We received the sad news this morning that our dear friend Ora Anderson had died earlier this week. Ora was 94 and had lived an amazingly rich and productive life. He was a newspaper reporter and publisher. He was an elected official on the state level here in Ohio. He was a founder of The Dairy Barn, southeastern Ohio's premier venue for Appalachian art. He was an accomplished woodsman, author, speaker, and carver of birds. His conservation efforts in Ohio were acknowledged by the naming of a state nature preserve in Ora's honor.
But most of all he was a gentle and lovely person.
Ora grew up on a hillside farm in Kentucky but moved to Ohio during the Great Depression, and to the Athens, Ohio area in the 1950s. During his early years in the state, as a young newspaper reporter, he wrote stories on the creation of the Wayne National Forest. In those days, most of southeastern and southern Ohio was so denuded of trees that it looked like a moonscape. In the award-winning documentary film "A Forest Returns" by Jean Andrews, Ora's memories and experiences of The Wayne's creation and the amazing recovery of the woodlands were the focal point. Imagine watching a landscape renew itself from degraded clear cut to deep, climax woods in your own lifetime. [You can see a video excerpt of Ora from the documentary by clicking on the "A Forest Returns" link above].
Over the years, Ora wrote many articles for Bird Watcher's Digest. Last winter, Jean Andrews approached BWD about compiling Ora's many essays and poems into a book. We loved the idea and proceeded to make arrangements with Ohio University Press to publish Ora's book, Out of the Woods: A Bird Watcher's Year. BWD's Managing Editor Deborah Griffith to the lead in selecting and editing the material. Julie Zickefoose donated her artwork. Jean kept all wheels moving on the project with the good folks at OU Press. It's going to be a delightful book to read and to savor.
The book will be published next spring. It's such a shame that Ora will not be here to enjoy its publication. However it will serve as a tribute to this fine man and his lifetime of living close to the Ohio landscape.
Here is one of Ora's poems which will appear in his forthcoming book.
Prayer is like the whisper of dry leaves
On the forest floor, accepting the passer by,
The dance of sun shadow,
The bird song in the towering oak.
Its answer is a sudden quickening of the heart,
A catch of breath
Exhaled like mist in the forest dawn.
The soaring hawk, riding a thermal,
Carries my plea skyward.
At my feet
The wind hurries the dry leaves homeward
Like letters borne by angels.
How ironic it is on this cool, early Autumn morning, to hear the whining chainsaws and roaring log haulers all around while our thoughts are on our dear friend, Ora. A man who loved these Ohio woods like no one else.