Stafford: Here’s how to get well-grounded in Clark County

When I arrived at the News-Sun in February of 1979, my first assignment was to get the lay of the land.

Forty-one years later, I’m still doing that, though in a different way.

Over those years – first as a reporter, then a person – I’ve grown to know the Clark County landscape in a way that makes me feel grounded here.

Now, just in time for the fall colors, another piece of it has begun to speak to me in some language that I can’t translate but that speaks to everyone from motorcyclists on fall poker runs to wanna-be poets like me.

My latest buena vista (good view) is from a road that slices north into just west of the officially name Buena Vista Road.

At the T-intersection that breaks off from gentle curve, Vernon-Asbury Road is a dark strip of fresh blacktop, with bold yellow stripes in the middle and edges trimmed in white.

Uniform in their height, spindly, tan soybean plants somehow crowd together at roadside to form a field that resembles the crew cut welcome mats I used to clean the bottoms of my shoes as a kid.

Of course, a hyphenated name alone provides Vernon-Asbury one of the elements God requires of a country road. The other is a 90-degree turn in the middle of nowhere without a change of name. And, like an old farmer who constantly complains about the weather, Vernon-Asbury gives us four of those turns in a few minutes of driving.

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The first is a right toward Clark Lake, the second a left needed to keep from driving in.

The first big reveal of the ride comes on the next rise as the scene opens on the left.

The farm fields, which have been largely hidden by a line of trees come out into the open on in the very place my old green-and-white Security Bank Clark County map says The Knobs, which the area is called.

I can’t say just how the optics work at that point in the drive. But I’m pretty sure they involve what photographers call depth of field.

That’s the word used for the part of a photograph – or maybe a view – in which all the elements appear in sharp focus.

So, while flat going to the horizon provides a slow monotonous fade, the hills here constantly change the field of view. And instead of a razor straight surveyor’s line, the fields are often edged by– trees whose broccoli shapes add dimension and texture. Soon, of course, those trees will offer different colors, which will contrast with the deep green swaths tended by grass ranchers throughout the area.

And driving through it puts it all in motion.

Because the road remains neither flat nor straight for very long, as the car moves us up and down the scenery unfolds more like a movie than a snapshot. And I’m convinced that the constant change in the depth of field makes a deeper impression on our brains and heightens the experience.

But back to the road.

While I don’t know who Vernon was, it’s likely Asbury was associated with the Methodist church that sat in the now churchless cemetery around the corner from the big reveal and at the top of the next rise. Just as it sits at the intersection of life and death, the cemetery sits at the intersection with Jones Road, which a car would be on if it continued going straight.

A 90-degree turn to the left – our fourth such turn – is needed to stay on Vernon-Asbury.

Whether you just pass the cemetery by or drive in for a look around, it’s worth a glance to the east. Because as the land falls off from the cemetery toward another line of trees, the cemetery seems to rise up to a greater height in the foreground.

It’s also worth a look to the northeast from there for an old silo sitting on the rise that lost its head many Halloweens ago.

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My regular drive on Vernon-Asbury usually ends north of the cemetery when I turn on to Tarbutton Road, which I plan to name a band for. (The Tarbuttons has a certain ring.)

But I’d encourage anyone making the trip to explore the area from Columbus Road to Ohio 4 and Mahar Road to Ohio 54.

In an area with countless Hidden Drive signs, hidden valleys are the real treat.

One highlight is the view in all directions from the righteously named Grandview Farms, located where Mahar Road turns into Moorefield Road. Although on a lesser hill, a pond on a curving stretch of Neer Road between Mahar and Vernon-Asbury makes Hillcrest Farm one of the most pastoral settings around.

I’d also recommend the drive east from Vernon-Asbury on Vernon-Catawba. A 90-degree turn, followed by a 45 leads up a hill to three white grain bins. They stand above what might be called higher pasture land were the fields edged by tree lots not devoted to crops. The geometry of it all seems crazy.

The road will bring you to a stop at the corner of Pleasant and Persimmon streets in Catawba. There, I’d recommend a turn north and the long descent to Route 4 between sets of wooden poles on both sides of the road reminiscent of a chute at an old livestock yards.

At the bottom of the hill, continue north for a mile or so on Route 54, then turn around so you can enjoy the view descending from the north. If you don’t drive south again on 54, at least have a look in that direction to see how nicely the two farms you’ll see are place on the hill.

Here’s to feeling well-grounded.