The Natural Bloomington Blog


An electric blue sky and October temperatures clearly signaled July 24 as a Natural Bloomington kind of day. But my visions of hiking on the Nebo Ridge Hiking Trail in the Hoosier National Forest soon evaporated, as those are also ideal conditions for overdue upkeep on my old house on Bloomington's near-southside. By late afternoon, plans to drive through Brown County State Park to Story and on to the Nebo trail had devolved into a quick trip to the park.
Which was fine. I've only been to our biggest and oldest state park once since I started shooting digital photography eight years ago. And that day's focus had been portraiture, not landscape photography. Hence, the Natural Bloomington Brown County State Park Photo Album held only one image.
Besides, since Nebo played a pivotal role in Indiana forest history, I should go there with someone who knows the place. I have a guy in mind.

As if on cue, an email from retired professor, journalist, activist and friend Carol Polsgrove arrived in my inbox after my last message to the Natural Bloomington mailing list. For the environmental education side of the project, she suggested a focus on the impact roads have on the natural balance. They facilitate the predatory dispositions of cowbirds, for example, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Paul Erhlich and colleagues at Stanford University call them "parasitic."

Carol also recommended I develop a Lake Monroe tour that would emphasize its history, ecological impacts, problems, etc. At that very moment, almost literally, I was launching the next phase of the project: revisions based on the feedback, research, interviews and experiences thus far. I've subsequently mapped out four new ecotours, with varying lengths and themes. The first one I created was called the Lake Monroe Watershed Tour


The term ecotourism really wasn't part of my lexicon when I initially thought about leading environmental tours in and around Bloomington. It was 2004 when I asked a friend if he thought people would be interested in tours of natural areas and toxic waste sites. His answer was unambiguous. Natural areas, yes. Superfund sites, no.

It's not that I hadn't heard of the ecotourism movement. In its contemporary sense, it's been around, in name or spirit, since the dawn of my environmental awareness in the 1970s. Some trace its genesis to Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville's historic journey to America in 1831, when his desire to venture into the wilderness – just out of curiosity – stunned his Michigan Territory hosts.


When my old friend and colleague Dave Nord suggested I include the Latimer Woods on my list of Natural Bloomington old-growth forest destinations, I had conflicted feelings. I knew the retired journalism professor was not misusing the term old-growth.
Back in the mid-1980s he graded my final masters project – Clearcutting the Hoosier National Forest: Professional Forestry or Panacea? Today he's a volunteer who picks up trash, pulls invasive species and otherwise stewards the 10-acre woodland on Bloomington's east side.

As Jeff Stant and I walked and talked on the Tecumseh Trail in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest Back Country Area on June 13, I was reminded of the old cliché the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I met Jeff in 1981, after following my wife's suggestion that I get out of the apartment and go to a Sierra Club meeting or something. Clad in an olive green army jacket and armed with a piercing glare, Jeff stood onstage at the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium and scanned every pair of eyes in the place, including mine, for organizing potential. This was the old library, when a back-row seat essentially was front-row.


I chose Full Circle as the name for the first Natural Bloomington tour I mapped out for the most pedestrian of reasons. When I finished plotting the route on Google Maps, it formed a circle around the city. But the more I have thought about it, the term is steeped in multiple layers of meaning.
Life, of course, is a circle, composed of smaller circles that continuously open and close and intersect throughout our times on earth. Sometimes their beginnings and ends are as obvious as the peeling skin on a shagbark hickory. And having just added cancer-survivor to my list of handles, I can say definitively that my return to the woods via Natural Bloomington marks a point from which I am starting a new circle.

To keep up with the Natural Bloomington journey through scenic Southern Indiana, subscribe to our low-volume mailing list, through which we keep you informed of our work, no more than once a week.


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