The Natural Bloomington Blog


I’d already fulfilled half my mission by the time I contemplated another 250-foot Hayes Trail ascent in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness last Monday afternoon.

Evidence that spring wildflower season had arrived in the Hoosier National Forest – a smattering of emergent cutleaf toothworts not far from the trailhead – had already been digitally captured. Deep in the valley, some delicate, youthful spring beauties – in full bloom – had presented themselves, in full sun.

Aside from wildflower hunting, Monday’s mission included much-needed exercise. That, plus a too-powerful-to-be-ignored intuition that a reward awaited atop the north-facing slope’s switchback trail, led me to the afternoon’s photo find – a sturdy bloodroot, once again in full bloom, basking in direct sun, at the base of a massive Hoosier hardwood.


Well, I don’t know if the spectacular wildflower display at Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve has begun this spring. Plans to head east toward this National Natural Landmark near Richmond were nixed by this past week’s cold snap. A virus in shooting partner Gary Morrison’s household likewise axed Plan B for a day at the Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area, but that’s another story.

That convergence of uncontrollable events essentially kept me on the keyboard this spring teaching break researching and writing up places like Shrader-Weaver, as well as identifying the 250 plant species I’ve listed so far – the unsexy part of guidebook writing. Goals were reached this break, suffice it to say on that.

Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve is a place I’ve never been but is anything but mundane. The National Park Service says 29 of its upland acres merit natural landmark status for their “outstanding pre-settlement beech-maple forest” with “unusually large trees, such as a 56-inch diameter burr oak and a 34-inch diameter black maple.”


When the wind wasn’t blowing across the Otter Creek Riparian Restoration last Friday, it felt like spring. No wildflowers on this remote part of the Hoosier National Forest in Crawford County yet – I only noticed one dull splotch of dusty purple on the trail, not photogenic enough to justify stopping.

And when the northerly winds gusted, as they often did, I was reminded why there’s still no color. It was a zip-unzip, gloves-on-gloves-off kind of morning. But blue sky and water, whether at Otter Creek or our other stop at Spring Mill State Park two counties north in Lawrence, seldom disappoints, regardless of season.

Besides, we only knew about Otter Creek because an armed-and-friendly Crawford Countian told landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I about it during an encounter at an iron bridge over the Little Blue River last summer. A quick search produced nothing useful about it online. I’ve been champing to get there.

And Friday was the first day of my spring teaching break.


The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this past week’s indoor nature video adventure. I finished planning the intimate Sycamore Landscapes slideshow for our Earth Day event at The Venue Fine Art & Gifts just as we began the multimedia phase of my online journalism class in the Media School.

So, rather than temporarily shelving the nature work while reacquainting myself with audio and video editing for class projects, per usual, I’ve been applying the programs to a 10-minute slideshow for our April 22 discussion and book signing. I quote the Roman Emperor Cicero to students: “It is doubtful whether man ever brings his faculties to bear with their full force on a subject until he writes upon it.” Teaches it seems, could be substituted for writes.

I have posted to the Natural Bloomington YouTube channel a three-minute “Intimate Sycamore Landscapes” preview, which, admittedly, will evolve dramatically. Indeed, this is the first incarnation of a work-in-progress – whose deadline is eight weeks away. Time to tinker and grow.


Eye-popping nature photography wasn’t high on my list of gets during a re-exploration of Trevlac Bluffs Nature Preserve on Saturday with my granddaughter Raina. While color is at a premium in late winter, these Brown County bluffs do support some eastern hemlocks that add swatches of evergreen to the otherwise drab color spectrum. But the sun just wasn’t in a mood to show.

I had other priorities anyway, foremost among them some mid-winter exercise. I also needed some orientation, as the two times I’d been there I’d come away rather befuddled. In late July 2014, the Bottomland Trail literally disappeared in undergrowth; I could see the path but not the ground. That fall, I ended up photographing a scenic pond near the Yellowwood Trail, which turned out to be on private property.

But that’s not to say I left the old D600 at home on Saturday. I needed some more Trevlac images for the slideshow I’m preparing for my Earth Day book signing at The Venue. And, as I tell my students, you only need enough light to illuminate the scene in the digital age. As I think the images in this Photo Album show, PhotoShop magic can help.


January was only the third month in four years during which I failed to take a single nature photograph (aside from some backyard wildlife). Mostly that was due to the weather, though it’s too early for the long-distance journeys that the Northern Indiana guidebook will require. [I do have a half dozen, three-to-five-day camping trips planned -- to the tenth of a mile.]

