Because northeast Ohio is a region with widely varying demographic locales, it is easy to encounter residents from areas that are much different from one’s own. Therefore, a person living, let’s say in Cleveland or its suburbs, might have little or no experience with rural areas, even though many exist to their south, east and west.
Because my husband and I established, in 1977, a small airport and aviation museum in Leroy Township, we often encountered visitors who had no idea that a home on such an expanse of land existed. Sometimes I felt I should explain that, no, we did not operate 747s out of “Leroy International.” Plus, we did not walk behind a rotary mower to keep the runways cut, but rather had a tractor pulling a 3-deck system with nine rotary blades to tackle the job.
Even more foreign to them was my explanation of the animals around us. So as to not intimidate anyone, I have always avoided the snake topic and dealt only with what visitors might see here: a great blue heron on the pond’s dike and a pair of domestic swans, which we had for 20 years. Depending on the time of year, the swan topic was a must, but we quickly learned few people took seriously what we tried to tell them.
The swans, Aileron and Rudder, were curious about people and always swam toward groups, which was only a problem during their spring nesting season because Rudder turned into a formidable attack machine. I couldn’t even walk down to the water to take their food to them, as he would come out with flapping wings and neck fully extended while running at me. The birds’ wings were pinned so they could not fly, but Rudder had sharp barbs on the joints at the ends of his wings and could do serious damage. I had learned the hard way that I couldn’t outrun him. Instead, I drove the Gator to the dike, threw their food toward them, and throttled away for a hasty retreat.
Strangely, my husband was the only person Rudder did not intimidate. Chuck would move toward him with arms stretched, and Rudder would back off. The bird’s attitude would irritate me no end, and I wanted to shout at him that he was a real so-and so for trying to attack the person who fed them.
Anyway, both swans were docile except for springtime. Both Chuck and I got used to giving visitors a sermon about staying away from them in April and May. Often people did not listen, mostly because they were bent on getting a good photo of the birds. A ten-year-old neighbor boy got trapped on the ground while Rudder beat on his back. Again, Chuck was the only one who could get Rudder to move away. One time a friend of ours was walking close to him and had to be rescued from behind our dumpster, the only place she could see to run. She and Rudder were dancing from side to side as she tried to stay away from him.
By far the most memorable incident was a day in April when Fox News, Channel 8, came out with their crew to do a feature story with pictures. Somehow the channel had gotten word that there was a “steer hunt” happening in Leroy; a farmer nearby hadn’t noticed a hole in his fence, and two of his beasts had gotten out and disappeared. Chuck was going to do a low flight to search for them in our very slow plane – a folly of an endeavor, obviously suggested by someone at the Sheriff’s Department who had no concept of the dense forest that covers much of Leroy.
Fox’s roving reporter, whose name I will not mention, exited the van with his camera, intending to take pictures when the errant bovines were discovered. The entire news crew actually thought finding two steers in the middle of a dense forest was going to be successful. We immediately warned the video operator that it was the swans’ nesting season and he needed to stay away from them. However, he forgot all about the “beastly” assignment and went hustling toward Rudder to get a picture.
The swan charged him and got ahold of the front of his pants, at which time the fellow began spinning around the dike trying to dislodge Rudder’s tenacious beak. Again, Chuck saw the scene and chased the attacker back to the water. The reporter was unhurt, except for his pride, and I won’t try to convince anyone that we didn’t get lots of laughs about the incident. In fact, I was downright uncharitable in my attitude. Where were OUR cameras when we needed them? Of course, over two hours of low, slow flying yielded no clue about the steers’ location.
Large fowl created another unusual incident here just last fall. New neighbors had built a home across the road and slightly south of our runway’s end. They quickly prepared a shelter and enclosure for some chickens and turkeys. Dawn somehow acquired two turkeys, one very large, white one with a nasty disposition and one smaller black one who always trailed behind the white one. Both seemed to develop a fondness for our land and would blithely cross the road until Dawn or Bobby would retrieve them.
A group of about a dozen people from a fine arts association near Cleveland had asked for a tour to see the airplane collection and have a catered dinner in our meeting room in the front hangar. The words “near Cleveland” had set off my finely- tuned cautionary brain that told me, “These folks will know zero about country living.” The first couple who arrived proved the concept by asking why the strip of land was mowed through the trees. Its 1,800 feet of grass didn’t look anything like runways they were used to. I explained that most of what flies in and out of here weighs not much over a thousand pounds and lands at 35 or 40 mph.
More members of the group arrived, and we didn’t get to the topic of any animals except for my ever-present dog Harley, whom everyone wanted to pet, until realizing he smelled like an outdoor dog. The visitors’ backs were toward the road, and I was facing it while explaining some drivel about our tractor. I saw Big White Bird waddling across the road with his usual follower; as they got closer to us, I told the group to turn around and watch what was coming. They did, and I moved in front of them, not wishing His Nastiness to get too close. A couple of the men started to follow me, at which point I said, ”No, no; please stand back as I know how to deal with these guys.”
Meanwhile, my airport manager and buddy Chris Joles had just decided to take his dog, Fox Chihuahua-Corgi, for a walk on his leash. Harley, meanwhile, had retreated out of fear, but Fox spotted the turkeys and started on the run after them with Chris not quite able to run as fast but making the effort. The black turkey made it across the road easily, but the bigger guy, plodding along with his 35 pounds, dropped into the ditch. Fox, yapping like crazy, started snapping at the bird’s rear and removed a few feathers. Dawn spotted what was happening; between her and Chris, they helped the victim out of the ditch, and he followed Dawn home.
Dawn was muttering about the turkey being a real pain and saying she was grateful that Thanksgiving was only a couple months away. We didn’t see the white turkey again, but there were plenty of his feathers in the ditch.
The fine arts group took a quick tour of the museum, but a reader should be able to guess what their main topic during dinner was. I think that their adventure here made it to their own turkey day tables.
Over the years we have had many experiences with people who don’t understand our rural environment and often don’t believe what we tell them. Our insistence that bears are in our vicinity is met with huge skepticism by most visitors. Lake Metroparks employees know better, and the densest, wildest of the parks borders our land on two sides. Bear footprints and droppings are commonplace. Also, coyotes run in predatory packs, and residents must be watchful with their small pets.
In no way do I mean to imply that people familiar only with very populated places are ignorant or stubborn. No one can understand a habitat unless exposed to it in a realistic way. Years ago we had close friends who had always lived in New York City or Newark, New Jersey. It took me a while to realize that Ed and Mary would not walk on our grass because they feared snakes. Our lack of street lighting made her fearful here at night. Their home was in a suburb, but both regularly drove casually through some of the worst slums in cities.
Mary’s brother owned, in Newark, one of the biggest motorcycle franchises in the U.S. The knowledge that he also kept several junkyard dogs there was a simple fact of life to her because a metropolis had always been her home. I listened carefully to Ed’s explanation about what precautions one needed to take in a city.
In the ‘70s Chuck and I took trips to see Ed and Mary twice. Those trips were my only extensive exposure to huge cities. I visualized myself in a nightmare scene of being dropped alone on a sidewalk in the middle of some city – falling onto the sidewalk like a worthless blob of gelatinous protoplasm, unable to function.
Many people are born with an ability to adapt well to unfamiliar environments and circumstances. Without that quality, a person is probably better off to stay with the familiar, which might just be summed up as HOME. Whether confusion in one’s life happens because of cultural and language differences, generation gaps, or lack of exposure to varying locales, making an extra effort to learn by communicating effectively helps all people get along better and learn.