The Natural Bloomington Blog

Feb
17

Our search for prehistoric life in the Hoosier National Forest began serendipitously on a sunny Feb. 12 morning in the U.S. Forest Service office in Bedford, where we inquired about archaeological sites near the Ohio River. The last stop there led to a wall-sized map of the Hoosier and a staffer providing detailed directions to that day’s destination—a wintry drive along King’s Ridge in southwest Lawrence County.

The Natural Bloomington to-do list has long included a formal sit down with Forest Service staff to discuss Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest book project. Among the topics would be a strategy for sensitive issues, such as at-risk plant and animal species and cultural sites. The to-meet list included Hoosier Archaeologist Angie Doyle.

Which is where serendipity made its appearance. As a staffer explained the Forest Service does not discuss archaeological sites, Angie walked by on the way to her car and a conference. We had a brief chat and agreed to meet soon.

Feb
10

Evidence of prehistoric plant and animal life in Southern Indiana dates back some 350 million years. During what geologists call the Devonian Period, the hunk of earth crust that today supports the Hoosier National Forest formed the floor beneath a vast, shallow, equatorial sea that teamed with plant and animal life.

Through the ages, as those aquatic creatures died and fell to the sea floor, their remains compressed, fossilized, and cemented into the bedrock that underlies the region today. More than six hundred fossil species and two hundred and fifty coral species from the Devonian have been identified at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, which lies some forty miles east of the Hoosier.

Life forms identified at this Ohio River site directly across from Louisville, one of the world’s largest Devonian fossil bed exposures, include sponges, brachiopods, mollusks, echinoderms, and fish. Two-thirds were described at the Falls for the first time.

Jan
27

A half billion years ago, the chunk of earth crust that now underlies the 202,000-acre Hoosier National Forest basked in the equatorial sun. During the Paleozoic Era, geologists say, the tectonic plate on which Southern Indiana rests—called the North American Plate—lolled about five hundred miles south of the equator, roughly where the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil, lies today.

Like the planet’s other twelve plates, the North American has since merged, diverged, and drifted for five hundred million years through a geologic process known as plate tectonics, momentarily settling some thirty-five-hundred miles to the north.

During the Paleozoic Era, which geologists say lasted from 570 million to 266 million years ago, the Hoosier’s rugged hill country occupied the floor of a shallow tropical sea that incessantly ebbed and flowed and changed depths. As time passed, sedimentary materials—which included skeletons, shells, bones, and other plant and animal remains—settled to the ocean floor and compressed and cemented into the bedrock that underlies Southern Indiana today.

Jan
20

The first three weeks of 2018 – especially the three days spent with zoom lenses and hand warmers in the Hoosier National Forest – have been tantamount to a homecoming, an icy outdoor celebration of sorts.

Since IU Press now has all the permissions needed to publish A Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana, the guidebook is out of hand. Included were much-appreciated consents from ACRES Land Trust Executive Director Jason Kissel to publish the foreword he penned and from photographer friend Jaime Sweany to use her author photo on the jacket again.

Since New Year’s Day, the Natural Bloomington compass has reassumed its homier, southerly inclination, marked by subfreezing photo explorations of the Hoosier’s Elkinsville/Middle Fork Salt Creek area in southern Brown County, the Charles C. Deam Wilderness and McPike Pond areas in northeast Lawrence County and the Kings Ridge area in southwest Lawrence.

Jan
06

All that remains of Elkinsville is a pioneer cemetery and a roadside monument memorializing 18 families that lost their homes to Monroe Lake. Named after its inaugural resident William Elkins, who arrived about the time Indiana achieved statehood in 1816, their Southern Brown County community was submerged when the lake was created between 1962 and 1964.

Today, Elkinsville Road dead ends at Combs Road, which dead ends on a rusty iron bridge over the Middle Fork Salt Creek about 4.5 miles past Story at the foot of Browning Hill, one of the 928-foot peak’s multiple monikers. The roadside monument says of the town: “Bathed in the shadow of Browning Mountain, a wonder in itself.”

On the second day of 2018, the Elkinsville area smacked of the Antarctic, with white-tail deer and frigid photographers blithely tracking on the Middle Fork. Smooth and snow-covered, with stark, blue-black arboreal shadows, the creek could have been mistaken for a backwoods road disappearing into its Hoosier National Forest neighbor to the south.

