The Natural Bloomington Blog


Those familiar with this still-revolutionary phrase might be perplexed by the Porter reference to Henry David Thoreau's words that helped catalyze a fundamental change in Americans' relation with nature (not in Walden but in Walking, a.k.a., "The Wild," an Atlantic Monthly essay published in 1861 from a lecture Thoreau revised and delivered between 1851 and his death in 1862). "What I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. ... From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind."

For we old-time nature photogs, "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World" is the seminal book of our art form. In this monograph, published by Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower exactly 100 years after Walking, Eliot Porter -- the Ansel Adams of color nature photography -- infused Thoreau's passages with his photos. According to a 2002 Sierra Magazine piece, "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World  revolutionized photographic book publishing by setting new standards for design and printing and proving the commercial viability of fine art photography books."


Friday’s exploration of Indiana’s largest wildlife refuge illustrated once again the magnificent yet understated diversity of Southern Indiana’s landscape, culture and history – not to mention wilderness experience. Landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I spent a few steamy August hours watching a precautionary video, talking with property managers and naturalists, and photographing the Old Timbers Lake inside the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge just north of Madison.
The 50,000-acre Big Oaks is understated in that its roughly 78 square miles is till plain flatwoods, not the most majestic of landforms. Spanning portions of Jefferson, Ripley and Jennings Counties, the refuge lies in the state’s low-lying Muscatatuck Flats & Canyons Section and features little topography from one corner to the other. It’s the largest wildlife refuge and block of contiguous wild lands in the state and one of the 15 largest national wildlife refuges east of the Mississippi and north of Florida.
The Big Oaks history and experience, however, are anything but subtle.


I could have titled the multimedia slide show I posted on the Natural Bloomington YouTube Channel last week "Billions of Years in a Handful of Minutes," which is effectively what I attempt to do in it. In 6 minutes 31 seconds, I trace 500 billion years of Southern Indiana's natural history -- and illustrate it with five dozen contemporary digital images from my Guide to Southern Indiana Natural Areas journey.

The show is actually called "The Southern Indiana Landscape," because It's an adaptation of the guidebook's Part 2 -- of the same name -- which has three chapters: "Sculpted by Rock, Ice and Water," "Southern Indiana Physiography" and "The Natural Regions."

This first clip details the roles rock, ice and water have played in forming the wildly diverse landscape that is Southern Indiana. I have the audio narrative and about half the images placed for the physiography section. When all three are finished, the final product will be a 15-minute show that I will combine with a talk at IU's Wylie House Museum on Oct. 20.


Sunday Morning Nature Missive - July 24, 2016

Unless you are a Lincoln or hardcore Hoosier nature buff, odds are you've never heard of the Anderson River. It's only 50 miles long, and about a hundred feet wide and 15 feet deep when it empties into the Ohio River at Troy in Perry County. That the Anderson forms the county line between Perry and Spencer and is only navigable for a little more than half its length is about all you will learn from an Internet search.

No, we didn't leave in the inky, 6 a.m. darkness on Friday to shoot the Anderson's headwaters because of its grandiose natural characteristics. Landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I stepped onto a bridge over the river at 7:40 a.m. for purely pragmatic reasons. I mention it in a slide show I'm creating for a presentation at IU's  Wylie House Museum on Oct. 20. The narrative names four rivers that, in their entirety, drain the Ohio. But I only have images of one -- the Blue.

Adding to the Anderson's appeal as a photo destination was the fact that the river rises deep in an area of the Hoosier National Forest that I've never photographed or explored -- but have long wanted to. And the return route up State Road 145 passes over and through Patoka Lake, for which I need better images in my archive. (SR 145 also passes by the West Baden Springs Hotel, literally the Eighth Wonder of the World, in which I never miss an opportunity to stand.)


The Blue River didn't quite earn its name on Friday afternoon. So called for the aqua color the water assumes when levels are low, the river hue, reflected from a surface lined by lush, overgrown banks under a mid-afternoon sun, was closer to crocodile green.

But as a remote, pristine waterway that was relatively deserted on a shiftless weekday afternoon, the 90-mile long Ohio tributary did measure up to its pioneer name -- the Great Blue. With a reputation as Indiana's most beautiful -- the first designated as a state Natural, Scenic and Recreational River in 1973 -- the Blue's setting is unrivaled under any conditions.

With a couple major projects under control, I spent the afternoon exploring by wheel three stretches of the Blue's outback watershed in northern Crawford County, halfway between Hardinsburg and Milltown, a little more than an hour from home.


