Our semester at the Virginia
Ball Center was far more eventful than a semester of normal
classes. We camped, we hiked, we dug holes, we used computers until
we were nearly blind. We found out how much work is really involved
in creating an educational website.
The first task we had to accomplish was to learn about
the land of Indiana, what kinds of ecosystems exist here, and what
the major pollution problems are in the state. We also had to discuss
what constituted a “Hoosier writer” and the difference
between an environmental and a natural history writer. Many guests
were invited by Dr. Stedman, the Center and the university to speak
to us about these various topics. Among these speakers were well-known
and award-winning authors such as Ann Zwinger,
a native Indiana naturalist; Scott Russell
Sanders, a Bloomington nature writer; David
Wagoner, an acclaimed poet who has lived in northwestern Indiana;
and N. Scott Momaday, a Native
We began to research authors individually, searching
for biographical information and connections to Indiana’s
environment in their works, a task that sounds simpler than it truly
was. Many of the authors wrote prior to 1900 and even finding their
date of birth was a challenge, let alone finding all of their writings.
At the same time, we began learning to use computer
software to create and design webpages. Very few of us had any experience
with this area of the work, so it became a long and grueling process
to teach everyone how to operate the programs correctly. Many thanks
are due to Clint Winkler, a BSU landscape architecture graduate
student, for his time and patience. His opinions helped guide us
in the right direction.
at the Limberlost
On a 4.37-acre plot of land near Geneva, Indiana, we
began the work of restoring farm field to its original state of
We worked on this and other sections of the Limberlost
throughout the semester in addition to our other work. The restoration
was quite difficult at times, particularly in severe, monsoon-like
thunderstorms. We were assisted by the very capable Mr.
Ken Brunswick, Wetlands Manager for the Limberlost
State Historic Site, which is run by the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources.
Dr. Stedman planned two camping trips, one to west
central and southwest Indiana
and one to the northwest, with
the intent of better acquainting us with the landscapes of our state.
Our first trip was three days long,
beginning bright and early one Friday morning in mid-September with
lots of coffee and bagels and even more grumbling. The complaining
ended, for the most part, when the canoe trip down Sugar Creek in
west central Indiana began. We enjoyed beautiful weather, even if
the water levels in the creek were a bit low. The lodging that night
was less than rustic, but still a bit farther from cities than the
majority of us were used to being. The proprietor of the campground
was kind enough to take us on a hayride through the grounds and
show us all the campsite had to offer. A few brave souls attempted
to sleep outdoors, but a sudden rain shower at midnight sent them
indoors searching for floor space.
Bluffs with Scott Russell Sanders
The next morning began painfully early once again with
a trip to Bloomington, where we met with noted naturalist writer
Scott Russell Sanders. He showed us different sections of Bloomington
that had been built with local limestone, like the restored Showers
factory building and Courthouse square. After touring Bloomington,
Sanders led us on a hike through Cedar Bluffs, the Nature Conservancy
area that is the subject of his essay “Sanctuary.” It
was a somewhat strenuous trip at times, and many of us found that
we were not in as good a shape as we had previously imagined. The
last two places we visited with Sanders were an old cemetery with
many limestone grave markers and the quarry from which the limestone
used to construct the Empire State Building was taken.
The limestone quarries were grander than one might imagine,
with deep, blue-green water at the bottom. After we left Sanders,
we hiked over Hemlock Cliffs, then headed south to Patoka Lake where
we stayed the night.
The women’s lodging for the second night was
nicer than many of the houses most of us rent at college. There
were plenty of beds for all, and a even a television that Dr. Stedman
quickly outlawed. Meanwhile, the men received the short end of the
stick, with too few beds and little heat.
The third day began slightly later than the previous
two, but still too early for most. We viewed the Ohio River but
not before touring Wyandotte Caves. The small bats that inhabit
the caves were oblivious to our cameras and provided most students
with their first opportunity to see a bat up close. The majority
of the day was spent driving the long route home. By the end of
the trip, we knew one another frighteningly well and had lost count
of the number of U-turns we had to make.
The second trip, which
was to northwest Indiana, was only two days, but just as packed
with interesting happenings and U-turns. It began at a much more
reasonable time on a Saturday in October with a drive to the Jasper-Pulaski
Fish and Wildlife Area to see the migration of the sandhill
cranes, which are migratory birds that thrive in the wetlands.
The weather was significantly colder than it had been on our previous
trip, but the birds did not seem to notice. The cranes presented
us with a magnificent spectacle as thousands of them landed in the
grassy field and danced among the deer that were grazing. Not long
after sunset, the flock of 11,000 or more birds took off in large
groups for a nearby marsh.
and piano playing men
After viewing the cranes, we returned to our 1830s-style
log cabins to warm up with caramel apples and hot chocolate. The
men entertained us all with the pedal-pumped player piano and their
vocal renditions of songs ranging from Stevie Wonder to numbers
from Oklahoma until one in the morning, when they returned
to their primitive cabin.
The next morning was spent hiking over mountainous
sand dunes at the National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, and then
emptying the dunes out of our shoes and socks. We walked the Cowles
Bog trail as well, and encountered wildlife along the way, mostly
in the form of a couple of class members reenacting the dance of
the sandhill cranes. The afternoon was spent on a quick drive through
Gary to see the steel mills, oil refineries and the Calumet River,
before our return to Muncie.
The camping trips and Limberlost work provided a nice
contrast to the normal day-to-day activities of researching, writing
and slaving over keyboards. Most of the semester was spent indoors,
cursing computers and technology in general while we created appropriate
layouts for pages, chose pictures and wrote and edited texts.
The class divided into three teams in order to distribute
the workload evenly. The research team handled any research that
was not directly related to an author entry, such as the environment
sections. They also wrote texts for other portions of the site and
compiled large lists of information. The design team handled all
of the images and aesthetic work for the site, such as the color
palette and the banner design. The development team worked to create
all of the pages and place the texts and designs into them.
There were also students who used this seminar as a
springboard for their Honors College senior theses. These individual
projects were of the students’ creation and done entirely
on their own.
The seminar provided a very memorable and valuable
experience for all of us. Not only were we able to learn more about
Indiana’s environment and the literature, we were given the
opportunity to help restore a small piece of the Limberlost and
make lasting friendships with fellow students in the seminar. The
experience was a rewarding one, and one we will continue to hold
dear for years to come.