That One Place.

Ozone Falls.

Ozone Falls.

Within a few hours of being diagnosed with cancer, while I was still in the emergency room, I told my wife, “I want to go back to Ozone.” Ozone is a small town in eastern Tennessee that has some quarries and Ozone Falls, a state park around a picturesque waterfall formed by Fall Creek, and slightly northeast of Fall Creek Falls, another waterfall and state park that, in my humble opinion, isn’t as nice. I’d been to Niagara Falls, which was big and noisy and exciting, but Ozone Falls, formed by a creek, is smaller, quieter, and easier to understand. When I first saw it I was spellbound because this is what a waterfall should be. And unlike Niagara Falls which you can see from a distance Ozone Falls has to be approached from a distance that makes it come into view slowly. And then it’s a difficult climb down into the basin where, if you want, you can stand under the waterfall itself. Try that with Niagara.

 

 

 

Ozone Falls. Basin view.

Ozone Falls. Basin view.

Just up the road from Ozone Falls is Camp Ozone. It was a Presbyterian Church camp when I first went there at the age of eleven and went back over several successive summers. I’d heard people talk about Camp Ozone and seen older kids wearing t-shirts with the logo of a cross on a hill with the moon rising behind it, but experiencing the camp for myself was, well, special. It’s a very frustrating thing to try and talk about because I can’t really put it into words, and I’m not sure why I keep trying to talk about it. I think I could describe staying in the cabins, tromping through the woods, finding oddly colored mushrooms. I could describe the bath house where the light stayed on all night so in the morning we’d find the biggest most gorgeous moths clustered on the walls, moths whose names we learned, whose names were almost as weird and beautiful as the moths themselves: luna, io, cecropia, imperial, sphinx. I could talk about swimming in the lake. Ozone Lake is manmade and, I learned recently, was dug in the sixties by some people who didn’t know what they were doing. They just took it as a summer job. Its manmade nature explains why it’s no more than twelve feet deep at any point. You can even take a canoe out into the very middle and look down and if the light is right see the bottom, or even touch it. Radial water plants that look like green anemones grow there. It was my first experience swimming in a lake, which was very different from being in a pool or even the ocean. It was cold and murky but I still loved it. I could float or let my feet slip along flat rocks or over to silky mud. My toes would even sometimes touch those prickly water plants which kind of freaked me out.

Lake Ozone. The boat dock on the right is new to me but the rest is just as I remember.

Lake Ozone. The boat dock on the right is new to me but the rest is just as I remember.

I could even talk about the friends I made there in just a week and then never met again, or how the last night of every camp session we had a talent show. One year I did a stand-up comedy act and no one, not even the minister who was head of the camp, blinked an eye at some of the off-color Buddy Hackett jokes I told, although the laughter might have been a little bit forced.

For various reasons, mostly having to do with church politics, Camp Ozone closed when I was sixteen. From my very first year there—almost from the very first day—I’d hoped to one day come back as a counselor. That wouldn’t happen. My family and their friends would also take weekend trips to Camp Ozone for Memorial Day or at other times of the year. When we went to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville we stayed in Camp Ozone, a little over an hour away. These trips gave me and my friends a lot of chances to explore the place without the normal camp schedule. There was also time for me to go off alone, to get to know the wilderness by myself. When the camp was officially shut down these informal visits also ended.

In a way I kept going back to Ozone, though. As a teenager I was taught guided meditation by some older friends and Camp Ozone was always where I went. I could, and still can, mentally walk all the way around the lake or stand in the waterfall basin. It was the place I always went to because it’s a place where nothing bad can happen to me. Maybe that’s why I was never afraid of going back, and while it took more than a year from that moment I told my wife it’s what I wanted she still managed to make it happen. I was prepared for it to have changed but the Ozone in my mind is a place I’ve been to so many times nothing can change it. And going there I was surprised by how little had changed. It’s now run by Children’s Bible Ministries and I was shown around by the current director. Most of the original buildings I remembered were still there, even if they’ve been repaired and renovated. He seemed to find it funny when I pointed to a large propane tank covered with green moss and said, “I remember when that was white.” He took me past where the hogans had been. The younger kids stayed in the cabins but when we got older we moved to the hogans which were canvas covered frames, open at either end, with wooden floors where mice lived. He showed me the top of the hill where I’d spent the night under the stars and then left me to walk back down by myself. What had changed didn’t matter. What was still the same made me happier than I can say.

And that’s the problem. None of this may have any meaning for any of you reading this, especially if you’ve never been to Ozone, because there are some things words just can’t convey. There is, however, something I think that can be shared. When I was in the hospital I was facing an uncertain and frightening future and while remembering a place that made me happy helped what mattered even more was the goal of going back. It’s not enough to say I didn’t want to die. I had something to live for.

So what’s your Ozone?

