Raven Rock Nature Preserve–A Great Place to Hike in Southeastern Ohio

With its dramatic overlook, Raven Rock has long been an attraction for area residents and visitors. Its history is legendary, with some stories placing, at various moments in time, Daniel Boone and Tecumseh at its edge, 500 feet above the Ohio River.”–Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D. 

He asked me, but if my answer surprised him, he didn’t show it. 

Our 33rd wedding anniversary was fast approaching, and John, my husband, asked what I wanted to do in honor of it.  Go hiking, of course!  I know, not the most logical, or necessarily romantic choice, but it is something special we typically do out-of-town.  If we love hiking at destination locations, why not also start hiking more often closer to home? After all, after 33 years together, as the saying goes, “We’re not getting any younger!”  

John was able hike, in spite of the meniscectomy, with the help of this hand carved hiking sticking, a gift from a beloved student.

The more we talked about it, the more we embraced the idea.  Within an hour to two drive of our home, there are an abundance of trails that we have not explored.  Why not take more frequent mini-staycations and enjoy the great outdoors together?   While there is definitely some cost in gas, especially given the current prices, hiking closer to home is an overall more cost effective experience when compared to traveling hundreds of miles. 

Once owned by Charles Brown, this 98 acre preserve was donated to the state of Ohio in the early 1990s.

Our destination?  Raven Rock State Nature Preserve.  This was a trail I had previously hiked a few years ago with my dad.  The thing I remembered most about it was the rewarding spectacular view at the top of this trail after a strong uphill effort.  If I remember correctly, Dad and I walked to the edge of the rock, collectively inhaled, and exclaimed, “Wow!”  I hoped John would have that kind of experience too. 

Rumors abound that the now closed former trail was a gut-wrenching, vomit inducing, path that challenged even the most experienced hikers.

Unfortunately, John had a meniscectomy in August, so I knew his knee would be fragile on this trail.  I wasn’t sure if he would feel up to it, but he gladly agreed to the hike as long as he could take as many breaks as his knee demanded.  Breaks, schmakes, I don’t mind those when I get to hang out with Mother Nature!  

A few images of Mother Nature along the way.

That said, the trail involves several switchbacks with anywhere from an 8% grade to a 28% grade in some parts of the heavily forested trail. In fact, according to Natural Ohio Adventures, Raven Rock trail may be the only trail in Ohio that has an elevation gain similar to a Rocky Mountain trail. The same website also states that no other known Ohio overlook is more elevated than Raven Rock.

Here’s one arch!

Depending upon the source, there are a couple of different reasons as to why Raven Rock was named as such.  One account, according to an article by Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., describes the romantic tale that a long ago native warrior, named Raven, once jumped to his death from the rock ledge, rather than surrender to enemy hands.  However, most sources note that when looking at the rock from above, the central overhanging rock looks like that of a raven’s head and beak while the rest of the rock appears to be its outstretched wings.

You’ll find this faded sign at the top of the trail explaining the Raven Rock’s past.

Historically speaking, there seems to be general consensus that Raven Rock would have been an overlook used by native people, such as the Cherokee and Shawnee.  As the faded marker at the top of the trail indicates, there must have been countless natives who observed European settlers traveling on the river encroaching upon their original lands.  What must these unknown original people have felt?  Did they, in fact, use that overlook as a place for planning attacks in an attempt to prevent these strangers from taking land that rightfully belonged to them?  One can only speculate.

Hello in there!

Raven Rock, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is composed of Missisiipian age sandstone. The weathering of the sandstone over the years has created three naturally occurring rock arches. The largest arch, Raven Rock Arch, is over ten feet long.  

Mother Nature is an artist.

Raven Rock preserve is home to the rare and potentially threatened Blackjack Oak tree (Quercus Marilandica) and a state endangered plant, Small-flowered Scorpionweed – Phacelia dubia.   Therefore, this trail, and the land around it, is considered quite fragile.  Ohio requests that hikers obtain a permit before exploring the trail which can be completed online in advance. I did read that hikers can also obtain permits at Shawnee State Park, but I am not sure about this point. 

We made it to the top! 500 feet above the confluence of the Ohio and Scioto River.

As John and I headed up the trail, the skies were bluebird clear, and the temperatures were pleasant. There had been strong thunderstorms that had moved through the area the night before, which had fortunately broken a heat wave, but had unfortunately left thick, muddy sections along the path.  Those slippery, mucky spots, however, were few and far between, mostly located near the bottom of the trail.

