The unassuming White River; Hoosier National Haskins Tract, Pioneer Mothers

I’ll admit that, when Indianapolis filmmaker Katelyn Calhoun asked for an interview about the White River, I kind of shrugged. Image-wise, the White pales before the Wabash, in both officialdom and the imagination. Indeed, the White is considered a tributary of the official state river to the north. No songs that I know of have been written about the the White's slippery banks.

On first blush, it didn’t seem Indiana’s second-longest river had factored much into my Natural Bloomington work these past five years. I told Katelyn I’d be glad to talk but wasn’t sure I’d have much to offer. Then I prepped for the interview and reassessed my perception.
Meanwhile, the week just passed also included a morning trip to the 125-acre Haskins Tract in the Hoosier National Forest, celebrated by the U.S. Forest Service as a wildflower haven, with a stop at the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest.

The not-so-mighty White River – or??

The White River is indeed the Wabash’s kid brother when it comes to perennially flowing Indiana waterways. But in fact, a case can almost be made that it is the state’s premier river.
The White's total river miles rival those of the Wabash – 494 to 503 – although only 50 of the White’s miles flow as one stream. It takes two White forks – West and East – to drain the central third of the state. But when the two finally meet at Mount Carmel, Ill., the White and Wabash are roughly equal in width.
Furthermore, the White’s forks rise within a few miles of each other in Randolph County near the Ohio border, but the East’s waters flow over three separate rivers – the Big Blue and the Driftwood, which the former feeds, and the Flatrock. The East Fork officially begins when the latter two converge at Columbus. Historic arguments, which succumbed to regional pride, have been made that the East Fork actually begins at the Big Blue’s rise, which would add another 50 miles to the White’s flow -- making it 10 percent longer than the Wabash.
While the Wabash Valley’s western canyons – think Black Rock Nature PreserveTurkey Run and Shades State Parks – are infinitely more dramatic than anything on the White, much of its 500-mile journey from Fort Recovery, Ohio, to the Ohio River bisects broad flatlands of glacial till. The White drains a more diverse landscape: the West Fork traverses terrain similar to the Wabash; the East Fork cuts across South-central Indiana’s rugged, unglaciated uplands.
These and other topics – the White’s assuming role in the Natural Bloomington body of work, for instance – will be discussed next Friday, when Katelyn and her producer come to Bloomington for an on-camera repeat of our phone chat. She’s working on a grant from Indiana Humanities.

Deep in the wildflower weeds at Haskins Tract

The trip to the Haskins Tract in northwest Perry County was driven by necessity, not choice. It’s one of three Hoosier National sites identified with late-summer wildflowers. And a trip to one of the others a couple weeks ago – Boone Creek Barrens, likewise in Perry County – produced not a single petal image.
So, with the Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest manuscript due next June, the window for late-summer Hoosier National blooms was crashing shut. So, I waded waist-deep in sun-drenched grasses, forbs, and other bug-ridden vegetation to capture the trefoils and partridge peas that spotted the former ag field purple and yellow.

I’m paying an itchy price for kneeling down in the thick summer growth, but the gain, I think, is worth the pain.
Haskins is a former ag field that the U.S. Forest Service has planted with vegetation that benefits pollinating species like bees, moths and other critters.

Looking up the Pioneer Mothers

The road home included a quick hike through the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, an 88-acre stand of virgin timber in the Hoosier National Forest. The weather was as good as it gets for mid-August, but the deep forest doesn't offer a wide variety of visuals. The view is mostly up, through the canopy.

Pioneer Mothers, situated a couple miles south of Paoli, is one of three tracts of old-growth forest in Indiana. It's named after a civic organization that helped spare the trees from the chainsaws when the then-Cox Woods was sold to a Louisville timber company in the 1940s. It is by far the largest stand of virgin upland timber in Southern Indiana.


Photographs: Top and Third, Haskins Tract, Hoosier National Forest; Second, White River, Muncie; Bottom: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, Hoosier National Forest.


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