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19 Comments

  1. Gilly Maddison

    That’s a very evocative story on many levels and I enjoyed connecting with the images and sounds it conjured up in my head. My Ozone is a small seaside hamlet near my home. It is called Felixstowe Ferry, the ferry goes over to Bawdsey Manor, famous for being where radar was developed. The Felixstowe side is a mix of everything I love. I enjoyed your post and hope you are well.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Felixstowe Ferry sounds like a wonderful place. Is there also an airfield near there? If I remember correctly Arthur C. Clarke was stationed there when he was in the RAF and, prior to the development of radar, he and his fellow soldiers were tasked with finding ways to clear the fog off the runways for incoming planes. Radar meant they didn’t have to do that.

      Reply
  2. Library Heather

    I know it’s supposed to be “that one place” but I have several Ozones, depending on what I need at the time. The entire state of Vermont makes me happy. When my husband was still my boyfriend we took our first weekend mini-break together to Vermont. We spent our honeymoon there, and have managed to return for at least a long weekend almost every year. For the past 5 years, I’ve also attended a reading retreat with friends in Manchester, VT, where my favorite bookstore (Northshire Books) and favorite B&B (The Inn at Manchester) are located.
    Other restorative and happy places for me are Ithaca, NY (where there are some amazing waterfalls) and Cape Cod, MA (where I’ve achieved the most stress-free state of relaxation ever in my life while floating in the ocean on the bay side.)

    My real place to live for, though, is a place I’ve never been: England. I’ve wanted to go there all my life. It’s item #1 on my bucket list. If, God forbid, I’m ever diagnosed with cancer, my first order of business will be to go on vacation to England for 2 weeks. In the absence of a terminal illness, I’m hoping to finally make the trip once I finish grad school.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I should have clarified that it doesn’t have to be just one place–and it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a place at all. I gave myself several small things to do once I’d finished chemo because I wanted to have things to look forward to. A return to Ozone just happened to be the biggest, and the first thing I thought of when I was diagnosed.
      All your favorite places sound amazing and, having spent a semester of school in England, I can assure you you’ll love it there. Two weeks might not be enough but then there are things I wish I’d done that I might have gotten to if I hadn’t had so much time.
      And I still have unfinished business there. I made two unsuccessful attempts to visit the home of Dylan Thomas. Third time’s a charm I hope.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    This blog is one of my Ozones, Chris. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope I’ve been able to convey how much that comment means to me but it may be beyond words.

      Reply
  4. kdcol

    This is really nice. I was able to escape away from my desk for a few minutes (but don’t tell my boss). I don’t know if I have any Ozones. Perhaps mine are more simple acts. The one thing that popped into my head was sitting on the truck’s tailgate with my honey on nice evenings (with no mosquitoes). I’ll have to think some more about it. What is my Ozone(s)…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I should have said that your Ozone is whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be a specific place. Or even a place. The trip itself was something I looked forward to even if everything had changed. And I was expecting everything to have changed since I’d been gone almost thirty years.

      Reply
  5. Sandra

    I’m so glad you had Ozone. A small piece of heaven.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It was and still is. I hope you’ve found your own too.

      Reply
  6. James

    I was really touched by this. Thank you for sharing it. The Ozone in my life is a small campsite called Allyn Springs in Oregon. It sits by the Metolius River and I spent most of the summer of 1994 right next to it while teaching 8-16 year olds the finer points of backpacking and camping. Me with younger people in nature. My ideal calling and my spiritual home. I also go there in my mind in times of strife and it is where I want my ashes dumped.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That must have been an amazing summer. I’ve only seen pictures of the Pacific Northwest but it looks so beautiful I know I’ve got to get out there someday. It’s completely understandable you’d want that as a final resting place.

      Reply
  7. Alana

    My Ozone is Ozone! You should post th his on the Ozone Facebook page….hugs, Alana

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And you’d be surprised how little has changed, although the hilltop where the cross used to stand is now all overgrown.
      Thanks for dropping by.

      Reply
  8. LeAnne

    Love this post, Chris! Your Ozone is my Ozone. It also had a profound effect on me. I remember a skit you did about big black bugs. Love, LeAnne

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Oh, the big black bugs in Casey’s underwear. I remember that because you and another counselor made up awards that you gave to everybody on the final night. I got The Scientist Award and of course Casey got the Big Black Bugs award. It’s hard to believe it was only a week.
      Thank you for dropping by.

      Reply
  9. Tripping

    My Ozone is singing. It has saved my life a thousand times.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That is fantastic. Music is beneficial in so many ways.

      Reply
  10. robert waldrop

    I too remember Ozone. It was my final summer before going off to boot camp and I think it was only 2 years later the camp closed. I remember swimming at night by myself (perks of being the lifeguard) and creeking to the falls. Thanks for evoking memories of a place I still remember fondly.

    Reply

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