A Summit County Summer Weekend.

Should you find yourself halfway between Cleveland and Akron on a warm summer weekend in the future, here are a couple of things I did this weekend that you may want to check out. I’ve grown up in the area but hadn’t checked out either place until now.

Friday night found me making the not so long drive into “downtown” Peninsula, Ohio and parking at Boston Township hall. Last summer tried to paint a picture of the historic hall during a plein air contest but never finished the piece. It still sits in my studio. But at the time I did read about the John Eisenmann designed building, and found the history of the nondescript old building to be interesting. But no time for history on a warm Friday night. I crossed the road to the equally historic G.A.R. Hall. On Friday nights the Peninsula Foundation hosts “Voices In The Valley”, which is a night of free live music. This particular “Voices” event headlined a friend of friend, renowned local musical artist Brent Kirby.

Entering the historic old hall I was warmly greeted and given the run down regarding where to get a drink (wine and beer available in the back) or a bite to eat (they feature a food truck out front for events). I grabbed a beer, but skipped the food as I had eaten dinner at home already. Seating is open so you pretty much grab a chair at a table wherever you can find one. There was one open table at the foot of the sloped stage, in a corner so I sat. The inside of the hall is covered in greyish robin’s egg blue bead-board that presumably dates back to its construction around 1850.  I’m not sure how old the chandeliers are but they add a nice touch, especially the cast iron on over the stage.

June 21, 2013 Brent Kirby on stage with Chris "Elmer" Hanna, G.A.R. Hall, Peninsula, Ohio

June 21, 2013 Brent Kirby on stage with Chris “Elmer” Hanna, G.A.R. Hall, Peninsula, Ohio

As I sat, a nice young lady was finishing up her opening set.  After catching a song or two she retired to applause. And while I hadn’t really heard Brent  play in person, my friend obviously was a fan of his music and, from what I knew, the mix of rock, folk and country would be right up my alley so to speak. Brent, who played the acoustic guitar, was joined on stage by fellow musician Chris “Elmer” Hanna on keyboard. They rolled right into several songs, none of which I really remember the titles of as they were all new to me; Brent is an extraordinary lyricist who writes most of the songs he sings. So it’s not like some cover band touching on songs you know by heart. Elmer’s keyboard poured a steady foundation of emotionally tangible music, punctuated often times by musical solos by the duo. Upon this canvas Brent’s thoughtful lyrics, guitar play and soulful voice applied the color and texture to make a warm summer Friday night into something memorable. All of this framed perfectly by a venue that would be akin to having these guys swing by your house after work and set up shop in your living room or back porch. You can just imagine any musician would love the chance to sing their heart and soul out on that intimate stage. And anyone in the “audience” would know they were lucky to be hearing it first hand. More so than a bar, or amphitheater or concert hall, a small informal venue such as the G.A.R. Hall invites the listener to be part of the experience without feeling distant or overpowered (by loud speakers and bright lights for example). And the venue allows the artist to perform in a more personal and humanistic way. As if they are singing to themselves, or the person they wrote the song for, or time itself. If anything I would amp up the intimate vibe in the venue, for instance I couldn’t help but notice the old piano with a candelabra on it or the funky little organ next to it. But it’s hard to argue with a nearly 200-year-old building and songs being performed that were just as timeless. Brent finished the night with his unique rendition of “Thunder Road” which was a great way to wrap up a small venue, small town America “concert”. We hung out and visited afterwards, and my friend even bought me a CD copy of Brent’s album ‘Coming Back To Life’. What a great way to kick off the summer.

I spent Saturday and part of Sunday working on work projects and not much else. The yard is a mess but that’ll have to wait. I do not like my new work lifestyle as I’m either stressed out when I don’t have work or feel guilty if I take a break when I do have work. If this is how it’s going to be the rest of my life then here’s hoping I get hit by a train in the next year or two.

Sunday I worked a couple of hours in the morning then decided that we were going for a hike in the afternoon. Work, artwork, house work and yard work be damned. After lunch we headed down to the F.A. Seiberling Nature Center, the main visitor center for the Summit County Metroparks. The center was renovated in the last five years and boasts a phenomenal native species garden walkway between the parking lot and visitors center building. We spotted a mother duck and her ducklings paddling their way through one of the small wetland pot hole ponds just off the walkway.

Duck and ducklings at the nature center.

Duck and ducklings at the nature center.

The gardens feature many of the same plants and wild flowers we have in our yard, but I was jealous by how well-grown in and dimensional the park garden was. And I fell in love with the three little pot hole ponds they had at different elevations in the garden. I later learned from a ranger that these were for filtering rain water from the parking lot, which itself was paved with pervious cement to ease rainwater run off.  You should visit the visitor center to see the garden if nothing else. But we walked on to the front doors, tucked under an earthen roofed, domed structure that looked more natural than out of the ordinary. One cool feature of the entry was the art made from recycled drinking bottles. The brightly colored “flowers” were made from caps and cut bottles. I could even recognize many of the cap types as being ones in our own fridge at home…an idea for a fun project at our house.


Flowers made from recycled drinking bottles.

Flowers made from recycled drinking bottles.

Once inside the cool air conditioned building, and out of the 90 degree heat, we were greeted by a ranger with a live turtle in her hand. The boys got to see and touch the turtle which was so-so on their interest scale. Of more interest was the opportunity to see more turtles, snakes and toads in a wall of terrariums, and the chance to color some pictures in a little kids table near the entrance.  The visitor center boasts a series of really nice educational displays, and a small but comprehensive gift shop. As I wandered through the still new looking space I picked up on a lot of the green building techniques they employed during renovation including LED lighting and solar power.  Sure enough the building had a LEED platinum badge at the entrance, denoting the top-level of green building in the U.S.

Stepping back outside we wandered over to the deck to see a live wood carving demonstration and gaze at the pond behind the center where I spotted a turtle sunning itself in the water. We then embarked on our hike. We chose the “cherry” trail because it was only about a 1/2 mile long. With two little boys in tow, one of which was already complaining about the heat, a short hike was all we’d muster this day. The trail soon dropped us into the cool shade of the forest. Featured along the way were informative plaques highlighting the various trees, once again many of which we have in our own yard at home, so it was interesting to learn more about them as we walked. I spotted several birds including a woodpecker, and the boys enjoyed climbing rocks and running on the path…..”boys, not too far ahead now” we’d call after them.

It was a nice trip to a local jewel that we had not been to before, even though both myself and the wife had grown up in the area.  She liked it because she could get a lot of flower pictures for her art. I liked that we were just able to get out and get away from work and the stress and guilt that comes with work.

Back home she watered her bees and she harvested our first crop of radishes from the garden. I picked some lettuce for our grilled turkey burgers. It was a nice end to a really nice weekend. I’m glad we carved out some time to do some things that typically get put off by busy families such as ours. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for things to do if you’re ever in the area, or just as good – go check out what’s hiding in plain sight in your area.  I bet you’ll be surprised.

Our first radish crop of the year. We sliced them up and put them in our coleslaw.

Our first radish crop of the year. We sliced them up and put them in our coleslaw.

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