It’s all uphill to get to the top with varying grades of inclines.

We both hiked with walking stick/pole for the first time, and we found them to be quite helpful for balance in several of the more rocky and steep areas.  They were also helpful both moving uphill and downhill as well as for creating an awareness of the edge of the trail/cliff.   

The trail can be quite narrow and rocky in places.

There were no trail markers that we could see, aside from the entrance sign, but the trail was easy enough to follow as it was a well-worn path.  A couple sections of the trail, we noticed, were beginning to wash away, but there were no confusing portions leaving us wondering which way to go.  Even though the trail is steep, it does seem to alternate between segments that are less steep and more steep, giving hikers ample time to catch your breath on the 1.25 mile ascent. 

Check out this view.

The view was as spectacular as I remembered it!  Overlooking the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, as well as all the surrounding hills, farmland, and community, the panoramic view was spectacular, especially on this clear day.  John and I discussed how gorgeous the precipice must be in full autumn colors or even in the winter, once the leaves have fallen.  

And another view

One safety point:  There is no guard rail, so hikers must be careful walking the edge of Raven Rock.  Nonetheless, you can stand or sit at a safe distance from the edge and take in miles of landscape and riverview.  However, for those with a healthy fear of heights, there is a bench, at a safe distance, on which you can sit and take in most of the vantage point. 

Don’t want to get on the rock? Have no fear, a bench is here!

If you like to hike and appreciate a scenic perspective, then Raven Rock Nature Preserve is a trail John and I recommend you explore.  According to two respected hiking sites, the trail is rated as an intermediate or moderate level due to its inclines.  While we do agree with that assessment, we also believe it would be doable for any level of hikers as long as you take breaks as needed and definitely bring a bottle of water–uphill hiking makes you very thirsty!  

Here’s to the wonders of the trail and Mother Nature!

Another perspective from the top
In this photo, you can clearly see the edge of Raven Rock as we look out over the land and rivers below.
When you look up and feel the Divine Source of all creation.
Standing of Raven’s Rock!
Playing around along the path.

An Ounce of Prevention Goes a Long Way to Preventing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. . . . Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. . . . Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally.”–World Health Organization, 2 September 2021

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It happens more often than I care to admit–the inability to come up with a particular word while engaged in conversation. In my mind, I can see the shape of the word lurking in the shadows of my brain.  Try as I might to shine a mental flashlight on the word, the word will continue to evade me in a cavernous pit of forgetfulness only to materialize a few hours, or even days, after the conversation has ended.

I have witnessed dementia grip one grandparent’s aging mind and Alzheimer’s disease affect another.  Then again, how many other people can say the same thing?  Therefore, why do I worry, when my brain stutters, sputters, and struggles with a word, misplacing an item, or wondering why I walked into a room?  Answer: because I do not want to be a burden to others.

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That said, I dearly loved my Mamaw and my Papaw.  Even when they were in the throes of dementia and Alzhiemer’s respectively, I still adored them.  However, I was not responsible for their overall care and well-being.  That responsibility fell squarely upon the shoulders of my parents, their spouses, and their siblings. Instead, I was the grandchild who could visit, help-if asked–and leave as I pleased. I didn’t have to worry about the direct care and multitude of decisions that each diagnosis required–and those decisions, it seemed to me, grew in direct proportion with the disease’s progression.  

Mamaw had two children, and Papaw had three.  Even if one child was the legal guardian, they still had another sibling with whom they could confer regarding decisions, seeking help, or any of the other myriad of responsibilities that accompanies caring for a loved one with a form of dementia.  Whereas, I have one child.  One.  And in the words of Three Dog Night, “One is the loneliest number . . .”  I could cry thinking about putting that sort of responsibility upon her.  

My prayer is that dementia will not be my legacy to my daughter. Therefore, I have become somewhat obsessed with habits that could prevent dementia and Alzheimers. One quick recent search for, “preventing dementia and enhancing brain health,” and, according to Google, precisely, 1,500,000 results appeared in 0.56 seconds, many of which are considered “scholarly articles.”  Additionally, searching “habits that increase risk for dementia,” produced nearly as many results.  The point is that I am not alone in my desire to prevent and reduce risk for dementia.

