Forty-ish years ago I made good use of summers in the city park behind my house. I grumble now at the expanses of lawn and lack of wild areas, but as a kid I explored the creeks, the pond, wooded hills, the trees I fancied as a spaceship, a horse and a telephone booth. Every season gave the park new meaning, every flood a new playground. And every year I chewed peppermint leaves that grow along the streams.
Today I came across the peppermint with nieces and nephews. Two of them partook eagerly, one reluctantly. Two flat-out refused and one worried about hurting the plants or being poisoned but finally chewed and spit out a leaf. There was no question I would reconnect with this species popping up sporadically along the banks as it always has. I reconnected with my hometown yesterday watching blimps hovering over the Pro Football Hall of Fame game. In this part of the “Birthplace of Aviation” state, blimp sightings have long been common. Hot air balloons floated the week before in an annual ritual of the Hall of Fame’s festival, Canton’s two-week holiday. This morning a man by himself flew a model airplane over a field. I grew up with that buzzing sound.
Not that flying has anything on football in Canton. The daily newspaper’s entire cover this morning featured a photo of a new Hall of Fame inductee crying over the honor. Facebook posts boast of tickets purchased for the months-away Canton vs. Massillon game, a century-old rivalry.
But peppermint holds my attention. In gardens, the plant overwhelms. But here along the streams, it coexists peacefully as it always has among long grass, a few wildflowers, plenty of stinging nettle and elderberries that we picked for a pie. The city lost tens of thousands of residents over decades, but the tens of thousands who live and love and move about here reject the old descriptors: Rust Belt, Little Chicago, unprogressive, dying out. This is a place. With football and flying and peppermint.