The Natural Bloomington Blog


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.


Well, I hit my winter break writing goal on Friday, essentially clearing my Natural Bloomington time from now on for nature photo travel. I completed the Northern Indiana guidebook chapter on the landscape titled “Rock, Ice and Water,” essentially a thumbnail history of how those natural phenomena shaped today’s Hoosier landscape north if I-70 over the last half billion years.

The landscape section on this book is longer than the one I wrote on Southern Indiana because the landscape is just as diverse and simply has human history that is integral to the tales of half-billion-year-old bedrock, glacial deposition and canyon-carving erosion. Wetlands that took millions of years to cover most of the northern third of the state vanished within a half century of the Battles of Fallen Timbers and Tippecanoe in 1794 and 1811.

How could I not tell the story of the Indiana landscape without mentioning the Potawatomi Trail of Death? I could wax on here for 10,000 words. Suffice it to say I haven’t gotten to the woods in 2017, yet. But I have had my lens focused on some wildlife.


As a journalist, my natural rhythm is to lay back at the end of the year and review the year just past. And, of course, the biggest developments in 2016 were essentially completing my equipment upgrade and signing two book contracts that will keep me committed to the woods for two more years, at least.

However, in my eyes, 2016 was the year I finally got down on and refined my video and audio editing skills. I've dabbled with them a bit here and there, and my students and I spend a month each semester producing short video projects. But for a number of reasons -- i.e. the hands-on is pretty tedious -- I've never really applied myself.

I doubt video will become a staple, but this year I produced three videos on the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel -- a trail doc, a six-minute natural history slide show and, on New Years Eve, The Natural Bloomington Year in Nature Photography 2016. The natural history show was the early stage of a 20-minute show I presented at the Wylie House Museum on Oct. 20.


While planning the next two years traveling the state shooting nature photos, writing books, and leading nature photo workshops, I’ve been channeling my old mentor and friend-in-the-'70s Bill Thomas, which was inevitable. What I am doing today is exactly what he was doing when we met in 1978, except he was traveling the world. And he told me I could too.

At 27, I was eager but not sure that photography was my calling, despite encouragement from the manager at Hazel’s Camera Center and a local art critic who, during my first exhibit in the MCPL Fine Arts Lounge, stopped me in the middle of Kirkwood Avenue and told me he was “stunned by every image.” [In 1978, you could discuss art in the middle of Kirkwood.]

Bill was an accomplished writer and photographer who, two years after he had been awarded the 1976 National Geographic Award for Photography, was launching a new career phase. He walked into Hazel’s, where I sold cameras, with a stack of fliers about a freelance nature photography workshop he was holding at his wooded home east of Nashville. I was the first to sign up.


Awakening to sunshine on Thursday morning, I vowed to close the laptop early and hit the Beanblossom Bottoms trail that afternoon for some frigid, telephoto perspective on Winter 2016. I’d spent the past week, through the gloom, researching and writing the “Rock, Ice and Water” section of the Northern Indiana Landscape chapter for the guidebook. And honestly, I wasn’t quite sure when I’d see the solar fireball again.

The cloud cover may have lifted more than once in the three weeks since I returned from Roberts Camera in Indy with my new 80-400mm, but I’ve only shot one blue sky with it. I was past due for some solitude, exercise and silence. [I’d awakened at 5-something that morning to the impact of an accident a block away and the subsequent comings and goings of five emergency vehicles and a tow truck.]

Despite winter gloves and liners, my right-hand fingers began icing up, and I didn’t reach the second platform overlook as planned. And there’s not a lot of color or any activity in a frozen bottomland forest, aside from a distant call of a crow. But the trail was clear of any two-legged tracks, so I could make the most of the snow, ice and frozen water that is the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve this time of year.


Despite a barely used, brand-new, high-end zoom lens in its case on my office couch, a sunless last week of classes kept me off the trail the past seven days.  Honestly, successfully shepherding 30 student projects across the deadline doesn’t leave much time for outdoor exploration. So, it wasn’t likely to happen anyway.

