Tales of a
21st Century Gypsy

May 19, 2006.
Rambling in Indiana

From Chicago I headed east, through Indiana towards Buses by the Beach in southern Michigan, the same place where a year earlier Brien and Billy had replaced my engine. Iíd planned a quick drive there so I could spend the afternoon with the VW bus folks, but I never follow my own plans. Instead, I made an unplanned detour to a lakeshore park in Indiana, a mix of forested trails, sand dunes, and beach. I donít quite know why I stopped. Probably because when I took ecology in college I had a crush on one of the

teaching assistants, and he did research on Lake Michigan sand dunes. Strange, the reasons why we do things. Just as I became interested in the developing world and the Islamic world because I went to Turkey in 1982. And I went to Turkey in 1982 because my boyfriend in college (not the fellow on whom Iíd had the crush) had gone to Turkey in 1975, two years before we met. That trip to Turkey changed my life, though my stop in Indiana isnít likely to.

Anyway, I wandered into the parkís visitor center, which had a lovely video about the ecology of the place Ė dunes, forests, bogs, birds, plants. That got my curiosity piqued. In that same ecology course, back in the spring of 1978, another of the TAs took us on a field trip to a bog in south eastern Massachusetts. I couldnít have cared less about bogs Ė in fact, I wanted to get assigned to the sand dune field trip with the TA I had a crush on, not the bog trip. But this guy was writing his dissertation on bogs, and he just loved them and generously shared his enthusiasm with us. We bounced our way through acres of peat moss thick enough to hold our weight, rather like walking on a massive living sponge. Iíve had a great fondness for bogs ever since, though I've never actually walked on one again.

Besides, Iím one of those people who reads the information panels in visitor centers, goes to the evening presentations in national park campgrounds, and asks questions of tour guides. When people are there to provide information, I somehow figure I have to

take advantage of them, and I find myself interested in details I'd no idea I could give a hoot about. Maybe tour guides and information center staff like having visitors like me, it keeps their jobs from being too dull. On the other hand, they might just think Iím a pretentious ass, bugging them with questions so Iíll feel clever. Could be theyíre right, too.

Once Iíd realized there were bogs, of course, I had to see the park Ė even though as it happened the boggy area was only open when the park staff scheduled guided walks. Since I couldnít bounce on the bog, I headed out on the muddy bike path that ran alongside the railroad track Ė an active track, used by commuter trains to Chicago. I was surprised the railroad let the park run a bike trail along the tracks. In Virginia, the railroad companies are terrified of people going anywhere near active tracks. Itís the train engineerís worse nightmare, people on the track, since by the time he sees them itís way too late to stop the train. Maybe in Indiana the trains run slower. Or the visibility is better. Or they donít mind really if they lose a few bicyclists.

The bike route was pleasant but dotted with deep puddles. By the time I got to the end, a few miles along, I was spattered with mud. I locked my bike and walked along the trail past a marsh and into the woods, which were lovely with the soft greens of spring. A mile or two later I emerged on the beach via a huge and very steep sand dune - so that's what Peter was studying! Shimmering on the horizon across the very blue lake were the towers of downtown Chicago, where Sharon and I had strolled the day before. To my left along the shore a power plant belched smoke, while to my right the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant rose on the skyline. A strange backdrop for a national park, but the beach itself was lovely.

Back on the road by early afternoon, I tried to make up time driving to Michigan. But between a stop to buy gas and groceries during which I got utterly lost, and not realizing that Iíd crossed from central into eastern time, it was evening by the time I got there, and my friends had started to wonder if I was really going to show up.

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