Chasing the Red-tail; book lovers in Dunn Meadow; a new-book seedling

An unplanned, two-week break from the keyboard – inspired by an exhausting summer, a new car, a new semester and other distractions – is not tantamount to a vacation. Just a slower pace and lower profile.

A decision to add three more natural areas to the Northern Indiana guidebook led landscape photographer Gary R. Morrison and I to Muncie on Aug. 25 to explore and shoot wetland, woods, prairie, and the White River West Fork at sites owned and/or managed by the Red-tail Land Conservancy: Hughes Nature Preserve, John M. Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve and Red-tail Nature Preserve – as well as the White River, which bisects the first two.

Also during this keyboard hiatus, I had the honor of meeting and talking to a diverse variety of book and nature lovers at IU Press’s second annual Quarry Festival of Books on the IU campus and planted the seed for a new book project with the working title A Guide to Natural Areas on the Ohio River.

On the Red-tail Land Conservancy’s trail

Based in Muncie, Red-tail Land Conservancy is a land trust that protects more than 2,600 acres of land on eight preserves in East-central Indiana, with three more due to be added in the near future. The three we explored are all on the Cardinal Greenway – the longest rail trail in Indiana – which spans 62 miles of abandoned rail lines from Marion to Richmond.

The 105-acre Red-tail preserve protects restored prairie and woodland on the south end of the City of Muncie’s 1,275-acre Prairie Creek Reservoir. After exploring and writing all summer about tallgrass prairies with eight-foot-tall grass, Red-tail offered the first opportunity to photograph stalks over my head.

Occupying the opposite sides of a bend on the White River in an industrial-residential area of Muncie, the 27-acre Craddock wetland and seven-acre Hughes woods are outstanding examples of urban nature preserves. Both have been restored – invasive species removed and natives reintroduced – and are returning to their natural states. As of 2015, more than 220 plant and animal species had been documented on the Craddock site alone.

Since both sanctuaries front the White, I also snapped a few shots of the water. In Muncie, the river is just a few miles from its source to the east and is shallow enough that we saw fly fishermen standing knee-deep in the middle a couple thousand feet downstream.

All of the Red-tail sites have educational components, with multiple interpretive signs along paved trails discussing their stewardship, wetlands, forests, wildlife, and other characteristics. Classes at Ball State University use them as living labs for nature study.

Quarry Festival of Books a gratifying deja vu

As a recluse whose human interactions are largely limited to family, college students and the occasional fellow travelers deep in the woods, I’m coming to see IU Press’s Quarry Festival of Books as an annual social surface, where I rise to meet new kindred spirits and catch up with old friends and acquaintances: James Alexander Thom [met in 1980s], Scott Russell Sanders [met in the 1990s] and Douglas A. Wissing [met in the 1970s], to name drop a few.

The Labor Day Weekend event in Dunn Meadow brings together a couple dozen Indiana authors to meet their readers and sign books. This is the second year my granddaughter Raina and I attended. Our tablemate was John Gastineau, a retired lawyer from Fort Wayne whose new book The Judge’s Brief is a mystery set in a fictional Indiana county.

Up next: Following the Ohio River?

Downtime, especially as one project winds down, can stimulate involuntary brainstorming. This past week, for example, I dug a little on an idea that’s been germinating underground for a while.

The result is a preliminary list of 40 natural areas that border the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cairo. Predictably, of the six Ohio River states, Ohio has the most – 18. Curiously, Kentucky, whose shoreline roughly equals the buckeye state's, has only four. Indiana has five.

And, according to my new editor, such a journey fits well with the direction IU Press is heading.

Photographs: Top, Second, Red-tail Nature Preserve; Third, Fourth, John M. Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve; Bottom, White River West Fork, Muncie.


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