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THINKING OUT LOUD - Place of natural beauty is surprisingly close by

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:45 PM

Pat Tinker has been after me for months to check out the McBride Arboretum at Firelands College.

So I went the other evening and wished I had paid attention to her and visited sooner. It is really very nice.

I had a feeling that the best time to go would be sunrise or sunset when things are still and the sunlight takes a longer, more interesting path to earth. So I chose sunset on May 27, the Monday holiday of Memorial Day weekend.

The last time I was at Firelands College was the night I parked there when the Boston Pops played at Sawmill Creek a couple of years ago. But bold, stylized signs made it easy to find the arboretum at the rear of the attractive little campus.

Sure enough, the air was still, the light was long and the place was beautiful.

There was a single swan gliding quietly and reflecting almost perfectly in the placid green-black waters of Parker Lake.

And, while I was there and with the sun still settling in the west, the swan's reflection was joined by the image of a three-quarter full moon. I should have taken my camera. I like plants and landscapes, so I have been to a few arboretums (more correctly, arboreta).

At 50 acres, the McBride Arboretum is not as big as the parking lot of the 3,400-acre Holden Arboretum in Kirtland or the 1,400-acre Dawes Arboretum in Newark, but it feels just right.

And in the best spirit of such places, the arboretum at Firelands College has a nice combination of formal plantings, casual groupings of trees, several native species and a bit of a native prairie landscape.

You can walk around the lake in 10 minutes or hike a mile or more to see everything.

As with my own landscape, things at the McBride Arboretum were a little bit between shows on May 27. The pride of the collection is more than 40 species of flowering crabapples. I could see them and imagine what a display they must have put on a few weeks ago. But they were in full leaf and void of flowers the evening I was there.

Similarly, the summer-flowering plants had not yet begun to bloom. (I did notice, however, an arbor covered with clematis vines that will probably be spectacular right about now, in case you get a chance to go.)

Tended by volunteers and the hard-working folks at Erie MetroParks, the McBride Arboretum was founded in 1984 and named for Dr. James H. McBride, the first dean of Firelands College. (Dr. McBride, of course, had also distinguished himself as superintendent of Norwalk City Schools. And his widow, Margaret, is today vital and active at the arboretum and in life that is, if you call a hot air balloon ride on your 90th birthday vital and active.)

In all, it is a wonderful place. The brochures and signage at the McBride Arboretum make quite an issue of it as a place for reflection and meditation. But with the Ohio 2 on-ramp and the railroad tracks just across the field, if it is quiet you are looking for you might do better inside the college library. My evening walk was frequently punctuated by highway noise and motorcycle exhausts.

But don't let that stop you from visiting.

It recalled for me, once again, that night I saw the Boston Pops right around the corner from the McBride Arboretum.

The Pops were midway into a sweet orchestral number when a freight train sounded its whistle for the Rye Beach crossing.

I will never forget Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart looking back over his shoulder smiling and waving to the passing train.

When you pay your visit to the McBride Arboretum, surround yourself with the comforting sights and smells and nature sounds of the plant sanctuary.

And if your reverie is interrupted by the noise of a passing freight train, follow the example of Conductor Lockhart: consider it as simply another kind of musical instrument, another kind of music.

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