Instead, what nature time I had was spent wrapping my head around 4.5 billion years of history – and distilling it and my past 18 months of Indiana eco-travel into a four-minute slide show at, which I share with my friend, landscape photographer Gary Morrison.

I’ve been researching and writing the geology section of the Northern Indiana Landscape chapter for the guidebook project. Here are some highlights:


To better reflect the organic, evolving nature of the Natural Bloomington project, I’ve begun evolving the focus from Ecotours and More to the More, specifically Indiana Eco-Travel. Indeed, I just finished tweaking the website to de-emphasize [not delete] the ecotourism aspect of the mission and emphasize the eco-travel, through image and prose, of course.

In reality, this announcement is belated and recognizes a shift that occurred a while ago. I certainly will continue leading ecotours upon request. But the core of my work the next couple years will be, as it has been this past year, solo adventures. I only led two ecotours in 2016.



Summit Lake State ParkI’ve been planning to focus more on birds as I explore natural Northern Indiana. And November is peak bird season at Summit Lake State Park, which, along with its Nature Area, are well-known stopovers on migratory bird flights. But I knew I was underequipped for a bird expedition there last Monday.

I’ve only dabbled in avian photography, albeit with surprising results, so I have little technique. And my 70-300 zoom lens wasn’t up to the task. (As part of the bird plan, I had a camera store friend in Indy on the lookout for the one I needed.) But I figured with sun, sky, clouds and 800 acres of water, a trip to rural Henry County would be productive, bird-ready or not.

So, after capturing the previsualized waterscapes from a couple lakeshores inside the park, we drove outside to the Nature Area, which is separated by a county road and requires permission to explore. Just as I spotted a well-used parking area on the preserve’s southern perimeter, Raina saw the bald eagle roosting in a roadside tree, overlooking the 2,680-acre state park’s 800-acre lake of the same name.


Eagle Creek Park, ranked by Wikipedia as the 18th largest urban park in the nation, may be named after the creek turned 1,400-acre-reservoir that borders its western perimeter. And it is promoted as a place to “run, sail, bike and hike,” not to mention negotiate “treetop adventures” with 39 tree crossings and five zip lines. Its world-class rowing course was built for the 1987 Pan Am games.

But while all of that might raise the specter of developed recreation, the northwest Indianapolis park’s dominant theme is preservation – especially birdlife. A broad chunk of the reservoir’s northern edge is a boat-free bird sanctuary. Rising above its eastern shore is an ornithology center with indoor and outdoor viewing areas.

Nearly 4,000 of Eagle Creek’s 5,300 acres are forested, with minimal clearing for playgrounds and such. East of the water lies the 42-acre Spring Pond Nature Preserve. Across the bay, the 297-acre Eagle’s Crest Nature Preserve occupies the park’s northwest side. Campgrounds and RVs are nonexistent.


Our Friday morning exploration of the 1,744-acre Fort Harrison State Park in northeast Indianapolis was bound for nostalgia. My connections to the place date back a half century to elementary school, when my mother worked there. Passing the Finance Center on the way to park gate did indeed release a flood of childhood memories. And I did regale landscape photographer Gary Morrison with dusty recollections of MPs and other youthful fort adventures.

But our mission was to explore and photograph two of Fort Harrison’s Dedicated State Nature Preserves – Warbler Woods and Lawrence Creek – on what the park map calls “the last forested corner left in Marion County.”

And as a small Fort Harrison State Park-Warbler Woods Photo Album shows, despite the late-autumn date, the trail through Warbler Woods, flanked by the Fall Creek on the north and backlit by a radiant sun on the south, offered a palette of fall yellow and summer green. About a half mile up the road, the Lawrence Creek Nature Preserve, however, was nearly devoid of color, and we quickly turned back.


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