Jan
01

It seems almost providential that work on the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana came to an end on New Year’s Eve 2017. That was the unofficial target deadline from Day 1, even if overly optimistic expectations did predominate until mid-December. Proofing an 85,000-word collection of details is not only demanding, it’s the project phase during which shit happens or, in this case, is discovered. Patience, not artificial deadlines, drives the process.

But barring a suggestion that the 125 natural areas and 145 images be pared down some – strong arguments both ways – the Northern Indiana manuscript is ready for submission to IU Press on Jan. 2, two days ahead of deadline. Now, the Natural Bloomington energy refocuses full-time in 2018 on the Hoosier National Forest.

And what an energy pulse it will be. It’s not hyperbolic in the least to say Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest is the fulfillment of a 40-year dream. As noted this time last year in a blog post about my old friend and National Geographic photographer Bill Thomas, the vision of a coffee table nature book appeared in 1978. Three of his grace the bookshelves.

Dec
03

It’s been two decades since my last hike up the Browning Hill in SoBro – Southern Brown County to non-natives. So, a trek to the top of the state’s 53rd highest point was long past due when I set the GPS on Saturday for what Google Maps calls “Browning Mountain: Indiana’s Stonehenge.”

And while the timing and conditions were near-perfect this time, they couldn’t have been more dissimilar from the last. The 1996 excursion to this Hoosier National Forest ridge top occurred in early spring. The creative medium was black-and-white film. And, let’s just say, love permeated the atmosphere alongside the peak’s spectacular and mysterious nature. The photographic mission then was more memorial than artistic.

This late-fall trip was all mission, marking a return to work on an upcoming coffee-table book called Rewilding Southern Indiana: The Hoosier National Forest. Not to mention a likewise overdue return to the trail. It’s been 2 1/2 months since an actual photo hike appeared in prose or picture on the Natural Bloomington website. The only love this time involved the work.

Nov
11

The biannual sandhill crane migrations through Indiana attract a variety of superlative descriptors from those who pay attention.

Majestic and surreal are how The IndyChannel described flocks of these long-legged, knock-kneed waterbirds at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area in October – “like a scene from a from a wildlife documentary.” Prehistoric appears three times in a piece on the 2011 spring transplantation in the Times of Northwest Indiana.

The DNR’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, which is charged with managing Jasper-Pulaski reserve’s 8,142 acres, says the fall and spring sandhill passages are among “Indiana’s greatest wildlife spectacles.” The National Audubon Society says: “Virtually the entire eastern population of this subspecies stages at this site during fall migration.”

Oct
28

The normal midterm teaching glut combined with a variety of personal and professional issues to force a six-week respite from nature work here at Natural Bloomington. While much-needed, it’s a hiatus that will at last come to an end next week. At a minimum, I will hike Browning Mountain in the Hoosier National Forest.

Weather permitting, however, I’ll photographically engage a few thousand sandhill cranes at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. Upwards of 10,000 of these magnificently winged creatures, a State Species of Special Concern, stopover at Northwest Indiana natural area’s marshlands on their winter migrations south from Central Wisconsin. The latest count puts their J-P numbers at roughly 5,600, with a peak expected in late November.

I have Monday phone call scheduled with folks at the IDNR’s Division of Fish & Wildlife for permission to gain closer access than the public viewing tower, which still offers superb views. If the current weather forecast doesn’t hold – what are the odds? – I will plan for Thanksgiving week.

Sep
16

If the past couple of weeks are any indication, the Natural Bloomington compass has resumed its natural southern pull. Three new photo albums posted in the past couple weeks document two hikes through Hoosier National Forest’s backcountry and brushes with Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and prehistoric Native Americans who lived in the woods 700 or so years ago.

On Sept. 16, I led an intrepid group of wilderness champions on our third annual Sierra Club hike with Hoosier Supervisor Mike Chaveas. This year’s trek took us a couple miles into Nebo Ridge, one of the Hoosier’s most rugged and remote areas in southeast Brown County, and the same two miles back out.

Eight days earlier, I bushwhacked through the Charles C. Deam Wilderness with an ad hoc cadre of rock lovers along the Mt. Carmel Fault just south of Monroe Lake. The next day, en route to a high school marching band competition in Salem, we took a short stroll along the Lick Creek in the Hoosier, past the remains of a walled, 14th century Indian village.

Pages

Subscribe to The Natural Bloomington Blog

Follow Us

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Flickr icon
Pinterest icon
RSS icon

Copyright 2013. Site created by Ansette, LLC.   Back to Top

Back to Top