State Park Trinkets

So I’m writing this from my “cabin” at Maumee Bay State Park in Northern Ohio. It’s quite comfortable, I’m able to surf the internet and look out onto my neighbor’s BBQ. Those of us in the group who thought the cabin’s 8-person jacuzzi too shi-shi have opted to ‘rough it’ and stay in one of the park’s 252 campsites—which also offer wi-fi and plenty of electricity for mobile home and large-screen TV needs. But, this post isn’t supposed to be about the absurd attempt to distinguish between nature and (hu)man; I want to just briefly recount my walk to the nature center.

But before I get into that, let me start by posing a simple question:

Which of the five Great Lakes yields more fish than all other four combine?

Lake Eerie!

Eerie is the warmest of the Great Lakes and enjoys a (literally) fluid exchange with skeptical water bodies like the Detroit River. You can thank Eerie’s rampant pollution for the Congressional Passing of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Established in the aftermath of the Act, Maumee Bay Park was created by the Land and Water Conservation Fund and meant as a ‘Tribute to Lake Eerie.’

Today, visitors can appreciate Northern Ohio’s natural geography via the Maumee Bay Boardwalk, a two-mile elevated path over some of Ohio’s great marshlands. The path then leads to the nature center, which is a delightful place to spend a rainy afternoon.

At the Center we found an elderly gentleman showcasing an albino fox snake, which is extremely rare (1 in every 40,000). However,  the rest of the animals at the center are not exactly indigenous—like the boa constrictor who’s origin is South America but was found in the Park because someone ran over it. Our docent speculated that the snake was most likely the pet of someone engaged in illegal activity.

Part of me wanted to think about how this nature center had become a glorified Humane Society, or the whole history of endangered animals and illegal trading, but mostly I just thought about Cassandra holding that snake in Wayne’s World and the general glory of the Midwest.

The docent put the albino snake back in the cage and directed us to the butterfly house so that we could see something “neat.”  After reaching for the key (quaintly located above the door frame), we walked into a small space with at least 100 monarch cocoons, all in various stages of development. Some were bright green with small, delicate gold beads; those hours away from hatching already displayed the characteristic orange and reds of monarchs.

Of course at this point none of them will make it to Mexico by winter, a grim reality that was quickly offset by the docent’s positive comment:

“Every time I walk in here, I look at those cocoons and am reminded of all those trinkets you used to buy at Woolworths.”

But it didn’t stop there.

A spider on the wall distracted him. “Hold on,” he exclaimed and grabbed the clipboard with the chart recording all the birthing times of the monarchs. In a perfect, Coen Brothers-esque moment, he slammed the clipboard against the side of the wall, and down onto the spider. Being a fairly large spider, it was easy to watch it fall to the ground.

The monarch house might have been a birthing clinic for the Lepidoptera, but I was pretty convinced it was where one might go to die. In fact, all of Maumee Bay State Park seemed to a place where things were born, contained, and killed.

How old is the myth of the ‘natural’? I’d argue it’s as old as our consciousness of the urban. The evolution from agriculture to industrial society brought on what Lefebvre identifies as the death of nature through an ‘ideological naturalization’ or a process that parodies nature by identifying, classifying, and creating ‘natural’ spaces likes gardens, lakes, and open-space parks.

We experience Ohio’s natural environment—which was reestablished only after we had destroyed the ‘original’—by using a boardwalk, a structure that allows us to engage in the natural environment by walking three feet above it. Although there are obvious reasons for this (it protects sensitive marshlands), it’s also a reminder that even in our natural settings we still determine what stays and what goes. So let this be a warning to all you spiders: stay out of the butterfly house.




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