The woods that exists only in memory

I was a child in North Canton at an ideal time. Enough woods, field and swamp lay within biking and walking distance to provide an abundance of activity for a child who loved the outdoors. We lived on Chapple Hill Drive, one block south of Applegrove, which started at Overland on the west and dead-ended at a field near Bob O’Link Golf Course on the east. When we moved in we were only the second house on our side of the street, the other an old farmhouse barely within sight over a slight rise in the land.
We moved to North Canton in 1964 after a long house search while living in Kent. My father had taken a job in November 1963 with Goodyear Aerospace in Suffield Township, and we moved on Thanksgiving weekend from Worthington to a house near the Cuyahoga River in Kent. We made trips on weekends to North Canton to look for houses, and I remember one dark winter night on the southwest side of the city looking out over the valley toward Whipple Avenue, which back then was a mere single-lane road bordered by farm land, its intersection with Everhard Road a simple four-way stop.
My parents eventually found a house they liked but decided to have a mirror image built on the opposite side of the street, supposedly because our refrigerator door would have opened toward the wrong side of the kitchen. The lot they chose was an old field once farmed by descendants of German settlers — North Canton was originally named New Berlin, until the anti-German sentiment in World War I encouraged the renaming of communities across the country —  and a good-sized tree grew where the living room now sits. We returned a few times as construction progressed, once when the plywood floor was laid, before the walls had been erected. The house has a chimney between two rooms, with fireplaces in both, and during that visit that chimney was just an opening in the plywood, across which I jumped, a memorable feat for a boy age 6 going on 7.
We moved in in August 1964, just before I entered second grade at Clearmount Elementary, and the first few years my bike riding was restricted to our immediate neighborhood. My explorations, naturally, expanded as I grew, from an area of about two blocks in each direction to farther afield as I grew more self-reliant and rode bigger bikes. A dirt road led from the east end of our street up a small hill toward a field by the golf course, and I spent many hours walking and riding in that field. A a line of woods bordered the south edge of the field, and a path followed that woods east to Dogwood Park. The woods thinned at the lower end of the hill and separated the field from a swamp that lay along East Seventh Street. A tree that had fallen south across the swamp served as a good bouncing station, allowing us to stand on the trunk over the water as we bounce up and down.
The woods was dense along the east side of Dogwood Park and was home to two of North Canton’s largest trees, which the derecho of July 4, 1969, downed. My uncle and his family were visiting when it hit, about 9 p.m., and as we stared out the back picture window my aunt declared, “I’m going to the basement!” The next day we found that the storm had ripped a garage door off a house around the corner to the southwest, torn off the side wall of a garage on Hyacinth Drive about two blocks east, and collapsed a garage on Applegrove about a half block beyond that. On our next trip to the woods, my younger brother and I found that the large trees had been uprooted and lay on their sides, leaving large root holes exposed, and we enjoyed many hours of climbing on those trees. We reached those woods by going south on a path from the intersection of 10th Street and Dogwood Avenue, alongside an old man’s garden in an extra lot, past sumac plants and briers.
I know I sound like the old people our generation always mocked, pondering the changes wrought by time and growing population, but so it goes. The field, the woods and the swamp are gone. Hoover High School and its abundance of blacktopped parking lots occupies the land once inhabited by blackbirds and groundhogs, a running track replaced the swamp, the swimming pool replaced the woods, and Dogwood Avenue was cut through the remaining woods to connect to Seventh Street. Only a small remnant of those woods remains, behind houses at the corner of Dogwood and 10th. Those massive trees are long gone, and I must rely on memory to revive the imagery of field, swamp and woods. I must close my eyes and remember.

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