Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio

Currently, I'm working on the next installment of 5 (or so) questions, which will feature Margot Singer. Her essay, "A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio" appears in the current issue, vol. 7, no. 2. The essay renders place brilliantly to tell a mythic, yet intimate story. Here's an excerpt.

Like the rest of us, you come from elsewhere: on a wagon train across the Appalachians, on foot like Johnny Appleseed, on an airplane, in a beat-up car. You arrive with stacks of book-filled boxes, a sheaf of expectations, a moving van and children, or nothing but a rumpled map. You're spinning like a maple seed, wind-buoyed, adrift.

On Google Earth, this place is just a swath of green, a finger's length from the yellow ribbon of the Interstate, two finger's length from the nearest city sprawl. Zoom in and watch it morph into a quilt of pixilated squares. You know it from Saul Steinberg's famous New Yorker cover cartoon: that flat, foreshortened no-man's-land crosshatched in ochre pencil, stretching from the far border of the Hudson to the blue Pacific shore.

Click your heels three times and you'll be there.

The first thing you see as you approach is the bell tower of the college chapel, rising like a preacher's pointed finger above the ridge of evergreens. All around are rolling fields -- lush ripples in the spring and summer, shorn to stubble in the winter, studded with collapsing barns and wheels of hay. Cross the train tracks and head down the hill, past the lumberyard, the corn mill, the early settlers' burial ground with its tilting graves, to the intersection of Main and Broadway, the village's cross-shaped heart. There's a church on every corner: rusticated neo-Gothic spires for the founding Baptists, blocks of tawny sandstone for the Presbyterians, pinkish stucco for the Methodists, white Ionic columns along the Episcopalians' classical facade. The Lutherans, Catholics, Mormons, Evangelical Baptists, and Seventh Day Adventists are here as well, at the edges of the town.

You didn't exactly think you'd find a synagogue, but still, you hadn't quite expected this. Feel the collision of tectonic plates, the shift of schist and shale.

To read the rest of "A Natural History of Small-Town Ohio" as well as all the other fantastic essays, poems, and stories in the current issue (vol. 7, no. 2), head over to our webstore and pick up a copy today!

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