(One of the first signs you’re not in Ohio anymore)
“Instead of trying to bring a brilliant, intelligent, knowledgeable light to bear on obscure problems, I suggest we bring to bear a diminution of light – a penetrating beam of darkness: a reciprocal of the searchlight. Thus a very faint light would become visible in maximum conditions of darkness.” Wilfred Bion, Brazilian Lectures.
Sometimes the interest (and definition) of a particular place depends on the landscape around it. A progressive city in a progressive area is not so strongly outlined as a progressive city in a conservative area. For example, consider the city of Berkeley, Caifornia where I lived and worked for a few years. There is no doubt it is one of the most progressive cities in the nation. But then, its progressiveness does not stand out that much against the background of the San Francisco Bay Area as its perhaps the most progressive urban areas in the nation.
What stands out much more than Berkeley from the Bay Area is the little progressive town of Yellow Springs, Ohio from its surrounding in the conservative, Ohio countryside. Yellow Springs has a long history in education with one of the great old colleges of the nation – Antioch College – being foounded in Yellow Springs.
When I moved back to Ohio from a place in Berkeley, I had to make some visits down to Yellow Springs, called by many, the Berkeley of Ohio. One of the first places I ended up at was Ye Olde Tavern that has low ceilings and was built some time in the 19th century. I remember driving down to Yellow Springs from my work about 70 miles north. You’d go through eight miles of Ohio farmlands and just two miles outside of Yellow Springs, one of the largest tourist destination sites in Ohio: Youngs Dairy Farm. Then, suddenly you are in this town that I immediately sense a slice of Berkeley in Ohio. The photo above is one of the great introductions to Yellow Springs. You’re not in Kansas anymore. But so hard for an Ohioian to believe it seems to me.
Much more dramatic as standing out against its background by being very different from this background. Often, symbolically opposite than a background. Content and message, against context and medium. Viewed in much tthe way the Marshall McLuhan pioneered seeing the world in.
Over the years, I would come down to Yellow Springs to put my bike on the bike trail and ride down to Xenia where a number of bike paths converged. I would always start in downtown Yellow Springs and ride the 10 miles down to Xenia and back. At the end of the bike trip, I’d pack my bike on the back of my SUV bike rack and then walk down the street to have a tall Guiness at Ye Olde Trail Tavern. Established in 1827, it is the oldest tavern in Ohio.
Today was a day that stood out in the dull grey of Columbus and Central Ohio in general. One of the highest overcast cities in the nation with few clear days. But today was one as Steph and me headed down to Yellow Springs to visit Mary, an old high school friend of hers. We had lunch at the Winds Cafe with one of the more creative menus I’ve seen in a restaurant in Ohio. The beauty of this particular day in early November of 2021 against the greyness in the surrounding weather of central Ohio. Against the greyness of the surrounding weather in America. That’s why it stands out from the rest of memory. Such an island of difference in a sea of sameness. Again, the contrast of black against white is much greater than the contrast of black against a shade of dark grey. Just as noon is the greatest contrast with midnight but a lesser contrast with late afternoon and even lesser contrast with early afternoon.
The Bar at Ye Olde Trail Tavern
I had to go into the tavern today with my Sony and get some HDR photos. The bartender was fine with this. I got the above photo. There are a lot of places to have a Guiness in the world. But not much better than this view of the bar in Ye Olde Trail Tavern after a twenty mile bike ride.
Mary insisted we all go to Dark Star bookstore after lunch. It was one of my favorites. One of the truly last remaining outlets of true book distribution. Remaining free of the great corporations that control books. Here, at Dark Star, simply providing grand collections of comics as well as classics and original editions. It reminded me somewhat of my favorite bookstore in the Bay Area: Green Apple Books on Clement Street. I would say that Dark Star is the Green Apple of the Midwest. We hang in the shop for maybe thrity minutes. Mary buys a book on something French. She is a Francophile and was in my wife Stephanie’s French class in secondary school. I buy The Life to Come and Other Stories by E.M. Forster.
And, one of the little sub-aisles in the bookstore is usually where I find that particular book that I pull out of the bookshelf quickly and confidently somehow. How this happens is a theme for another website.
We all walked back to our cars after the bookstore. I felt good as getting a few shots inside the tavern today. We hugged and parted in the parking lot right next to where I used to launch my bike rides down to Xenia and back. Mary headed back to Cincinnati and we headed back to Columbus. The day was one of best we’ve had this year in Ohio. A perfect blue sky day in a season of overcast and grey. One of those days that stand out against all the others in Ohio this year. In the same way that Yellow Springs stood out against the Ohio countryside.
And now, I sit here writing everything above and looking over my desk below. I wonder about the lesson of this all if in fact there is any lesson at all. Is there some fine wine to be squeezed from these few hours in Yellow Springs or is it just another few hours of linear time in a life? The stuff that passes each day without any recognition of it.
I do have something captured from this time in Yellow Springs. It is an old paperback by E.M.Forster called The Life to Come: And Other Stories. I figured it must have some meaning just by being the one book bought from Dark Star Bookstore in Yellow Springs today. Does one explore the events of a day? (The “remains” of the day?) Or, does one push forward, perpetually searching for the new days of a future. Doing everything one can to escape exploring the events of the day? Everything to escape from reflecting or thinking about life and the events of a particular day.
Read about Ye Old Trail Tavern.
The Wind’s Cafe
Dark Star Books.
Yellow Springs Historical Society
4 thoughts on “Yellow Springs”
Thank you John for such a thoughtful & photogenic tribute to Yellow Springs!
I really enjoyed getting to know more about your “history” and of course hearing about all of your Ohio family connections. You are a lucky man to have “Sweet Stephanie” as your wife.
Let’s explore other day trips for 2022!
John ,You brought back some wonderful memories of going to Yellow Springs and taking friends there.
I loved going to the quaint, bustling college town, and also stopping at Young’s Dairy Farm, how I loved looking at
the gifts, and eating there…The sweet potato bread they brought with your meal was so good, I had to buy their
cookbook so I could make it at home. I have not been to the Tavern ,but the picture you took is charming, so I shall
stop in the next time I get down there. I didn’t know the history of Yellow Springs, and I certainly enjoyed learning about it. Very, very interesting. Thank you so much. Barbara
Thanks, John, for a wonderful homage to YSO. I read your posts on the MEA list, and now I discover we both live in Columbus. My wife and I often visit Yellow Springs, and we recently stayed overnight at the Tiny House Air BnB . Recommended, in part because the owner has compiled useful info in a notebook about Yellow Springs. I attended Antioch from 1962-67 and as a student was a waitperson at Ye Olde Tavern. I spent a year teaching at a high school in San Francisco in the late 60s so I appreciated your reference to Berkeley, where I also have fond memories.
Perhaps our paths will cross in Columbus sometime. I’m retired from OSU College of Ed (though not faculty) and I keep busy volunteering and organizing events for SimplyLiving.org and serving on the board of the Ohio Sustainable Business Council.
Our family (Shockey) had reunions at Bryant State Park. A friend recently purchased an older home there and refurbished it. Lovely place. Yellow Springs is a beautiful drive and so much of its history is still there