November 2004

Ohio Before The Fall

November 6, 2004

From the diary of James Taylor at New Lexington, Ohio, July 4th, 1876:
“One hundred years ago to-day, the sun in his course looked down
upon no spot of earth more picturesque and lovely than the territory
now known as Perry county. The entire area from east to west, and
from north to south, was covered with the primeval forest, “planted by the Lord at creation’s dawn”–a wild paradise, an untrained and unpruned Eden, to which our first parents, condemned in just retribution for their disobedience, to spend their day and centuries of life amid the arid deserts and on the barren hills of Asia, would have been glad to have gained an entrance. Here the Arcadians could have tended their flocks on greener pastures, in a happier climate, and in more impenetrable shades than in their native land; here could have been found the realization of the poet’s conception of a “boundless contiguity of shade”; and here, if man had remained in his fabled simplicity and purity, Utopia might have found “a local habitation and a name.”
The valleys, slopes and hilltops bore unmistakable evidence that the
tenth, and perhaps the fortieth, generation of trees was then standing, each of which had withstood the lightnings and storms of a thousand years. Upon the summit of the water-shed between the Muskingum and the Hocking, where now stand Somerset, Bristol, Oakfield and Porterville, there then stood white oaks, and perhaps other trees, which may have been in the green before the enunciation of the Sermon on the Mount, and before Paul preached on Mars Hill; which were goodly trees prior to the battle of Hastings; and which were giants among their fellows before Columbus dreamed of or discovered the western world, and before John Cabot set foot on the shores of North America.
From April till November the ground was covered with wild pea
vines, which afforded pastures as green, as luxuriant and as nutritious as our best fields of clover. At the approach of winter it dried up, retaining its foliage and nutritious properties, so that in summer it afforded pasture, and in winter hay and grain for the herds of buffalo, elk and deer, as well as food for swarms of wild turkeys, pheasants, quails and pigeons, which fed and fattened on the wild pea, and the fruit of the juneberry tree, the black and the red haw, the wild cherry, the dogberry and the gum, the beechnut, the chestnut and the acorn; the birds sharing their fruit with the bear and the beaver, the raccoon, the opossum, the hedgehog and the woodchuck, and gray squirrels, equal in number to the promise of the seed of Abraham. Nature prepared the food, and the herbeating and graniverous beasts and birds fattened themselves to fatten the panther, the catamount, the fox and the wolf, the eagle, the hawk and the owl; while the feathers and skins of the latter were made to do service in adding to the comfort and adorment of the cabins and persons of the wild men of the woods.
In summer and winter, at morning, noon and night, the forest was
vocal with the chirpings, twitterings, calls, cries and songs of birds, of which there was almost an infinite variety, and in numbers beyond calculation or estimate—eagles, hawks, owls, ravens, crows, robins, bluejays, anteaters, tomtits, woodpeckers, thrushes, sparrows, snipes and swallows. From May to August the night air seemed to vibrate with the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill; throughout the year, and all the night long, the laughing and talking owls (species now extinct in this region) met in companies to chatter, laugh and scream, imitating the human voice in conversation, in laughter and the Indian war-whoop; orioles of many varieties, with plumage of orange, blue and gold, abounded everywhere; and myriads of flying squirrels, inhabiting the cavities of trees, excited the wonder and admiration of Europeans and inhabitants of the trans-Alleghany States.
In spring the blossoms of the wild plum, the crabapple and the
grape, perfumed the air, and in autumn brought forth their green,
golden and amber fruit for the use of the red man and for beasts and
fowls.”