My Ohio: Wild Reminder

A column of frozen water serves as a lesson in the unpredictability of nature.

The huge stalactite hanging from the sandstone lip of Big Lyons Falls certainly seemed durable, at least at first. Sure, it was made of ice, and ice doesn’t last forever, at least not in Ohio.

But when we first turned the corner and saw the magnificent ice sculpture at the center of the rock overhang, it seemed sturdy and stable. And while we could hear meltwater coursing through it, forming a tall cone of ice on the floor below, both structures seemed large enough to last through to spring.

We were at Mohican State Park, in Ashland County, a place as familiar to me as my hometown an hour away. When I was young, our family enjoyed camping more than just about anything, and Mohican was our hands-down favorite spot in Ohio. We spent many weekends there from May through September, making our home in a canvas-topped camper parked next to the Clear Fork River.

Our parents allowed us the run of the place. We hiked and canoed throughout the park. We especially enjoyed taking the Lyons Falls trail — a hemlock-shaded hike along the Clear Fork Gorge — to play beneath the drizzle of water that drops 80 feet from the rock overhang to a pile of rotting logs below.

But familiar as it is, Mohican remains mostly natural, and nature can surprise in startling ways at times.

I have visited the park many times in the winter. As an adult I learned to fly fish there. And on the eve of New Year’s Day 2000, when the news was filled with apocalyptic predictions, we gathered many members of our family at some cabins in Mohican, figuring that if the world were to end we’d just as soon be there.

But this time, the winter had been cold enough, and the creek high enough to form the ice falls that I had heard described many times but had never seen. My wife and I were hiking with our daughter, who was about 8 at the time, and her cousin, a year or two older. Our hike had been uneventful and beautiful, with snow clinging to the hemlock boughs and the river trickling through a crust of ice. We reached the falls and found that the ice had, indeed, created a stalactite-stalagmite sculpture that nearly met in the middle. The kids played along the base of the iceberg and we took pictures.

It was The Day Hot Chocolate Saved Us, as my daughter later described it in a class essay. After letting the girls play for a while, we had stepped away from the ice and were using one of the large blocks of sandstone as a table, pouring hot chocolate from a thermos. We sat and sipped, watching the only other visitor, a woman in parka and mittens, explore the base of the ice.

When the entire top part broke away from the cliff and plunged into the lower cone of ice with a crash and roar that filled the natural amphitheater, it took us a moment to understand what was happening. We watched, frozen in place, as the woman ran, ice shattering at her heels.

We were all safe, but a bit shaken. At first we were thrilled and amused, and felt fortunate to have been there to see it. We took photos and walked around, marveling at the power of nature. Later, as we looked at the photos of the kids playing around the base, we realized with a darker thrill how it could have gone much differently. The berg must have weighed a ton. It wasn’t inconceivable that our reaction would not have been quick enough to save one or both of the kids from being flattened.

We still visit Mohican often. In some ways, the day the ice fell makes this familiar park seem less tame, more unpredictable, as wildness should be. And never again will I take it for granted.

Randy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Columbus.