The Natural Bloomington Blog

Jun
28

Beanblossom Bottoms Nature PreserveThis past week's epic rains prompted cancellations of Thursday's pre-hike and Saturday's ecotour with members of the Heartlands Group Sierra Club. After the weather broke, I spent a couple hours Saturday afternoon on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and gave today's reschedule a thumbs up (though it's unclear if many folks will show). Aside from some predictable muck in the valley, the trails are in top shape.

With the year's first outing ready to go -- weather reports couldn't be any better -- we also nailed down details for the July 18 ecotour with the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. Rural Transit will provide the transportation. And Carol Kugler from The Herald-Times is going to meet us and write a story about the event.

Jun
21

Porter West Preserve - Monroe County, Ind.I've spent much of this summer hanging with the Sierra Club -- in person, online, and over the phone. I've attended and participated in conference calls with Hoosier Chapter executive and communications committees. In addition to the wilderness first aid training I wrote about last Sunday, this past week I edited my first edition of the Indiana Sierran, the Hoosier Chapter's biannual (for now) newsletter. And I will be spending two days in the Hoosier National Forest this coming week with folks from Indy's Heartlands Group.

Heartlands' Lori Adelson, a fellow member of the state chapter's Executive and Communications Committees, has invited me to be a "guest educator" on a hike they are organizing for next Saturday, June 27. In the morning we will take an easy, two-mile stroll along Waldrip Ridge to a late-19th-century homesite on Monroe Lake's southwest shore, where we're sure to greeted by a family of black vultures that now occupies the second floor. The three-mile afternoon hike will take place across State Road 446 on the Axsom Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. Following a near-400-foot relief from the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower to the Asxom Branch creek, this one is anything but easy.

The Club has a lot of rules, among them that each hike must have two trained leaders, and one has to walk the entire route ahead of time. So Lori and I will be hiking both legs on Thursday. I'm confident my 64-year-old legs can take it.

Jun
14

In the past 18 months, my guidebook project has assumed many forms -- idea, draft, headache, escape, excuse to travel and hike. This past week, it became real. IU Press approved my art -- 100 full color photos and hand-drawn maps -- and sent me the book cover for A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana, which I am sharing with you. I posted it on Facebook and had orders start coming in before I clarified it won't be published until June 2016.

But with the Press's blessing, I will soon be reserving books for folks who financially support my work -- that's really what Natural Bloomington is about -- and are willing to wait a few months for delivery. Sort of like Wimpy, for us old timers -- "I will gladly give you a guidebook next year for a hamburger today."

More on that soon.

Jun
07

Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area - Hoosier National ForestOkay, the guidebook is now in the capable hands of IU Press, my house is clearn(er), and my mind is free again and ready for the Real Work's next phase. After three hikes in the Hoosier National Forest's Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area in the past two weeks (Hayes Trail, Sycamore Branch Trail), one that's been percolating for a year or more materialized first. I'm calling it the Hoosier National Appreciation Project.

And while I've barely dedicated a millisecond of time to anything but the book the past month and am way behind on ecotours (I'd done three this time last year.), we're planning 2015's first. And it will be a good one. A friend is organizing it through the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. With support from the group, I'm going to take eight to 12 group members to a couple Sycamore Land Trust properties north and west of Bloomington -- Porter West, Beanblossom Bottoms and, maybe, the Powell Preserve. Hopefully someone from Sycamore will join us.

I will wear multiple hats on the Hoosier National Appreciation Project.
 

May
31

Charles C. Deam Wilderness AreaThis time tomorrow, the Guide to Natural Southern Indiana package will be out of my hands. I completed the last line-by-line read Friday, finished the final scroll through and printed the first half on Saturday, and will wrap it all up today so I can turn it over to IU Press on Monday. Along the way last week I got some much-needed encouragement from State Geologist John C. Steinmetz, who also is director of the Indiana Geological Survey. He read and provided feedback on the natural history section.

As one who regularly preaches to students that "every keystroke is a potential mistake," after reading 73,000 words twice, I was more than ready to hear about my "engaging writing style." I've made all the tweaks I had put off till the end. Still, I'm really not ready to let it go and probably never would be. But my neck and shoulders feel like galvanized steel cables. And, as my chief adviser on this project told me, it's time to let go. Time to hear what someone else thinks.

So, as always happens with circular journeys, the end here marks a beginning. Last week's Photo Album from the Charles Deam Wilderness Area produced the last image for the guidebook and the first for a new project on the Deam, a return to one of my earliest photo projects, a 1982 slide show titled "A Photographic Journey Through the Deam Wilderness."
 

May
24

Leonard Springs Nature ParkIt'd been almost a month since I packed up the Nikon gear and laced up the hiking boots, with most of the time spent hovering over the MacBook fact checking a couple thousand or more references to almost 600 plant and animal species in the Guide to Natural Southern Indiana (new name). The manuscript is ready to go to IU Press on June 1, and I was more than eager to feel the trail beneath my feet. I also needed the exercise.