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Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dementia, and even the currently prescribed therapies and medicines have proven to have little efficacy. This is often due to the fact that developing any of the various types of dementia is believed to be a complex cocktail of factors including age, medical history, lifestyle factors, and genes. Consequently, numerous scholarly sources point to a number of preventative measures since most cases/types of dementia are not directly inherited. 

One of the most cited statistical links and effective measures to prevent dementia is regular participation in movement and exercise. Some sources break down the amount of time devoted to cardiovascular, strength, balance, and flexibility, with 150 minutes/week being gold standard. However, all agree that it is the consistent practice of exercise/movement that matters most.

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Another point of agreement is the importance of consuming a healthy diet. In fact, many researchers point to the following diets: MIND, DASH, or Mediterranean as exemplary choices for prevention.  However, there are some research quibbles with regard to best diet practices.  One debate is over how much and/or what meat should, or should not, be eaten, although most seem to agree that fatty fish, such as salmon, is a solid preventative choice.  There is also some contention regarding the use, or disuse, of dairy, but the general consentment is that if you choose to consume dairy, pick low-fat products.  Most research agrees that the consumption of healthy fats–plant oils, seeds, nuts, and avocados– are an excellent choice.  However, the amount needed is not always a point of agreement.  Nonetheless, the research clearly points to an overall consumption of a high fiber diet that heavily emphasizes a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; AND limits salt, sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods as effective and preventative practices.  

Alcohol consumption and sleep appear to have both positive and negative attributes when it comes to dementia prevention.  It appears that moderate alcohol consumption–no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women–specifically enjoyed with food, appears to be preventative.  However, drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, seems to increase the likelihood of dementia.  Likewise, getting enough sleep, defined as 7-8 hours, on a regular basis is a preventative measure; conversely, getting too much sleep (10 or more hours), or not enough sleep (less than 6 hours), increases dementia risk. 

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One of the more interesting bits of research centered around the practice of Kirtan Kriya (KK). It is a type of meditation, specifically 12-minutes long, that involves small hand movements, known as mudras. This ancient practice has been cited in several scientific journals as strongly linked to the prevention of dementia. In fact, several Alzheimer’s and dementia research groups offer/sponsor tutorial videos and articles on KK.

There are several other points of agreement among the scientific community for preventing and/or lowering the risk for dementia, including: 

  • Avoid, or quit, smoking
  • Stay mentally active, socially connected, and engaged in meaningful work/tasks
  • Care for mental health 
  • Manage blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Schedule regular wellness checkups and preventative tests/screenings
  • Maintain a faith/spiritual/meditation practice(s).

While I did not discover anything ground-breaking in my recent research dive, it was clear to me that a few good habits of health go a long way.  Best of all, it’s never too late to increase a healthy habit or two.  Just as following the basic tenets of faith are important applications for spiritual well-being, implementation of basic health practices can go a long way in ensuring the vitality of life.  In the end, we may not be able to avoid dementia or other age-related illnesses, but we can make impactful choices in order to maintain a healthy, active, and balanced lifestyle for as long as possible.   

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Nailing down your vision

“Privilege blinds, because it’s in its nature to blind. Don’t let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.”–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Driving along a familiar major state route, I noticed a car was in front of me, and observed that no one was behind me. My mind began to wander while we maintained the legal, steady-as-she goes speed limit.  I took in the sights along the familiar route, then back to the car in front of me.  I took in the blueness of the sky with no puffs of white, and went back to the car in front of me. I glanced at the steadily flowing river, and back to the car in front . . .Wait, the car was suddenly braking! It was only then I noticed the turn signal.  It was not turning at an expected later point, such as one of several roads that connect to the route, but instead, it was turning into a random location. I had to brake fairly hard, grateful no one was behind me.

What caused my inability to not see the obvious turn signal? In fact, what causes us to overlook seemingly obvious items. I think I’ve lost my phone, only to have my daughter point out that it was right in plain view.  Of course, the reverse also occurs, such as when my husband, or daughter, think they have misplaced a particular object. I go to the same places they have already looked, and I find it for them.

