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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

A Tale Of Two City Walks: Walking To A Vista

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Susan Byrnes / WYSO

Artist and Culture Couch producer Susan Byrnes works out of a studio in an old garage behind her house in Cincinnati. During the pandemic lockdown, her studio started feeling a little claustrophobic, so she began taking walks to find new sources of inspiration. Today, Susan shares some of what she found along the way.

My neighborhood of Clifton, on the edge of the University of Cincinnati, has been practically my whole world since the pandemic started. With the news stories so full of anger and fear, I felt pretty isolated and anxious. So I started walking, for exercise, entertainment, and therapy. I’ve taken daily walks close by, but after a while felt the need for a bigger vista, so I started walking a little further, toward the hills that overlook Interstate 75. One day, I came across a bunch of guys playing a ball game with a wooden bat that was flat and looked more like a paddle.

“This is the game called Cricket. So this is the second most popular game in the world, after soccer. This game is played in Asia and Europe, so it’s not that popular in America though.”

Vijay Gatpa and his friends grew up playing cricket. Here in the US, where they’re students, they transformed an empty parking into their own cricket field which is called “the ground”.

“We made our own rules, because we don’t have any ground or something here, nearby, but usually there will be like the ground will be in the circle shape, and they start playing in the middle.”

This game is centuries old – it dates back to around 1550 in England, and it was actually a national pastime here in the US until the mid 1800’s. It eventually got overshadowed by the establishment of professional baseball, whose very first team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings. But that doesn’t matter to Vijay and his friends, they’re pretty obsessed with cricket.

“Usually we play every day," he says. "We plan to but sometimes the college is getting started and people are getting busy, so we play like twice or three times in a week.”

On another day I noticed a bright green hose dropped out of the second story window of an old apartment building. The hose led to some homemade bamboo garden trellises set up right next to the sidewalk. Over the next few weeks, pale, delicate vines sprouted. Before long, I caught sight of the gardener, Marshall Schrefner who confirmed that the host was coming from his apartment.

“I got a bilge pump and I put it in my bathtub and I can put a little miracle grow or whatever in there, and then I can run the bilge pump and the hose and I can fertilize like that. ‘Cause I mean the soil, the soil wasn’t the best, you know, it’s part of an apartment building, it looked pretty bad.”

Marshall’s building sits next to a boarded up storefront and across the street from a junk car lot. When I saw the beginnings of his garden, it seemed so vulnerable there, but it’s thriving.

“I’ve got acorn squash and butternut squash are doing really well," he says. "There’s about three or four different kinds of watermelon I’m growing. I’ve always done gardens since I was a kid, my mom showed me everything, how to do that. I think it helps, it definitely makes the neighborhood look homey, you know, family-like. Everybody wants a piece of it too. Everybody wants a watermelon, everybody wants some squash, so that’s kind of fun too. You know you almost get a level of respect having a big garden, because uh, I don’t know if it’s because people want your vegetables, or just because you put a bunch of work into something and made it look good.”

Just past the garden I enter the iron gates of Vine Street Hill Cemetery. There are lanes that wind up and through massive oak and maple trees to a clearing that opens to the west. I can finally take off my mask and just breathe and daydream.

It’s rare to run into any people, but I always see new decorations on the graves, – mostly balloons and plastic flowers. Once, I found a plot covered with red and yellow and peach-colored petals -real ones. I went closer I saw that they surrounded a small silver tiara. The name on the marker was Lelia, who was 82 when she died.

That was over twenty years ago. And someone is still bringing her fresh roses.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO and supported by WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Susan works as visual artist, arts writer, teaching artist, and audio producer. She lives in Cincinnati now but loves, misses, and often visits the Miami Valley. You can find her visual and audio works on her website www.susanbstudio.com.