That slothful winter break came to an end on Saturday when a perfect storm of elements – time, weather, new project – inspired an afternoon of exploring the Scarlet Oak Woods in eastern Monroe County. I’ve only been to this Sycamore Land Trust property once, in mid-summer, and we only walked a short distance along the ridge top, just far enough to grab an image for my Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana.

The new-project element of Saturday’s hike involves Sycamore, an Indiana Nature Photography Wildflower Workshop and an Earth Day book signing event at The Venue Fine Art & Gifts with Mike Leonard and James Alexander Thom. While organizing photos of the Sycamore properties for a slide show and prints I will present and sell that night, I realized I could be scaling a wooded hillside shooting photos instead of sitting on my butt and dragging archive images from hard drive to computer.


I am once again relying on the Indiana Geological Survey (IGS) for perspective in my Northern Indiana guidebook, reusing a quote in the Southern Indiana version: “No other event since the extinction of the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago can compare to the Ice Age in terms of the profound effect it had on our landscape and the natural environment in which we live today.”

That quote assumed more relevance this week as I began mapping the year’s guidebook travels. Exploring what scant little there is left of the Northern Indiana landscape encountered by French voyagers in 1670s is indeed experiencing the remnant effects of the “rivers of ice,” to cite the IGS again, which have repeatedly advanced and retreated over the Northern Indiana landscape the past 700,000 years.

When I photograph the Cedar Creek in the Dustin Nature Preserve in Huntertown, for example, that Natural, Scenic, and Recreational River's water will be following a course that was set some 13,000 years ago, when the last retreating Wisconsin Glacial ice sheets left behind a ridge of glacial debris known as the Fort Wayne Moraine.


Well, I hit my winter break writing goal on Friday, essentially clearing my Natural Bloomington time from now on for nature photo travel. I completed the Northern Indiana guidebook chapter on the landscape titled “Rock, Ice and Water,” essentially a thumbnail history of how those natural phenomena shaped today’s Hoosier landscape north if I-70 over the last half billion years.

The landscape section on this book is longer than the one I wrote on Southern Indiana because the landscape is just as diverse and simply has human history that is integral to the tales of half-billion-year-old bedrock, glacial deposition and canyon-carving erosion. Wetlands that took millions of years to cover most of the northern third of the state vanished within a half century of the Battles of Fallen Timbers and Tippecanoe in 1794 and 1811.

How could I not tell the story of the Indiana landscape without mentioning the Potawatomi Trail of Death? I could wax on here for 10,000 words. Suffice it to say I haven’t gotten to the woods in 2017, yet. But I have had my lens focused on some wildlife.


As a journalist, my natural rhythm is to lay back at the end of the year and review the year just past. And, of course, the biggest developments in 2016 were essentially completing my equipment upgrade and signing two book contracts that will keep me committed to the woods for two more years, at least.

However, in my eyes, 2016 was the year I finally got down on and refined my video and audio editing skills. I've dabbled with them a bit here and there, and my students and I spend a month each semester producing short video projects. But for a number of reasons -- i.e. the hands-on is pretty tedious -- I've never really applied myself.

I doubt video will become a staple, but this year I produced three videos on the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel -- a trail doc, a six-minute natural history slide show and, on New Years Eve, The Natural Bloomington Year in Nature Photography 2016. The natural history show was the early stage of a 20-minute show I presented at the Wylie House Museum on Oct. 20.


While planning the next two years traveling the state shooting nature photos, writing books, and leading nature photo workshops, I’ve been channeling my old mentor and friend-in-the-'70s Bill Thomas, which was inevitable. What I am doing today is exactly what he was doing when we met in 1978, except he was traveling the world. And he told me I could too.

At 27, I was eager but not sure that photography was my calling, despite encouragement from the manager at Hazel’s Camera Center and a local art critic who, during my first exhibit in the MCPL Fine Arts Lounge, stopped me in the middle of Kirkwood Avenue and told me he was “stunned by every image.” [In 1978, you could discuss art in the middle of Kirkwood.]

Bill was an accomplished writer and photographer who, two years after he had been awarded the 1976 National Geographic Award for Photography, was launching a new career phase. He walked into Hazel’s, where I sold cameras, with a stack of fliers about a freelance nature photography workshop he was holding at his wooded home east of Nashville. I was the first to sign up.


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