The steam may not have set in yet, that riverine stickiness that settles like a gargantuan ball of cotton candy on the Ohio Valley each summer. But you know it’s coming. Can you feel it? Oh, it’s there, waiting, watching. Before it makes itself known and felt, before we’re all bathed in a vaporous Mekongesque funk, we still have some semblance of spring to enjoy—especially this year, since spring began in late February.
One thing I’ve always felt sets Cincinnati apart from most other urban centers in this country is its topography. We’re a city built in, on, and around hills that spill down to a big, old river. And because it isn’t easy to build on our unstable hills, this time of year, from downtown all the way out to Loveland and Dent and Addyston and Cold Spring, we get swallowed by green. All those stands of trees and snarls of underbrush and alien weed that have spent the last five or so months dormant, nude, or invisible suddenly morph into full-blown jungle. The sheer fecundity is a marvel to behold. It’s like something out of a 1950s sci-fi flick—The Honeysuckle That Ate Carthage or Godzilla vs. Pigweed. And yet at the same time it has a distinctly ancient whiff about it, as if, each summer, the earth that we’ve built our homes and schools and strip malls and office buildings upon is not so gently reminding us who’s boss.
This has not been lost on Polk Laffoon. In “Geology Is Destiny,” which anchors our cover package, he extolls the virtues and curses of our surrounding hills and valleys, pointing out how they simultaneously unite us in a certain communal pride even while they carve the city into a patchwork of neighborhoods. No surprise that we’ve got such a robust and well-managed municipal and county park system. Or that ecologically, these hills have such a rich diversity of flora and fauna. OK, perhaps this will surprise you: We’re one of the few places (let alone cities) in the United States where you can still find remnants of old-growth forest. In 2012, more than 400 years after the first European settlers began to reshape the North American landscape, that is amazing.
We turned the rest of our cover package (“Head for the Hills,” which starts on page 57) into a quick primer on some of the best local slopes to hike, stroll, bike, climb, explore, or simply roll down. Here’s one shameless plug: If you’ve never made the trek out to Shawnee Lookout, just east of North Bend, go. Now. You can see the confluence of the Ohio and Great Miami from its bluffs, scramble over thousand-year-old ceremonial mounds and earthworks, and if so inclined, tee off on 18 of the hilliest golf holes around. Honestly, it’s like playing on a mountain—albeit, one with a pro shop and a snack bar with cold beer on tap. But we’ve all got our own special ways of communing with the wild.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue.