“And No Birds Sing”

Posted on Feb, Fri, 2024 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point

“And No Birds Sing”


An ancient pin oak, its heartwood now ossified and alabaster, leans in like a conductor as rows of trees like orchestra members strain for direction. One can almost hear the sylvan sounds of Grieg, lyrical notes of a breeze ascending. Peering into its woodland, this is a view of the northwestern corner of Schweitzer’s Marsh a little over a year ago, before the W&LE Railway opened a channel to drain the marsh, an action not undertaken in over 100 years. Here, above the northern bank, the forest floor is layered in autumn’s last leaves and the scent of damp earth and detritus lingers. Fluorescing lichen paints trees in luminous blues and greens in this remnant of a century old beech and oak forest. Some ancient pin oaks still stand, their bark sloughed through the seasons.

Just over a year later, this pristine wetland, Schweitzer Marsh, is lost, nothing more than withered sedge, rush and shallow pools splashed across vast mud flats that now have replaced acres of wildlife habitat, and destroyed an aesthetic of indescribable beauty and of sunrises that once set the marsh on fire.

And no birds sing.
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UPDATE “Death of a Wetland”

Posted on Jan, Tue, 2024 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point

“The Sun is but a Morning Star” H.D. Thoreau
Image No. 1

“The sedge has withered from the lake, and no birds sing.”  John Keats
Image No. 2


Image No.1

Each day the sun rises with reverence over Schweitzer Marsh, lifting silently above the horizon, quivering briefly in the morning air, pushing into day its elongated shadows trapped in their own reflections, piercing still water. Before ascending into view, morning twilight stirs life through the marsh. The piping notes of bald eagles, the sudden silence before the primal croak of the great blue heron’s flight into morning, the kingfisher’s waking rattle and always, always, the rising chorus of redwing blackbirds.  And yet beyond, geese and ducks, puddlers and divers sounding grace before the spreading sun.

Image No.2

Schweitzer Marsh, now in its death throes one year after the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway excavated a channel and installed a new culvert in its west bank that has drained the marsh.  Since February, I have worked with a variety of agencies and organizations whose missions are dedicated to preserving wetlands. Included among them, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Tinker’s Creek Watershed Partners, Ohio EPA, Summit County Metroparks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Beginning in 2018, the Trump administration successfully dismantled and disemboweled the 1972 Clean Water Act as 100 environmental rules were officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back during his administration. In May (2023), Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (Sackett vs. EPA) effectively provided the eviscerating blow to an estimated 40% of U.S. wetlands, writing in his majority opinion that the Clean Water Act applies only to wetlands that share contiguous surface waters. Corporations and individuals may now drain formerly protected wetlands, profiting from their sale as commercial and residential properties. This highly consequential decision has flown beneath the radar ever since despite the profound effect it portends for habitat, migrating species and sustained wildlife. And lost in the ruling is any consideration for the egregious and grave destruction of nature’s aesthetic.

My own work with the agencies and park systems has yielded little beyond sympathetic and generally sincere expressions of support. The political and bureaucratic morass encumbering action relates to the ambiguity of jurisdiction and lack of enforcement authority between agencies. However, after sifting through the maze throughout the past year, it appears the ultimate arbiter with both jurisdiction and enforcement authority is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  By last summer, the Chief of Regulatory Monitoring and Enforcement (Buffalo District, includes Ohio) for the Corps, was persuaded to review the facts with his team in Buffalo to make a determination as to the W&LE’s culpability and possible action against the railroad.  1,000 concerned citizens locally and nationally have already signed a petition to “Save Schweitzer Marsh,” many of whom have written letters to the railroad expressing concern and outrage demanding remediation. And many have donated money in furtherance of this cause.  To that end, we have provided USACE as well as Ohio EPA a full accounting of the damage and its impact through an abundance of “before and after” images, videos, text and legal citations prohibiting the dredging and draining of the wetland by W&LE.

Pursuant to filing the requisite forms USACE requested, and providing pertinent and supporting resources, the Corps has yet to respond and/or acknowledge three separate requests for status updates since September 1.  This is disheartening for so many of us who followed the rules and protocol (to the limited extent any of the agencies could provide direction or that we could infer a process) and come to question the efficacy of these agencies and organizations, most funded through taxes.

Abundant thanks to all who are determined to preserve this extraordinary natural resource.  Perhaps in its demise we will take a small step forward by raising awareness ever so slightly among a public consumed by life’s quotidian demands.

This final rant but fading noise.

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“Death of a Wetland”

Posted on Apr, Sat, 2023 in Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point

Geoff Baker
2583 Kingston Rd.
Cleveland Hts., OH 44118 

March 2, 2023 

Mr. Alec Jarvis
Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway Company
100 First Street
Brewster, OH 44613 

Subject: Potential Wetland and Environmental Catastrophe
                Tinker’s Creek State Nature Preserve
                 Site: “Old Mill Rd” Aurora, Ohio 

Dear Mr. Jarvis, 

By way of introduction, my name is Geoff Baker and I am a private citizen who resides in Cleveland Hts., Ohio. I am writing with regard to what is the recent, ongoing, and presumably unintended destruction of a wetland by W&LE. Your company recently replaced or perhaps contracted to replace a culvert beneath a section of track that bisects an area of Summit and Portage counties known broadly as the Tinker’s Creek State Nature Preserve. The railway runs on a north/south line through Aurora, Ohio where the tracks establish the western boundary of the marsh (wetland) as they proceed north of the Old Mill Road crossing. The property I have referenced is a natural wetland acquired in the late 60’s from a Mr. Schweitzer, an Aurora resident, and is now owned and managed by the Summit County Metroparks. Sitting on the border of Summit and Portage County, the marsh extends east of the tracks perhaps a half mile and also connects with hundreds of acres of wetlands that are located on the south side of Old Mill Road. 

The damage to which I have alluded began a couple of months ago when crews replaced a culvert and enlarged a drainage basin about 100 yards north of the Old Mill Road crossing. The new culvert, which by appearances is significantly larger than the one it replaced, runs under the tracks from the east side of the marsh to the west where it drains into Tinker’s Creek. During the course of replacing the culvert, critical brush and vegetation that previously had served to restrict the flow of water were removed, further exacerbating the damage. The consequence has been to drain the wetland leaving in its place only root vegetation (waterlilies, rush, etc.) that previously existed below the waterline, thereby exposing sand and silt and creating a virtual mud flat with shallow puddles ranging from 6”-8”. By comparison, the depth of water had averaged three to four feet throughout the 70 years I’ve lived in this area. Also of note, the water has never posed a threat to the bed of the tracks which is significantly elevated above the wetlands. 

This is a particularly important wetland that dates back centuries and is one of northeast Ohio’s premier wildlife and waterfowl migration and nesting areas. My familiarity with the wetland began as a child in the early 50’s when the area served as a duck hunting preserve owned by the Schweitzer’s. I know the property intimately having hunted and trapped there as a boy until the late 60’s. Since then, it has been the subject of my landscape photography that has been exhibited in various museums and galleries around the country. 

The marsh (wetland) hosts spring and fall waterfowl migrations and provides a nesting haven for wood duck, mallards, pintail ducks and Canada geese. Other species that rely on its sanctuary include blue and green wing teal, redhead, ringneck, and bufflehead ducks as well as great blue herons, trumpeter swans, kingfishers, red-tailed hawks and abundant other wildlife that depend on an extant wetland for survival. Bald eagles continue to occupy their nest at the east end of the marsh due to an eminently successful restoration initiative that captured the attention of national environmentalists. And though the eagles have flourished for over three decades, the loss of habitat will present a significant challenge to their survival. 

Finally, I must confess with some embarrassment that this appeal is unprecedented for I have never assumed the role of an activist, environmental or otherwise. In a corporate life much of my career was spent as a senior executive with Republic Steel where I was cognizant and supportive of our role to steward the environment, though I never did so as a “cheerleader” – a regret in retrospect for one who has been a lifelong beneficiary of other activists and who still finds refuge in this beautiful marsh. 

Recently, I have engaged the interest and goodwill of the Summit County Metroparks, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Tinker’s Creek Watershed Partners; and have spoken or met with their senior leadership, all of whom recognize the urgency and are prepared to advocate for its immediate remediation. However, before I contact the Army Corps of Engineers and Ohio EPA regarding enforcement options, I wanted to advise you of the situation directly in the hope you can address the problem before the migration is fully underway by the end of March. The solution may be as simple as adding a gate or some other flow restriction to the culvert to control the level of the marsh. 

I will send this by conventional mail tomorrow but wanted to bring it to your attention before another day elapsed. I have attached images illustrating the marsh as it appears pursuant to the installation of the new culvert as well as images as it has appeared throughout my lifetime and perhaps millennia. In light of the urgency and broader public relations and commercial implications I have included Messrs. Parsons, Chastek and Rottman. Thank you for your immediate attention and consideration. 

Very truly yours,

Geoff Baker 


CC: Larry R. Parsons, Chief Executive Officer
        Jonathan Chastek, President

BEFORE  W&LE DESTRUCTION                                                        Pastel Spring










AFTER                                                                                                              “The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.” John Keats











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“Bird on a Wire”

Posted on Sep, Wed, 2021 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point

Bird on a Wire

Would that we all had a vantage point to ponder the present, peer deeply into the past and wish so earnestly for the future.

Straddling the 45th parallel, “Bird on a Wire” was taken at the intersection of E. Lincoln and County Rt. 641 in southern Leelanau County, Michigan. This particular farm, its owner unknown to me, lies on the latitude exactly halfway between the equator and North Pole. Other than the random (mostly 19th century) farms throughout the peninsula, sand dunes, boreal forests, glacial moraines and even the occasional tamarack bog make up the landscape tracing Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline. The sand and rich loam that for millennia have sustained the balsam fir, paper birch, blue and black spruce and vast maple and beech forests eventually attracted Europeans to lumber and farm the land. These old farms contribute to the since of timelessness that pervades the peninsula, a geologic anomaly formed 200 million years ago and now the little finger of Michigan’s left hand.

The opening lines of Bruce Catton’s 1972 memoir, “Waiting for the Morning Train” lend to the ageless framework and the lens through which we see the landscape.

“First there was the ice; two miles high, hundreds of miles wide and many centuries deep. It came down from the darkness at the top of the world, and it hung down over the eaves, and our Michigan country lay along the side of the overhang.” Catton reflects on the geologic forces that created his childhood home, imprinting indelibly upon him the history, values and memories of Benzonia, the small farm town bordering Leelanau county. The gentle dunes and fertile soil that produce Leelanau’s great orchards roll undeterred into Benzie county.

The history and my belabored story of the Leelanau peninsula ultimately relate to the image of the bird on the wire, at least with respect to why I thought the photo was relevant. At the time I realized the bird must have had a remarkable view of the land. From its height on the wire Lake Michigan spreads to the horizon on its left (west); the Grand Traverse Bay to its right (east). Looking north towards the camera the village of Northport would be just visible at the tip of the peninsula. And over its shoulder dozens of farms along with the remnants of old growth forests unrolled to the south.

The natural irony of course being the most insignificant element in the image having the greatest perspective.

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Posted on Aug, Sat, 2020 in Gallery Image, Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point, Uncategorized

For sale at Still Point Gallery


My memory of Septembers in Northeast Ohio are of crystal skies, softly filtered sunlight and lengthening shadows, a month as temperate as its equinox implies. The image here, taken September 8th, 2012, as I walked the center path of Squire Valleevue Farm’s eastern meadow depicts a very different month, a portent of seasonal change. Stratocumulus clouds on the trailing edge of a cold front swept through that morning auguring an early winter. And in a moment of nature imitating art, the landscape bore resemblance to layers stacked in a Rothco painting, a study in color, horizontals and horizons.

This was the rare and restive September day with uncharacteristic temerity, an abruptness and “matter of factness” foreshadowing change, where the transition of seasons is rarely subtle. Even September with its few discordant days, skies prematurely brooding and bracing, the meadow waiting, a renascent source for life through each season. And still, most of the month a contrast, a nostalgic time when tall meadow grass makes its final surge then rests weary upon itself. Blue asters, tenacious through their last days, liatris and ironweed bending reluctantly, folding and fading, their roots and rhizomes anchoring the meadow through time.

I’ve often thought September in Cleveland to be a mix of memories and wistful, melancholic longings for another place or for past friends and family. The barn, its weathered sides and growing clefts reminding us of changes ahead; each season – life’s measure and mystery.

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“Toward Heaven Still”

Posted on Jan, Wed, 2020 in Black & White, Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point

“Toward Heaven Still”

In a couple of his poems (“After Apple Picking and “Birches”), Robert Frost summoned both imagery and metaphor through the phrase, “toward heaven” and “toward heaven still.” I’ve often thought this towering pin oak, anchored in less than three feet of water at the north end of Schweitzer marsh, was “pointed toward heaven still”; ascending from its base, reaching into the firmament.

Exploring the marsh, beech groves and hawthorn gauntlets as young boys of ten or eleven, my friends and I could always spot this tree above the others and orient ourselves. The pin oaks pictured here were already dead and ghostly by the mid 50’s, almost seventy years ago, yet the grove “still” stands.  More than I can say for myself at times.




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