Full Circle

I chose Full Circle as the name for the first Natural Bloomington tour I mapped out for the most pedestrian of reasons. When I finished plotting the route on Google Maps, it formed a circle around the city. But the more I have thought about it, the term is steeped in multiple layers of meaning.

Life, of course, is a circle, composed of smaller circles that continuously open and close and intersect throughout our times on earth. Sometimes their beginnings and ends are as obvious as the peeling skin on a shagbark hickory. And having just added cancer-survivor to my list of handles, I can say definitively that my return to the woods via Natural Bloomington marks a point from which I am starting a new circle.

For example:

Near the top of my list of favorite childhood memories – probably the top – are the summers I spent at my aunt Thelma's house on 18th Street in Indianapolis. In the late 1950s, 18th dead-ended at a cornfield that the Warren Central High School campus occupies today. She and my mother had grown up there, one house away from the barbed wire fence that kept us "little hooligans" out of the corn.

Across the road loomed a one-acre, wooded lot where my cousin Mike, the Hughes boys and I climbed trees, played army and otherwise crisscrossed the network of trails we blazed through what seemed like a redwood forest to first and second graders. Indeed, "the woods" was the place I first experienced independence. No parents. No adults. Just us kids and the trails and the trees.

When I moved to Bloomington in 1969 to attend IU, Dunn Woods served as a sanctuary. I lived on Third Street, and only Myers and Swain Halls obscured the view of the Dunn trees from my window. Had there not already been trails to the Book Nook on Kirkwood, where Finch's Brasserie is now, I would have blazed one. The Nook, with its knee-high piles of newspapers on the sidewalk, is up there with City Lights and Powell's on my list of favorite bookstores. Aided by two subsequent 17-year cicada invasions, walking through and by Dunn Woods during their 1970 campus occupation remains one of my most vivid memories from that phase of my life.

My circle as an independent adult began in the woods six miles south of Third on Ind. 446, where I moved in 1975 to live alone for the first time. No family. No roommates (at least not until my soon-to-be-wife Judy moved in a year later). I set up my first permanent darkroom there and learned about f-stops, shutter speeds and focal lengths. I spent three years photographing the forest whose edge began 30 feet from my kitchen window and descended three-quarters of a mile to Lake Monroe.

After the Blizzard of '78 rendered the 446 shack uninhabitable, Judy and I moved to Upper Birdie Galyan Road, a serpentine, gravel path off Mount Gilead Road that dead-ends in the woods. Friends owned 80 acres of woodlands next door, where my Nikon and I spent another three years exploring before moving back to the city in 1981, when I entered the IU School of Journalism as a graduate student. My final masters project was titled Clearcutting the Hoosier National Forest: Professional Forestry or Panacea?

That project formed the basis of my first long-form story package at the Herald-Telephone, which became my signature style of journalism. The lead story on the first Bloomington Alternative print edition I published in 2005 also focused on the Hoosier.

So, to be back in the woods with a Nikon around my neck feels like déjà vu all over again.

One last example:

Earth Day 1970 piqued my interest in the environment and has inspired my photography since the early days. But my active involvement began in 1981, when I attended a meeting of the Uplands Group Sierra Club at the Monroe County Public Library. It was led by a guy named Jeff Stant, who was advocating for a federally designated wilderness area in the Hoosier.

I briefly served as editor for the Uplands Group newsletter.

Jeff went on to become the first executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, whose campaigns I have reported on since the 1985 Hoosier clearcutting plan, first at the Herald-Telephone (later Times) and then at the Bloomington Independent and Bloomington Alternative.

Jeff is the new executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance. On June 13, we took a short hike in the Morgan-Monroe Backcountry Area.

The circle begins anew.

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