Conkles Hollow is a separate small nature preserve belonging to Hocking Hills State Park, featuring two very different trails. These are like two (very) different aspects of the same person.
One leads inside a deep and narrow gorge, and is as wild as it gets. Violence and darkness abound.
The other trail leads up and around, with views of the cliff faces.
During late winter/early spring, this becomes a study in black, white, and green. This is peace and serenity.
Here, the trees seem to mirror the dramatic dance of the rocks below like dreams, occasionally joined by a counterpoint in red.
Is this just one place?
The longest trail in Hocking Hills State Park is nicknamed Grandma’s Trail, and it’s an 11 mile roundtrip.
It leads to rather remote regions of the park, making it ideal for self-isolation. The six hours it takes to hike it is an opportunity to contemplate the passing of time, both our own, and the inherent time of the landscape.
Spatial and temporal distance merge in rare views like the one above (from a fire tower).
Then there is an abundance of waterfalls and rock faces: Do we want change, or do we want permanence?
Spectacular views like the one below are rare, reminding us that there is not only passing time, but also meaning.
The trail ends at Ash Cave, another large recess cave with a waterfall.
The enormous overhang provides shelter, but is also an ominous threat: How long will it hold?
From last week’s Old Man’s Cave, there is a path that takes you along the stream to two different waterfalls. Following either way becomes a meditation on horizontal and vertical motion.
To reach the lower falls, you will need to cross yet another bridge.
And again one has a choice: continue downstream, or climb the steep cliff for an alternate route back to Old Man’s Cave.
The upper fall is even more spectacular.
There are more bridges further upstream, including this double bridge at two different levels. This view finally reminds us that we live in a 3-dimensional world.
The most prominent feature of Hocking Hill’s State Park is Old Man’s Cave, reportedly the home of a hermit who lived there in the late 17th century. If not for the visitors, this place comes close to my ideal of a place for contemplation.
The recess cave itself is very open, like a balcony, and unsuitable for permanent shelter. This is where we stop, free our mind of ourselves, and let the raw landscape take its effect.
Another view is downstream, towards the bridge. This is the place to contemplate decisions. Three paths meet here. So one has a threefold choice: remain in the cave, or cross the bridge, and then continue either left or right. We will talk about the two latter options next week.
From the bridge itself, one has the view onto a serene waterfall. This is the place to find focus.
Finally, if we decide to leave, there is always the look back, turning presence into memory.
Part of Hocking Hills State Park is Rock House, with two short trails and one main feature, a preview of which you can see en miniature below:
A cave from the outside can be a foreboding place. Do we dare to enter?
The pattern of a cave per se doesn’t appear in Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, but there are a Child’s Cave and Secret Place, which relate to it.
We can uncover the secret of a place only by having the courage to step into it. This is like entering somebody’s private space: When inside, we see the world from a new perspective.
After a while, the darkness dissipates, and we feel simultaneously protected and protecting.
After leaving a cave, something has changed. We will not be afraid anymore.
The symbiosis of wood and stone is compelling, both in nature and in architecture.
At first the timeless solidity of a rock appears to be no match for the organic softness of wood.
But clearly the trees find stability, and hold on.
Without the trees, this landscape would look barren, at best a symbol for an unachievable perpetuity, an abstraction, like a Japanese Zen garden.
Sometimes, wood and stone seem to merge and become one, only different on the scale of time.