Souvenirs from the Boardwalk

December 30, 2023

A story by Jim Kesner. This article is also featured in the January 10, 2024, Now in Nature.

Soon after I moved to Cincinnati in late 1988, a friend introduced me to the Nature Center. We thoroughly enjoyed hiking through nature, even when we found ourselves lost and wandering about for one or two hours without a map or, at the time, good signage, before being given directions by a sympathetic soul. I began my Cincinnati Nature Center membership in 1992.

As a trail runner, I immediately adopted the Nature Center as my sanctuary, my retreat, my church, where I could run until I was exhausted. For the next 30 years or so, I would come to run up to 15 miles or more, most often on Sunday mornings, and more often when possible. The joy and adventure were to run in all expressions of weather that Mother Nature had to offer. The more attitude She expressed, the better: frigid cold, sultry hot, blustery winds, rain, mud, snow, ice. 

In a somewhat masochistic way, I felt fortunate on the occasions when I would slip and fall in the mud, into the stream, or onto stepping stones. I would derive a sense of relief when I was invariably able to get back up, and realize that through the pain and occasional bleeding, that I was okay, nothing had broken, and that I could resume my run. I had successfully met Mother Nature on her terms in this way. 

For me, trail running at the Nature Center was simultaneously serene and an adventure. I enjoyed running at different times of day. Over the course of the years when making my photo series, the starting times of my runs ranged from 5 am to well after dark. The time of day affects so many aspects of the experience: the feeling of the air, presence of fog, the amount and angle of the light, the spirit of the forest and prairies, and the awareness of one’s body and mind. 

A few years ago, I became intrigued with a goal to run every single foot of trail at the Nature Center in one bout. I would put myself to sleep at night meticulously plotting out my path, which would necessarily require that I double back on some trails to cover all. My course included more than 100 decision points on which direction to turn. I estimated that my course was about 19 miles long. I completed the run four times in 2005 and 2006. While I never ran a marathon, I felt like these runs were nearly as challenging and far more exhilarating and spiritual.

Included is a map of the trails with red lines to depict my route. 

Printed map of Cincinnati Nature Center trails. Jim's route is depicted in red lines.

After my runs, I would sit at the bench on the boardwalk of Powell Crosley Lake. There I could rest, recover, contemplate the day’s run—and life—and delight in the many faces and often the critters of the lake, depending on the season, time of day, and weather.

I almost always ran with companions. My most steadfast companions were our dogs: Atticus and her daughter Scout, and then Hector. They loved it, and I loved their nonjudgmental, unconditional companionship. But I also enjoyed introducing friends and family to the joy, beauty, and exhilaration of running through the Nature Center. Some would try it once and decide that it was not their cup of tea. Others ran with me week after week, year after year. As with any journey, running alone or with companions offers their respective rewards.

In 1997, I married my lovely wife Sandy at the Krippendorf Lodge, on a gorgeous October afternoon. We couldn't conceive of a more lovely setting for our Big Day. In 2002, Sandy gifted me my first digital camera, an Olympus Camedia. This compact camera coincided with my notion to, in some manner, tangibly memorialize or document my running excursions. I decided to make photographs of Powell Crosley Lake from the same spot, before and after each run. These photographic souvenirs could be deemed as metaphorical tips of the greater experiential iceberg on each of these gloriously ordinary excursions into nature.

I began this photographic ritual on April 6, 2002 with each photograph facing northeast, across Powell Crosley Lake from the bench on the boardwalk. A year later, I decided to add a second perspective series from a spot behind the dock, looking north across the pond. And four years later, I added a third series of photos looking northeast along the east bank of the pond, from the spot behind the dock. I took an 11-month hiatus from the Nature Center in 2007. I took my last photographs on the January 7, 2015 when my Olympus camera decided to retire itself.

I hope the viewer of the boardwalk photo series will appreciate the subtleties of the sky, leaves, reflections, water-levels, and other attributes of the landscape, but also the dramatic changes in the setting due to weather conditions or the weekly waxing and waning of ice and snow.

For the best experience, go to image sequence settings to choose the highest resolution quality and the playback speed of your choice, then set the image for full screen, sit back, and enjoy!