Did you ever notice how most songs about Ohio are sad?
Think about it. “Ohio” by CSN&Y, “My City Was Gone” by the Pretenders, “Ohio” by Over The Rhine, “Cuyahoga”by R.E.M., “Youngstown” by Bruce Springsteen, “Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon, to name just a few. They’re all about sorrow and longing for a once-loved place, long gone, that has suffered blight, decay, decline, toxic waste, disaster, violence, government corruption, you name it. It’s like one big ghost-town, a shadow of its former self.
These were only cool songs to me, until I moved here. Now I see this sadness and depression all around me. I listen to stories of how it used to be long ago, a great place of innovation and industry, and see how desolate it is now. Whole cities are abandoned and boarded up like a war zone. The once beautiful countryside is one big toxic landfill, with payday loan sharks and drive-through liquor stores. This may be the saddest state of the union.
I’ve been guilty of scornfully contrasting Ohio with the more civilized places I’ve lived. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! But I’m slowly coming to understand that this is a place like many others in this country that people call home, where they struggle to survive amidst all the economic depression and political abandonment. In many ways the 21st century has not yet made it here. Driving around here is like being in a time machine. It’s not so far from “The Grapes of Wrath” era. It saps your energy just witnessing the deterioration it has suffered. It’s heartbreaking. Ohio and the Midwest just sort of got lost in the shuffle and were left behind to rot.
I wish I could say I will miss Ohio when we move. One day I will come to appreciate it as the secure way station it was for us on our way to somewhere more conducive. It’s not a place I would have chosen myself, had it not been for certain circumstances, but it has taught me a lot. I wish it well in the future, after all its pain. I will remember its vast cornfields, ancient rock formations and glacier-gouged gorges, its beautiful wetlands and wildlife, and its Big Sky. I will imagine the rich native civilization that was wiped out, a legacy it shares with the rest of our country.