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There are several theories/notions about why/how this happens.  Some of it is steeped in science, while some of it is more theoretically. Two, more scientifically studied reasons, include inattentional blindness and change blindness.  Based on my preliminary research, these phenomena are closely related because they are both failures of visual awareness. However, inattentional blindness is described as the inability to notice an unexpected, but fully visible, object because your focus is diverted to other items within your field of vision, such as when I was driving and did not notice the turn signal.  Whereas, change blindness is a surprising failure to notice significant visual changes. 

Thought leaders, conversely, might say that a failure to see an obvious object has more to do with a mental scotoma, or mental blind spot due to personal bias, beliefs, stress, or even pressure.  (As a point of reference, scotoma is actually a health condition of the eye in which there is a fully diminished or partially diminished area within one’s field of vision.)  Thus, in a similar vein, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, have blind spots about ourselves, others, and/or the world around us.  Personally, I think we can fail to see something for any one of those reasons, it may just depend upon the situation. 

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This past weekend, for example, I was weeding an area in front of my house in which I am trying to fill in with one of my favorite flowering ground covers.  Stooped in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, I was weeding a bare section of soil, when I noticed a pair of roofing nails–remnants of a late fall roof replacement.  They had partially rusted and, quite frankly, looked like twigs. I removed them, and went back to work.  Low and behold, I noticed two more roofing nails, then one more, then three more, then two more, and so it went for the better part of an hour. My eyes were no longer blind to nails, aided by the clear, bright light and angle of the sun. 

How many times had I previously weeded this bed since the start of spring and never noticed the nails?  While I worked, my brain dumped other notions, such as how many times do I overlook my own flaws, but not those of others.  Likewise, how many times have I done the reverse, picking myself apart and quickly absolving others who may have the same so-called, “flaws.” As my field of vision became more agile in finding nails, my brain dump also grew larger.  

The collection of roofing nails grew as my vision became more clear.

I thought of the poem about a louse, a poem both my mom and dad would quote at different points of my youth.  How did it go?  Something about a woman feeling so self-pious as she sat in church with all of her privilege and status that she didn’t notice the louse crawling on her fancy bonnet.  There was a particular line my parents would especially quote with frequency–a turn of phrase such as–what a gift it would be if we could truly see ourselves as others see us.

Then, my mind meandered to the scriptural story of Jesus speaking in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, when he warns hypocrites to remove the beam out of their own eye in order to clearly see before removing a speck from another’s eye.  As best I understand this section of Christ’ sermon, believers are warned to admit and address our own sins first, before attempting to pass judgment on others.  However, even then, as the book of Matthew continues, Christ did not want us to condemn another person for their flaws, but instead offer help/support and grace as they work through their own issues. 

The more nails I gathered, the more my mind expanded into the understanding that we, myself included, often do not see the full picture–not of ourselves, of others, or even on larger, broad-scale, societal issues. Without this full scope of understanding, we make snap-decisions, fall prey to false information/doctrine/beliefs, or worse yet, become apathetic.  It is all too easy to be lulled by the seas of a busy life–caught up in the minutia in order to get through the day/week/month. When this happens, our vision is blinded because our attention is distracted, our focus is narrow, and/or our scope of vision is limited. Thus, we may not realize how comfortable we’ve become with our illusions, our biases, our knowledge/understanding and even what we perceive as truth.

The point is that it is easy to elevate our views/positions/ beliefs and overlook our own issues.  It is also easy to overlook/ignore points of disagreement and/or so-called flaws with others for whom we may hold in esteem; and yet, have no trouble identifying “others”–however you define them–as being wrong, bad, or even, the enemy.  Left unchecked, the busyness of life can create a pernicious way to cloud, distract, and even blind our perceptions.  Therefore, it is worth the time to regularly pause from the distractions and noise of life, and allow the Universal Light to reveal to us the nails in our own life beliefs/actions that need to be removed.  They may be disguised as good-intentions, but once a light shines upon them, their sharp edges, like the nails in my flower bed, could hurt someone, including ourselves, or worse yet, those whom we love. 

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Prayer for Uvalde, Texas

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”–Aeschylus

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I walked through the strangely-quiet darkened hall, down the familiar stairwell, and exited under a leaden sky with light rain falling.  Students had left an hour or so earlier, and I was heading to a meeting regarding the next school year. Nonetheless, shouldn’t there be some magical feeling for the start of summer break?  Instead, all ranges of emotions churned within my gut. How could I feel celebratory when my heart was reeling from ANOTHER school shooting?  Meanwhile, the intensity of the rain increased . . .

