromatherapy soaps as well as household bars and bath-time products.

The wood which forms the washboard frame is gathered from poplar forests, and the scrubbing surfaces are pressed in-house. Martin ships the washboards and soaps gratis to overseas soldiers who are deployed in areas without electricity or laundry facilities, like the hinterlands of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Washboards have even caught the ears of professional musicians, who use them as percussion instruments for Dixieland jazz, Cajun zydeco, Celtic and Skiffle music. All of the journalists were handed musical washboards to play; most of them cottoned on immediately. Unfortunately, I was not one of them – I am washboard challenged in every conceivable way. My friend, Vera Sweeney caught some candid photos of the impromptu hootenanny, and posted them on her website Lady and the Blog.

Martin has a photograph of Dolly Parton playing a Columbus Washboard pinned to the bulletin board. I love that woman so much I could just run up and hug her and kiss her washjugs. She wrote my favorite song of all-time, “Coat of Many Colors,” which describes how hand-made gifts and loving relationships are the real treasures that bring richness into our lives.

How Sweet It Is.

In these Hills, forests provide some of the sweetest natural gifts, and the locals go hiking the trails in search of sweet blueberries, black raspberries, mulberries, and my favorite: scotch caps. When I was a child, living out in the country, there was a fence about a half-mile long, laden with scotch caps (blackberries). In the summer, I would walk the fence and gather them by the buckets; for some reason, I was the only person who knew they were there. Blackberries are high in anthocyanins (powerful anti-oxidants) and naturalists prize them for their nutraceutical value. In nearby Columbus, researchers are studying blackberries as a possible cure for cancer. Dr. Gary Stoner, a study co-author and a professor of public health and researcher at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State University found that a cup of blackberries per day may keep cancer away.

All around the state forests and parks in The Hocking Hills region, locals set up little shops where they sell antiques, hand-made furniture, crafts, and old-fashioned canned goods. Amy Weirick, our lovely hostess during our press trip, shared some of her favorite places to shop. At one stop, multiple buildings housed goods sold by locals. When the excursion ended, we got together to discuss our finds. My friend Wendie handed me a bottle of Walnut Creek Amish Country blackberry jam, saying it was a gift. Not only do I love the taste of the jam, but it serves as a metaphor for The Hocking Hills – a sweet, simple, healthy, unpretentious, hand-crafted bottle of old-fashioned goodness. These people don't have much money, but they're as rich as they can be in things that are most important in life. Wendie, thanks for the perfect gift!

Auld Lang Syne

“For auld lang syne,” the phrase in the Scottish folksong, is loosely translated as "for (the sake of) old times". The Hills have captured the essence of this aspiration, offering the classy and the humble sides of hospitality with equal aplomb.

Nestled deep into the Appalachian Highlands is the old-world, elegant Glenlaurel estate, a Scottish-style manor house and country inn, perfect for romantics and dreamers. Glenlaurel is a member of Select Registry, the prestigious lodging association's distinguished inns of North America, which consists of 400 of the finest country inns, luxury B&B's and unique small hotels.

“Each guestroom and cottage is named for one of the prominent clans or personalities of Scotland, such as the Mackenzie, Campbell, and Wallace. There's the stately Edinburgh Dining Room as well as the more playful and utilitarian Glasgow Dining Room. The St. Andrews Hall and Dining Room is located on the lower level of the Manor House, along with the Loch Ness Pub and the Piper's Cove. All represent segments of Scottish heritage,” said innkeeper Michael Daniels.

Daniels invited us to lunch at the formidable estate, and began the affair by quoting poetry by Scottish bard Bobby Burns. Then the servants brought exquisite plates of divine epicurean delights: “Sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic ravioli; Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Pear Garnish and toasted sunflower seeds; Baby greens tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette, sun-dried cherry, cucumber, and red onion relish; Blueberry stained lemon sorbet; Seared breast of duck with balsamic plum sauce Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes and Petite Vegetables; Almond küchen with chocolate ganache and fresh strawberries.”

A Royal Visit

Avalon, which comes from the Welsh word for apple, is a legendary kingdom featured most notably in Arthurian legend, famous for its beautiful apples. No one knows where Avalon really is, or whether it ever existed, but The Hills could easily be the setting for such an enchanted land. The Hocking Hills Visitor's Center in Laurelville is located in a quaint log cabin on the grounds of Bowers & Daughters' Fruit Farm “Apple House,” known for quality fruit and cider for over 100 years. Apple King Robert Bowers invited us to enjoy a golden elixir called Frozen Apple Cider (similar to frozen margaritas served in the Caribbean) produced on his vast orchard estate. He showed us how apples are treated to make their colors vivid and glossy – “snow wonder” Snow White couldn't resist one.

Wandering more deeply into the enchanted forests of Hocking Hills, we arrived at a castle fit for a queen – Ravenwood Castle and Medieval Village Cottages. Fairytale cabins and gypsy wagons surround the King Arthur style castle, owned by Patrick Wadsworth and Michael Converse, who invited us to tea. Every day between 3:30 and 5:00 pm, the castle puts on a Cream Tea in the Great Hall, featuring homemade scones with clotted Devonshire cream and berry jams.

The gypsy wagons surrounding the castle are much like small campers that nature lovers take into forests. The only time I have seen one before was in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and Toto made their way across a wooden bridge, encountering a horse-drawn gypsy wagon broken down in an embankment, inscribed on the side with big letters: “Professor Marvel, Acclaimed by The Crowned Heads of Europe, Let Him Read Your Past, Present & Future in His Crystal, Also Juggling and Sleight of Hand.” I can't imagine to count the ways of having campy parties around in those wagons – juggling parties, Wizard of Oz parties, Camelot and Arthurian parties, Enchanted forest parties – the possibilities are endless.

Travel professionals seeking information to provide to clients about The Hocking Hills can contact Karen Raymore, Executive Director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, 1 800 HOCKING, or by visiting the association's website at http://www.1800hocking.com/hockinghillsvisitorsguide to request a free visitor's guide.

Friend Anton Anderssen at www.facebook.com/teddybears .


Autor: eTurboNews