I attended the World Fantasy Convention this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio, about 50 miles from Beavercreek, where I grew up. (For my impressions of WFC, please seen my blog posts of the past week at my personal blog, http://ShaunaRoberts.blogspot.com.) Although I left for college thirty-six years ago, the landscape of Ohio remains for me the default of what a landscape should look like and the norm by which all other landscapes judged.
|the beautiful tree-lined Olentangy River|
I drove from Columbus up north to Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, twice, first to pick up my niece for World Fantasy Con and again to take her back. It's a 40- or 45-minutes drive each way that starts in an older neighborhood of Columbus and then follows route 315, which for most of its length is a country road.
It was a wonderful, soul-quenching experience to drive through countryside like that I grew up in. Ohio was once covered with forest. Today, wherever the land is left untended, the rich soil sprouts trees again. And not just a few types of trees—like the evergreens that dominate some parts of Mississippi or the live oaks and cypress of southern Louisiana. Ohio's trees are many and varied, of various heights and shapes. Now in the fall, some are barren of leaves, and others are still green; the maples flame red. There are no easy paths through Ohio woods; thick underbrush fills empty spaces.
|brick home built by my ancestor Daniel Miller in 1808 near Dayton|
Ohio is old by the standards of many states. Some of my ancestors were given land in Ohio as partial payment for service in the Revolutionary War. Other people came for the rich farmland. The various Indian tribes were pushed out to make way, and Ohio became a state in 1803. Today, Ohio, though small, is the 7th most populous state. Even so, along route 315, houses are far apart, and many 19th-century farmhouses remain, some helped by their stone construction to withstand a century and a half of snowy winters.
Hills roll through most of Ohio, thanks to the glaciers that gouged and carved the northern two-thirds of the state. Consequently, Route 315 rises up and down and curves pleasantly among the hills.
Although I haven't lived in Ohio for almost four decades, my drives on Route 315 I had a feeling of perfect "rightness." The woods were the "right" density and had the "right" variety of tree species. The underbrush was the "right" thickness, and the houses were spaced the "right" distance apart. The land was neither too flat nor too steep, but "just right." The old farmhouses at the end of long dirt driveways were what my eyes expected to see; the harvested fields were neither too huge nor too small.
|Galloway cabin, built late 1700s, home of Rebecca Galloway|
My meanderings about Ohio have a writerly point to make: People form strong connections with their landscapes. No landmark is meaningless; each gas station and dueling oak and rutted road has personal or historical meaning to someone.
I often see these human-landscape connections portrayed in fiction about places with strong personalities such as New Orleans and Los Angeles, but it's usually lacking in stories set in more "ordinary" settings.
My drive through the countryside of Ohio reminded me that every story setting is special, and the writer owes it to her reader to show her characters' connection to or alienation from their landscape, the meaning they derive from it, and the comfort or discomfort it causes them.