Monday, April 21, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 4-27-08
Jeff Gill

Layered History, Lightly Worn

If you make it out to the Great Circle earthwork on Saturday, May 3, make sure to check out the trees.

Jim Kingery is proud of those trees, almost none of which he’s planted and a number he’s had to gently take down, like the blue ash that crumpled near the Great Gateway a few months back in a windstorm.

With years of experience as a forester and with the Ohio Historical Society, he’s gotten to know all the vast, ancient trees within and without the enclosure and more recent plantings that go back to Idlewild Park before the 1920s and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and then the period of OHS stewardship.

Some ask whether we should cut down all the trees to recover a bit of the sense of what was there in a “pocket prairie” 2,000 years ago when the Newark Earthworks were laid out, but that neglects the fact that they buffer the sound of Rt. 79 and Mathews Ford and 21st St., not to mention the visual buffer as well.

And a recent lecture at OSU-N by Lindsay Jones on the “revalorization” of Mexican ancient sites reminded many of us here in Licking County that many years pull many layers of meaning and use and purpose across a landscape, and to decide which layer or approach is “the” right one is tricky, and unlikely to work for the stakeholders however defined for today. “Revalorization” is a handy academic word for reuse, with a twist.

If subjects like that, or how even older sites like England’s Stonehenge has weathered multiple uses and interpretations and abuses, are of interest to you, then the day of May 3 is filled with speakers in the Reese Center on the OSU-N campus – check for details under “agenda.”

Jim is likely to miss most of our speakers, because he and Susan Fryer, director of the Licking County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, will be getting ready to greet us along with the Aztec Dancers of Queretaro, Mexico for the 6:00 pm dedication ceremonies for the newly refurbished museum for the Newark Earthworks.

And one of those layers for the Great Circle portion of the Newark Earthworks State Memorial is the fact that the best cluster of truly old trees in the county, maybe even the state, is in and around this spot, which was set aside for our county fairground, as a Civil War training camp, and for the myriad peculiar uses of the 20th century to follow. It became an ad hoc preserve, so 300-plus year old trees were left to stand, likely more for shade over the buggies and applecarts than for any sense at the time of conservationism.

The owls of the neighborhood are the direct result of these aged, ancient trees, which naturally have some hollow cavities set large and high up, some from lightning strikes and others from long-ago fungus that wormed its way within and then fell away, leaving some prime real estate for nocturnal hunters of the air.

There are red oaks and white oaks that are older than Ohio, older than this nation, some that may have been a newly sprouting acorn when the Jamestown settlers first stumbled ashore in Virginia or Juan de Onate planted a cross in New Mexico.

Then on Sunday, May 4, you have a chance to roam the Octagon portion of the Newark Earthworks up off of 33rd St. and Parkview west of Cherry Valley School that was and is. The beech trees on the southern third of that site are broader at the base, but as Jim has taught me, younger, and doomed to an earlier death, both by their shorter lifespan, softer wood, and the general stress on trees today that’s more than it was in 1708.

Whether you have an interest in heritage and history, sacred sites or archaeological study, native dancers or academic lecturers, make sure to look into and around and up through the trees of these parks, and let them anchor a bit of your imaginings. They’re not as old as the mounds, but they’re older than you! Show a little respect, and feel a little awe in return.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is delighted to moderate some of the sessions at Newark Earthworks Day on May 3 (see Tell him a story at

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