I still didn't have time to spend half of Monday in the woods. So given its location and the time of year, I opted for Leonard Springs Nature Park for the first slow and steady hike I've enjoyed since beginning the guidebook project 16 month ago. While it's absolutely my kind of work, the time I've spent in the Southern Indiana wilds has indeed been work -- and a lot of it.

The falls were rushing; the wildflowers were blooming; and the wetland-green was glowing at Leonard Springs. I hiked the entire trail, from the steps to the dam to the rest rooms and posted a new Photo Album on the Natural Bloomington website.

 

May
10

Paw Paw Marsh - Hoosier National ForestWith the spring 2015 semester and the guidebook in the rear view (see below), I'm turning my attention to this season's ecotours, planning a series with Monroe County Naturalist Cathy Meyer and the working title "Ecotour with the Naturalist and the Author." The first will traverse Martin and Orange Counties, visiting some of the same territory I shared a couple weeks ago with my friends Amara and Miles. Details like dates and itineraries will be forthcoming soon, hopefully next week.

I posted a couple new photo albums from that trip, one from the Paw Paw Marsh Watchable Wildlife Site and a nearby Waterfall, both in the Hoosier National Forest in Martin County, at the height of spring wildflower season.

I have one more in the queue from the Patoka Lake Hiking Area. Once I get the garden planted, I'll be back behind the lens.

 

May
03

Bluffs of Beaver Bend Nature PreserveMaybe I read too much Jim Thom, but every time I photograph sandstone formations in the Shawnee Hills Natural Region I come away with an image or two that suggest ancient spirits are monitoring my movements. That I am shooting locations once roamed by the earliest Americans lends historic credence to the digital evidence I'm accumulating. These hills are also the wildest -- the most natural, in the purest sense of the term -- that Indiana has to offer.

The photo above from a new Bluffs of Beaver Bend Nature Preserve Photo Album, for example, isn't quite as literal as one below from the Patoka Lake Hiking Area last November, where an angular, aboriginal visage appeared in the rock as real as the honeycomb pocks in the earth-tone bluffs on Beaver Bend. Legend has it early settlers reported piles of mussel shells six feet high on the bluffs 150 feet above the mussel-rich river bend. I can see his nose and watchful eye. I also think he approves.

Either way, bringing 28 journalism students and their multimedia reporting projects across the finish line was priority No. 1 this week just passed, followed closely by final revisions to the guidebook manuscript. So I didn't have time to post any more than the Beaver Bend shots from my April 24 excursion through the Mansfield sandstone with my friends Amara and Miles. The Paw Paw Marsh Watchable Wildlife Site and Patoka Lake Hiking Area images are yet to come.
 

Apr
26

Jug Rock Nature PreserveAfter a 12-hour journey featuring magnificent sandstone formations from Shoals to Patoka Lake -- with stops at a wildlife marsh and nearby waterfall, West Baden/French Lick, and visits to friends and family in the Southern Indiana woods -- I returned home to an envelope in the box from Michael Homoya from the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves. It contained a copy of my guidebook manuscript that has been marked-up by the state's chief botanist and plant ecologist for the past 30 years, with catches that only someone on his level would catch.

Now I'm comfortable the book is ready for the world. My friend and photographer Jaime Sweany is going to shoot my jacket photo on Thursday. And then the 70,000-word-plus document will be off to IU Press for their feedback.

Friday's journey through Martin, Orange and Crawford counties was one last expedition with my traveling companion/ecotourism advisor Amara and her husband Miles, who just finished his masters in SPEA. They're off to Colorado to have a baby and then Tulsa for work. Miles has had little opportunity to join us or use his new camera during their two years in Indiana, so we packed a marathon day of eco-touring for him.
 

Apr
19

Middlefork Waterfowl Resting Area - Monroe Lake, April 12, 2015Well, we didn't quite get the manuscript to IU Press, as one of my outside expert readers hasn't quite finished the task. My sponsoring editor was out last week anyway, so hopefully it will be in her hands by this time next week. I did get Jim Thom's foreword, which I posted on the Natural Bloomington website. Click here for the piece and an elaboration on the headline.

I've also posted a Photo Album from a recent trip to the Middlefork Waterfowl Resting Area on Monroe Lake's far eastern reaches just across the Monroe-Brown County line. We crossed the sign that said the refuge was closed until April 15 and ventured in a short way anyway. I've been assured by lake Naturalist Jill Vance that this marsh area is open April 1, and the sign is wrong.

We agreed, however, that there's no harm in keeping humans out for another 15 days a year, so I'm going to leave April 15 as the open date in the book. Besides, it wouldn't reflect well on the book if eco-travelers drive seven miles into the Brown County wilds for an outdoor adventure and find themselves face to face with a "No Trespassing" sign.
 

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