Jackson Township is just north of Massillon, where I live. Where Massillon is solidly working class, Jackson is suburban and affluent.
It is not that Massillon has no rich, but they are clustered here and there, not least on the ‘historic’ 4th St NE, a block and a half from our house, in the elegant homes where the steel barons once lived, made rich by the work of the men who labored in their mills. Three of these were shot and killed by the local and state police in a labor dispute in 1937.
The cops even shot at the women and children fleeing the scene, wounding several. I would like to say that the local police have matured into servants of the people but everything I have seen since coming here makes that impossible.
Massillon also has poorer areas, with the usual evils that occur when economic hopelessness meets the moral hopelessness of late modernity.
But most of Massillon is working class, or rather what remains of what once was the working class, the children and grandchildren of steel workers who had good union jobs, pensions, security.
Not their offspring. With two low wage incomes they get by, and if they don’t have too many kids even semi-prosper, sort of.
But they are far from Jackson, though it is but a five mile drive to the north.
Jackson: I think the best way to explain it is to describe a Little League game when my son Patric was 12 or so. He was a good ball player and always made the All Star team, when the better players face off against their peers from around the area.
Massillon and Jackson are always rivals, a rivalry not untouched by class resentment. The fans, and the coaches, were a study in contrast. Massillon’s coaches and fans were more overweight, and the men sported shaved heads, facial hair, and tattoos, the modern equivalent of the blue jeans and t shirts that working guys wore in my youth.
Jackson’s look was more svelte, the guys in khaki shorts and polo shirts, the women looking smart and tan.
I don’t remember who won the game, which was one of the most dramatic I have seen, but it went into extra innings. I seem to recall a Jackson victory, marred by bad calls from the umps.
When we moved here 16 years ago Jackson Township still had a lot of countryside, and there are still traces of this, even a few working farms. But most of it has been lost to suburban development, and the mini-castles of the bourgeoisie , shoddily constructed, marr the rolling landscape.
But there is one place in Jackson that preserves something wilder and more primeval.
That is the Jackson Bog State Nature Preserve.
The bog in question is more technically a fen, an alkaline bog, the result of the ancient glaciers, which piled up the sand hills -the ‘kames’ – that overlook the fen. The fen itself is an oddity for this latitude; a lot of plants that are native to more northern climes hanging on in the microclimate that is the bog.
The Nature Preserve is adjacent both to the Jackson Township Park and to Jackson High School, whose athletic fields border the wooded preserve. The preserve itself is 58 acres, and the bordering parkland is probably as large. The preserve dates from 1980, so there are a lot of mid-size forest trees, growing straight and tall, leaves at the top, reaching for the light. But there are also a lot of old trees, and their forms, all round and full, say that they grew up in the open. I haven’t been able to find anything on the internet about how the land was used before it was declared a preserve, but there are so many of these old trees, their lower limbs long dead from lack of light, that I would assume that this was not pasture, where occasional trees are allowed to live and spread out in the light, but maybe a park, or part of an estate. (Probably a trip to a county library would solve the mystery; although the internet has usurped books in many ways, for arcane knowledge like local history the place to look is in the musty stacks, amid things that may never make it online.)
We have been hiking there since we moved here, in 1998. It is the nearest bit of forest around, and it has miles of lovely trails, now high on the ridge, now low, near the various waterscapes of the bog: there are ponds and streams and springs, all with birds and fauna that are exotic for Ohio.
The other day my bride and I and our younger children went for what was intended to be a short hike in the bog. I intended to show them a lovely way to traverse the park that I had discovered on a solo hike. The path I took stuck to the higher elevations and one could see the bog only through the trees. The advantage to this, aesthetically, is that one’s senses are not assaulted by the phony castles of the barely rich which line the low hill on the far side of the fen. These are not only an eyesore, they often fill the air with the noise of their lawnmowers and radios.
So we entered the woods on the east side of the preserve, instead of our habitual western route. The path descends at first, but soon faces a steep climb through a lovely wood, ending at a fork. I have always taken the path to the right, assuming that the other way just led to the high school athletic fields.
But I was wrong. On this day I chose the path never travelled. That path led us instead to a new landscape, one with a new pond and sweet wooded hills on the other side, and groves of young elm trees all lacey in the light.
We were astonished. We had no idea such a place existed. The effect was intensified by the sky. It was what I have come to call a Michigan sky, filled with puffy cumulous clouds, but not grey, with a deep blue behind them, and a cool breeze blowing.
I have had, since adolescence, a recurring dream. I know I wrote about it once, but I cannot remember if it was for this blog or for the old print magazine I once edited.
In the dream I am walking in a familiar wood when I notice a side path I had never seen before. Curious, I turn down it, only to be amazed by a landscape that I never knew existed. Dreaming, that meant snow-capped mountains, huge waterfalls, and frolicking wild horses.
There was none of that the other day, but still, such a discovery of unexpected beauty seemed familiar, the echo of a dream.