After being responsible for every detail over three years exploring more than a hundred Southern Indiana natural areas, I'm more than content this summer to let someone else do the planning and driving. This past Wednesday granddaughter Raina and I joined landscape photographer Gary Morrison on a photo excursion to the Wabash River watershed.

We explored three natural attractions -- the Portland Arch Nature Preserve, Williamsport Falls and Fall Creek Gorge Preserve. All are located in west-central Indiana on either side of the river town Attica off U.S. 41, just south and west of Lafayette. I posted Photo Albums on the Natural Bloomington Photography Page.


While not much has happened naturewise since Gary and I returned from the Ohio River waterfalls nearly three weeks ago, I captured a handful of nature shots during a Fathers Day Family Hike at Spring Mill State Park last Sunday and posted a small Photo Album. And, culminating with a return to the Indianapolis Coliseum for an afternoon of Compassion with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Saturday, life off trail has been among the more eventful in recent memory.

Spring Mill wasn't a Photo Hike per se, but I put the fam cam to good use during hikes through the Donaldson's Woods Nature Preserve and along the waterfall below Hamer Cave just upstream from the Pioneer Village. Donaldson's Woods may be only the third largest stand of virgin woods in Indiana, but I think it's the most impressive. And like the other two biggies -- Wesselman's Woods in Evansville and Pioneer Mothers a half hour south just outside Paoli -- it sports a colorful history.

The woods was known as Shawnee Cottage when the wealthy, eccentric Scotsman named George Donaldson, who was bribed out of prison by his father and put on a ship to America in the 1860s, landed in Lawrence County. That he was imprisoned and his father paid his way out is historical fact. That he was jailed for murder is a legend unproved. (I once wrote a story on Donaldson's life forTraces, the Indiana Historical Society's magazine.)


I made a note to revisit the Hanover College campus back in October 2014 when I was in Jefferson County researching the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana. I literally drove in along the aptly named Scenic Drive, made a loop, drove out and headed west to the Pennywort Cliffs Nature Preserve. The campus, with its scenic overlooks on the Ohio River, was magical on that perfect autumn day. But I had no time to explore. Pennywort was the last of four natural area explorations on the travelogue.

So when my friend and landscape photographer Gary Morrison suggested last week that we pursue some waterfalls down on the Ohio, including Horseshoe Falls on the Hanover campus, I was eager and cleared the day.

We couldn't find our first option, Fremont Falls, which, at 108 feet, is reputed to be state's tallest -- a claim that is in dispute. So, I wasn't disappointed when we turned to option 2, the Horseshoe Falls on the Hanover campus. It turns out there are at least three entrances to the college, two of which we used and are not scenic at all.


Surrounded by the lush environs of the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, I expected any revelations or insights from Saturday's hike with a group of Indianapolis Sierrans to come from the marshy flatlands off the 2.5-mile boardwalk or the forest canopy. The Sycamore Land Trust property is, after all, bottomland forest. And it is late spring.

Given the amount of time I spend exploring nature's nuance, group hikes are opportunities for me to talk to other nature lovers, particularly if I'm not the leader and don't have to keep everyone from getting lost. And aside from shooting a blue flag iris alongside one of the trail's many bridges, that's pretty much what I did Saturday morning -- talk wth and focus on images of the hike's 21 guests for the summer Indiana Sierran newsletter I'm wrapping up this week.

If indeed a magic moment were to occur in the sky, I expected it would be a bald eagle or two soaring overhead, given that the last stop was the preserve's observation deck that overlooks an eagle's nest. Clouds are cool but not often revelatory. But I have to say a lenticular cloud sighting captured the day's magic-moment award.


After a dismal gray week spent poring over dismal data on Indiana State Forest logging, I was more than primed for a quick trek to a wildlife pond in the Deam Wilderness when the first blade of sun pierced Saturday afternoon's cloud cover. I had just finished a first-draft story on the cheerless numbers and cleaned the camera gear when I set sight on a secluded parking spot near the Grubb Ridge Trail that cuts a mile or so off the hike from the nearest trailhead.

This portion of Grubb is a multi-use path just west of the Blackwell Horse Camp and, after a week of rain, I knew it would be a slog in places. And since such conditions are not conducive to shooting close ups of the wood sorrels, two-flowered Cynthias, fleabanes and fungi that occasionally spot the trailside edge, knees and elbows weren't on the program.

Wildlife pond reflections topped the photographic agenda, closely followed by more practice audio recording the natural sounds that serenade every wilderness hiker through the Deam. This one involved a directional mic to eliminate my heavy breathing and increasing the audio levels to capture stronger avian sounds from the canopy.


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