As I drove the hilly curves outside Lancaster, I could feel her anticipation rising. I was visiting Jess for the weekend after a long work week. She'd come up with the perfect Saturday activity -- a visit to the Rock Mill Brewery tasting room where we could share good brew, beautiful scenery and a gorgeous autumn day.
The tasting room rests on an old horse farm, a rolling property that favors the rustic side of pristine.
We explored the grounds before sampling our first flight of Belgian style beers. A few hundred yards of steep lawn separates the tasting room from a small chapel at the edge of the woods. With enough room in the pews to seat a familial twenty, the chapel carried a pastoral charm just perfect for the rural Ohio countryside.
Leaves from the woods littered the chapel floor, informal companions to the dried wildflowers tied with twine to the pews.
Although we shuffled through more leaves underfoot than remained on the trees, the afternoon sun brought the green and gold stalwarts into focus.
Several old soldiers of the woods still stand at Rock Mill, ghostly homes to fungus, moss and vines.
The headwaters of the Hocking River wind through Rock Mill, inconspicuously carving through beautiful limestone formations. As someone used to the glaciated flatlands of Illinois, I walked through the shallow canyons with a boyish eagerness. Around each corner lay a new subject for my wonder -- and my camera.
After sampling six of Rock Mill's beers (the Cask Aged Saison Noir was our favorite), we walked to the top of the bluff outside the tasting house. A mix of landscape plants, wildflowers and raspberry canes decorated an area around the firepit that appeared natural in its lack of intent.
The fading light motivated us to end our meandering, but meaningful conversation atop the bluff and make one last walk down to the pond and stream. We took in the calm reflection of the pond, a glassy surface broken only by hundreds of sailing leaves. Jess noted that the taller the leaf, the faster it cut the surface of the pond.
At the other end of the pond, the stream took on an evening glow. My movement slowly shifted the reflection of the surrounding woods in the stream.
The walk and fresh air wore off the slight Belgian buzz we both were feeling. But the memory of this day at Rock Mill would last. We breathed in the last of the evening's air, imprinting more than our minds with the spirit of the place.
It was the kind of day you bottle and carry with you -- for those days when you need a swig of the good life.