Last weekend I took to my Facebook page and wrote:

Here in Indiana, there comes a time in mid-October when it becomes impossible to pretend that summer isn’t gone. Before that you can kid yourself a little, because the petunias are still in flower, the trees are mostly green, and you’re still getting a few tomatoes. A few migrating hummingbirds hit the feeder. But then you wake up one day and realize: it’s gone. But it’ll be back. Now it’s time to let go and breathe the chill, crunch the leaves, and surrender to the season.

Summer is my favorite season, where I feel free, my serotonin is flowing abundantly, and the temperature is right. So for me September and the first half of October are about slow acceptance. It’s a good exercise for me, and it’s made easier by the gorgeous landscape and beautiful skies. Autumn feels like the earth’s kind way of talking me into winter.

(Alert Facebookers will know that this required a status post and a comment to complete.) One of my friends asserted that this sounds like the beginning of an article, and it seems that he may be right. Because I’ve been noticing things, natural things, on my one Hoosier acre.

Living in Indiana used to piss me off, not to put too fine a point on it.  I was a nature girl, and I liked mountains, bears, and wilderness. I still have a sort of love-hate relationship with this place; on the one hand, all of my friends, the vast majority of my family and my son’s most important ties are here. I left Montana when the shit really hit the fan in my life because I knew where to go to recover. Here, with the friends who were eager to put the rug back under me that had been yanked out. Here, where my job is. Here, where my mother and I get to have dinner together every week. Here, where all my favorite restaurants are. (Yes, we have great food here in Indy.) Here, the place I know better than any other. I no longer have a need for a healing place, but we’re settled now, for the time-being. It’s a pretty good home base from which to take the world. If you’re going to live a certain kind of life, this is a very good place to do it.

But modernity has not been kind to the landscape here. Commodity corn, soy, and other monocultures are everywhere. There is very little remaining unbroken green space, and nothing at all that could legitimately be called wilderness. And the landscape is almost entirely flat, except for the few welcome hills in the southern part of the state that remained out of the reach of the grinding, gnawing glaciers of the last Ice Age.  Fortunately, wilderness and wildness are very different things, and mostly a matter of scale. Wildness can exist anywhere. (And indeed, as I typed that last sentence I heard the call of a red-tailed hawk through the open door behind my chair, as if to prove my point for me.) The big fauna, obviously, must stick to the wilderness, or something closer to it. Elk were here in the 1830s, but there’s no room left for them now. Other things are returning — I never see bear cubs in my backyard here, but I have seen a pair of bald eagles.  And as they do everywhere, nature and wildness exist in the micro spaces in Indiana, in what I call the Small World. Mushrooms and insects and reptiles of all manner make their home here, and if you look closely enough, they are yours to see.

Small spring mushroom, Shades State Park

But still, it’s no secret on this blog, or any other that I’ve written, that I still harbor a longing for the mountains, and preferably the ones out west. I still long for Big Nature, for all-encompassing wildness, where humans are the guests in a natural landscape. But that isn’t where I live right now. But mostly I just long for the natural world, whether guest or host. So while I’m here it falls to me to be a good host, and even let my guests run amok a little. As long as they don’t mind if I write about them.

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2 thoughts on “A natural history of a year in Indiana

  1. I enjoy seeing the corn and soybeans, etc. in the fields of Indiana. It means we will still eat for awhile longer. Your wilderness is still wilderness because it can be nothing else. Didja ever try to plant corn on the side of a mountain? The bears and elks and moose thank us for the wilderness that is left, and for the humans who try to keep it wild for them.

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