The Natural Bloomington Blog

Apr
21

In a way, I feel a little like the Sycamore Land Trust’s distant-but-still-loving, journalistic godfather. I wasn’t in the room when Scott Russell Sanders, Tom Zeller and other Sassarfas Audubon Society activists conceived Southern Indiana’s premier land trust some 27 years ago. But I was the first person they called; I wrote the Herald-Times article in February 1991 that announced the birth to the world.

Sixteen years later, I penned a front-page story in The Bloomington Alternative about its adolescence titled “Preserving quality of place.” A decade after that, at adulthood, I profiled 16 Sycamore properties in my Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana. In between, before my first knee surgery, I served as a land steward on Sycamore’s Campbell Preserve in eastern Monroe County.

So, it seems natural that the largest public presentation I’ve made since I don’t know when – at this Wednesday’s monthly meeting of Green Drinks Bloomington – will be called “Intimate Sycamore Landscapes.” The public event runs from 5:30-7:30 at the Upland Brewery Banquet Facility in Bloomington.

Apr
15

In one sense, this Saturday’s Earth Day book signing at The Venue Fine Art & Gifts will be an authorial déjà vu. The last time I signed a book on April 22 was at Barnes & Noble in 1995, when my first book Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana was released.

Special guests this time will be my old friends and local wordsmiths extraordinaire Mike Leonard and James Alexander Thom. Twenty-one years ago, it was legendary forest activist Bob Klawitter, who was featured in the book for his efforts to protect the Hoosier National Forest and save Patoka Lake’s Tillery Hill – two historic, grassroots victories for Indiana’s environmental community.

Four days later I will be the featured speaker at the April gathering of Green Drinks Bloomington.

Leading up to these unusual public appearances, I’ve been – and will be – on my elbows, knees and butt, in the woods, with my macro lens getting intimate with early spring wildflowers. Just this past week I posted Photo Albums from the Hoosier’s Waldrip Ridge and The Cedars Preserve, a Sycamore Land Trust property deep in the southwest Monroe County backcountry.

Apr
09

Approaching the Burgoon Church Road sign last week for the several-hundred-and-fifteenth time, I vowed to follow through on the same number of historic commitments to see what lies at the end, besides the church. It’s the first road east after the 446 causeway, so I knew it led to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and Monroe Lake shoreline. But I’d never made the turn. Until last Sunday.
 
A too-brief glance at the map gave rise to the notion that the road turned into a path beneath a wooded canopy into Hayes Hollow and the Saddle Creek, which I canoed and camped on with a buddy back in the 70s. Patton Cave, with its geode-laden walls, is located on the creek. I figured the paved road that disappeared on Google Maps into a mass of forest green was an old road bed.
 
A few steps into the forest confirmed most of my preconceptions. But the afternoon’s focus immediately shifted from the re-exploration of an old stomping ground to wildflowers. Near the crest of the steepest hill I can recall traversing without switchbacks, much of the old roadway was impossible to walk on without stepping on spring beauties or cutleaf toothworts.

Mar
25

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.

Mar
18

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.”

Mar
11

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.

Feb
26

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.

Feb
18

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.

Feb
04

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.

Jan
14

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.

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