A guidebook in 10 months? The end is in sight

After 30-plus years as a professional writer/photographer, I have a handle on what I’m capable of on deadline. And I have to confess, when I was approached by IU Press about a Northern Indiana guidebook last Labor Day, I never envisioned writing another 400-pager in less than a year. I wouldn’t have dared predict that two-thirds of it would be photographed and written in second draft in 10 months.

I guess I didn’t appreciate the impact that accrued efficiencies would have when writing a second book from the same template. I hit both of those milestones this past week – a 74,000-word first draft on 127 natural areas north of I-70, 78 of them explored to one level or another and expanded upon in the text. With the Index, Species List and Glossary also done, all that’s missing is the introduction and foreword.

Done also means processing more than 1,300 images captured at 28 natural areas during our recent three-day camping trip to Northeast Indiana – and posting 27 Photo Albums on the Natural Bloomington Nature Photography page. The Little Cedar Creek Nature Preserve north of Fort Wayne is closed while efforts to combat invasive species are ongoing.

Indeed, most of the images from these natural areas – Dedicated State Nature Preserves, State Parks & Lakes, State Fish & Wildlife Areas, land trust sanctuaries, and city and county parks – that are on the Nature Photography page will be in the book.

The Northeast Indiana sites featured a lot of water – azure-blue natural lakes, emerald-green ponds, multihued reflective wetlands, a steep-walled creek canyon, and a State Natural, Scenic and Recreational River (creek, actually) – all surrounded by forest-green woodlands, rustic former nature retreats, a rainbow-tinted collection of wildflowers, spacious grasslands and a comprehensive collection of wild creatures.

But 28 sites – plus 700 miles driving – in less than a half week is moving fast. We met every goal set for the trip. And I emerged soundly atop the book project. But corners were cut.

More than once I lost my photog edge and missed shots from rookie mistakes – mostly failures to readjust camera settings.

At the Lloyd. W. Bender Memorial Forest, we gave up on our quest to reach the South Branch of the Elkhart River and left with photos of only trees, which was okay. The preserve is memorialized as a forest, after all. And we’d already stood on the Elkhart’s headwaters at the Art Hammer Wetlands.

The last two stops – the contiguous Eagle Marsh and Fox Island County Park on Fort Wayne’s southeast side – were literally shoot-and-fly events, even though together they total nearly a thousand acres and comprise one of the largest blocs of protected nature in the state. At Eagle Marsh, I focused more on the berm along its northern border that separates two natural worlds than on its status as one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the state.

This (nearly) natural phenomenon is called the St. Lawrence Continental Divide. Dating back more than 10,000 years, precipitation that falls to its north flows to the Great Lakes, to the south the Mississippi River. At Fort Wayne, however, the divide was re-engineered a few years ago and actually moved to its current location to impede the invasive Asian Carp’s journey from the river to the lakes.

The rest of the book project is mapped and planned for three more road trips. And while they will be weather-dependent – any gray sky makes the task more challenging – the pace will remain brisk but not frantic.

The end – the Northwest Indiana prairies, after the North-central lakes and Northwest moraines and dunes – is indeed in sight.

And well ahead of schedule.


Photographs: Top, Marsh Lake; Center, Charles McClue Nature Preserve; Bottom, Ropchan Memorial Nature Preserve.


 

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