The Hoosier state, The Crossroads of America, the "Indian Land" otherwise known as the 36,418 square miles demarcated as the great state of Indiana called us out for a mini-road trip over the 4th of July Holiday weekend. A group of Indiana University grads visiting Michigan recently turned me on to the original offerings of the Bloomington/Nashville area in the state’s southern region. Most of Indiana consists of flat lands with soil composed of glacial sands, gravel and clay, exceptional farmland being the result. The state’s unglaciated southern segment carries a different, off-balance surface, characterized in places by profound valleys and rugged, hilly terrain; with limestone prevalent, numerous caves mark the area. But more than just soil and landscape sets the space apart. While Michigan’s poisonous reptile population begins and ends with one snake, the elusive Eastern Massasauga or “Swamp rattler”, southern Indiana’s reptile species include Five-Lined Skinks and bright pink Copperheads. Their stand-out specimen is the Timber Rattlesnake, the local that inspired a 280 mile, 5-hour one-way drive in hopes of catching a rare glimpse of its gorgeous, cross-banded yellow-green pattern.
Minus the drive time, I had all of twenty-four hours to visit. Add the crush of unaccounted for State Park occupancy on a 4th of July weekend, and my chances of crossing paths with a rattlesnake were quickly slithering away. What I needed was a contact, someone who knew the trails and could help negotiate the lay of the land. A quick search presented Indigo Birding Tours, led by naturalist David Rupp. David arranged birding excursions and other south-central Indiana trips to some of the areas’ most sought-after, natural attractions, in Brown County State Park, Yellowwood State Forest, and Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife area, a migratory area birders went wild over. Ringing him up, I explained to David that I was more after scales than feathers, knowing a rattlesnake sighting was a long-shot given their secretive nature. While he concurred, acknowledging he'd spotted all of two Timber Rattlers in all of his years working the Indiana woods, he did know of a few snake-friendly spots, as well as a few choice trails given my limited time. We arranged to meet up, hit a rugged five-miler together, and from there he'd point me towards a few other spots, passing on some good maps to get me there.
The etymology of the word “Hooiser” is disputed, but the leading theory, as advanced by the Indiana Historical Society, is that the term originated from the Carolinas as an idiom for a backwoodsman, a rough countryman, or country bumpkin. David was none of these, as the Benjamin ($100) I paid him to usher me into the flora, fauna and history of this new and exotic area of the Midwest was well spent. While calling in Scarlet Tanagers and Hooded Warblers, he pointed out The White-Breasted Nut Hatch and Eastern Towhees. Offering up a background on both the area’s animal and human inhabitants, David explained that varying cultures of indigenous peoples and historic Native Americans inhabited Indiana for thousands of years. Paleo-Indians led to the Archaic and then Woodland Periods; an early Woodland period group named the Adena people held elegant burial rituals, featuring log tombs beneath earth mounds, while other groups had large public areas such as plazas and platform mounds where leaders lived or conducted rituals. The historic Native American tribes in the area at the time of European encounter spoke different languages of the Algonquian family. They included the Shawnee, Miami, and Illini. Later they were joined by refugee tribes from eastern regions including the Delaware who later settled in the White and Whitewater River Valleys.
Exploring the history and natural surroundings of one's Homeland always ranks high of my list or valued activities. But even since returning to the Midwest seven years ago, travel and road tripping are in the back seat to building up the foundation for The Higher Haven. Looking back on several significant moves in my first 50 years, I'm always reminded of the take of poet Robert Bly, who said, "If one does not become a place after living there for a few years, then one must move on." I've become some places - The Sonoran Desert - while others I have not - The Bay Area - knowing every reality has its own lessons, and when lessons are learned, the journey continues. Considering I'm not going anywhere on one level for about a decade, I'm hoping to take Bly's thought a stride further, aiming to elevate my current reality - Property # 03-02-0023-008, South Haven, Michigan - to evolve parallel with my personal growth. With more rooted goals in mind, getting on the road again and goin' places that I've never been, seein' things that I may never see again felt damn good. Nothing beats a five hour drive coupled with a seven mile hike followed by a thorough overview of the bistros and breweries of a town like Bloomington. To boot, we DID see a Timbler Rattler, albeit a culprit tubbed by a DNR officer after terrorizing a camp ground bathroom. And birding with a guide gave me a new awareness of the winged endothermic vertebrates soaring about, spotting North America's largest Pelated Woodpeckers and enjoying a final exchange with a young Red Tail Hawk on the IU campus. Here's to navigating multiple altitudes with more wild Midwest adventures to come.