Thinking back to the previous week’s events, I realize that powerful sentiments, including grief, were coming together like the confluence of several rivers vying for dominance as their waters merge.  35 years in education, and yet, all I could truly focus upon was the Uvalde community.  What hopes and dreams were savagely snatched forever–even from those who survived–while terror reigned supreme inside the school and confusion, disorganization, and unbelievable anguish surrounded the school?

What about the two Robb Elementary educators?  Between them, they had 40 years of teaching experience. Years of service to the community that were also brutally wrenched away.  They too had children, spouses, parents, and loved ones.  Their hopes and dreams were likewise vanquished.

Once more, a lone male–psychologically hurting–legally accessed weapons of war and played out his own private warfare on innocent victims.  While we can state the school was at fault for having a door open, as an educator, I know the reality of schools.  A door left open can happen (At the time of writing this, the report had not yet come out that, indeed, the teacher DID close the door, and the door’s lock malfunctioned).  However, an open door at a school, or any community building for that matter, should not be considered an implicit invitation to mortal combat.

I was teaching and pregnant with my daughter when the Columbine shooting occurred.  John, my husband, who is also an educator, and I sat in our modest house, silent tears streaming down our faces as we watched the news story unfold.  How could that happen?  Little did we know we were bearing witness to the start of what would become a terrifying trend in education. 23 years later, names of schools, nowhere near me geographically speaking, are as familiar as names of past students–Red Lake Senior High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Stoneman Douglas High School; and the list continues.  Countless schools with families and communities forever changed and affected.

Several years after Columbine, I was teaching Kindergarten, and it was the first time for the school to practice an “Active Shooter Response Drill.”  Given the fact that I had advance notice, I talked with my young students about the notion of “bad guys” and how the school had to practice what to do if a bad guy came to school– just like they practiced what to do in case of a fire.   

Per procedure, the coded announcement came over the intercom, and I quickly ran to lock my classroom door and instructed my students to hide and cover as we had previously practiced.  A well-meaning sheriff deputy repeatedly knocked on my classroom door stating things in an attempt to trick me to unlock the door.  One student began to softly cry, followed by another, and another as I crept from one student to another trying to allay their fears and reassure them that this was pretend.  Nonetheless, they were scared.

I share that memory to say, if those few moments of hiding in a darkened classroom evoked such a fear response in my former students, what terrors were experienced by those blameless children trapped in Robb Elementary School?  What conflicting emotions must the teachers and staff members have experienced as they tried to keep their students safe and calm, while thinking about their own families, and watching one of their very own Uvalde youth massacre beloved students and colleagues? 

Children are a sacred part of society, and the schools they attend are the heart of the community. When children and educators are in school, they should be active participants in learning, engagement, and educational problem-solving, rather than passive participants in a disturbed soul’s personal anger campaign. Parents, children, and educators should have the peace of mind that the school is valued, supported, and always protected by community leaders, policy makers, and societal structures, including local law enforcement 

I am sickened by the politicians, community leaders, and even some journalists, who use the Uvalde event as an opportunity to point fingers, grow their audience, and puff up themselves with haughty righteousness.  Their pandering, grandstanding, and virtue signaling are NOT solving the problem–which is multifaceted and requires multiple types of community interventions.  To them I say, get off your soap box, get into communities and listen–I mean really listen with both ears–and then, work for real solutions rather than sound bites.  Endeavor to genuinely serve your community, instead of posturing for cameras looking for the next crisis-opportunity for which you can preen and pose.

I end where I began this piece. Summer is starting, and schools have, or will soon be, dismissed for another academic year. Meanwhile, the blood of more children and more educators weaves and seeps into the soil and rubble of another school.  There will be no more summers for them.  No more new beginnings.

I once wrote about the importance of threading a needle when sewing. All the fibers of the thread must be concentrated and twisted together to go through the eye of the needle.  Like the fibers of thread, it is easy for one fiber to get distracted, and when that happens, the thread will not go through.  Once more, we, as a nation, are being asked to go through the eye of the needle.  This is an opportunity to bind the ties that connect us–schools, children, communities–and sew together the common ground on both sides of the aisle.  Can we avoid distractions, remain tightly focused, and come together in order to thread this needle?  The silenced victims of the Uvalde classrooms beg us to do that.

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