Did you just say “Skin the Gerbil”?

Author Takeshi Kamisato is  the organizer of the Indiana State Yo-Yo Contest and a Duncan Yo-Yo Professional

Shoot the moon, sword and shield, split the atom, milk the cow, skin the gerbil … to most people these phrases are random and very strange, but they are an essential part of the modern day yo-yo player’s vocabulary. They are all names of standard tricks in today’s crazy world of new school yo-yoing.

The first yo-yo boom started in Chicago back in the early 1930s when Donald F. Duncan, founder of Duncan Yo-Yos, teamed up with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. They promoted and ran yo-yo contests throughout the city. They took this campaign nationwide and professional demonstrators were scattered across the country. And just like that, America’s love for the yo-yo was born.

In the mid-1990s, the popularity of the ball-bearing yo-yo skyrocketed and pushed yo-yo play to new levels. In 1999, the largest worldwide yo-yo boom in history was in full swing. Advanced yo-yo technology coupled with kids who have no preconceived notions on what a yo-yo could not do created the perfect environment for creativity and trick innovation grew exponentially.

Today, there are five major styles in yo-yoing and more tricks than any human could ever learn. If it has been a while since you have seen someone playing with a yo-yo, then you owe it to yourself to come on down to the 2011 Indiana State Yo-Yo Contest at the Indiana State Museum on April 29 and 30. For detailed information, please visit www.indianastates.newschool101.com.

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Wonders never cease … I think not

by Nicole Morgan, Museum Education Specialist

I grew up here in Indiana, born and raised. Through the years, I have heard tale of many oddities around this beautiful state of ours. There have been a few of these old fables that have caught my fancy, enough so that I have ventured out of Indianapolis to witness these wonders on my own.

I heard about Gravity Hill in Mooresville and took the short trip to experience this phenomenon. The story goes that an Indian witch doctor was buried at the foot of a low hill in Mooresville and anyone who stops their car at the bottom of the hill and puts it in neutral will find themselves mysteriously coasting back up the hill for nearly a quarter-mile. I’m not sure if my Subaru was just too scared to attempt this feat or if I was just not a true believer, but my car merely stood still. Maybe the witch doctor was taking a nap?

I also took a trip to Lake Manitou, sometimes referred to as Devil’s Lake. The lake got this diabolical nickname to due to the legend of a giant serpent-like monster that is believed to reside there. This mythical creature is so old that the story is part of legend told by the Potawatomi Indians. I stood on the banks of the lake for hours. Searching. Waiting. Hoping. Nothing. Not even a fish did I see.

So when I was asked to think about something to write about for Arbor Day, I saw the perfect opportunity to explore another Indiana marvel in one of my favorite places in Indiana — Brown County. In Yellowwood Forest, there are mysterious rocks called Unexplained Resting Boulders, or URBs. These boulders are so unusual because they are found in the tree tops and no on can explain how they got there. The largest one discovered was called Gobbler’s Rock because it was found by a turkey hunter. It was a 400 pound sandstone boulder that rested about 40 feet in the tree.

Rita on the lookout for lurking URBs.

My mission was clear: Round up the dogs, get to Yellowood Forest, take a picture of aforementioned boulder and then blog my little heart out. I found a website that gave coordinates and foot directions to the tree, packed the dogs into the car and drove south. The directions seemed easy enough to follow but when we arrived to the location of the tree, it was no where to be found. I sent the dogs on the hunt and we came up empty. How could I miss a 400 pound boulder in a tree, you ask? Well, when I returned home, muddy and defeated, I did a little more research only to find that the Gobbler’s Rock tree fell down in 2006. Another missed marvel by yours truly. The trip was not all for naught. I did get to share the beauty of Yellowwood Forest with my dogs. Who knows, with all of the state forests Indiana has to choose from, maybe I am meant to discover the next URB. We could name it after my dog, Rita Rock.

Forests and fire: A love/hate relationship

by Katherine McFarland, Science & Technology Program Specialist

This Arbor Day, as we celebrate all things tree, let us take a moment to reflect on the importance of fire. If this statement seems confusing, allow me to explain. Despite its seemingly contradictory appearance, fire is a necessary part of most forest ecosystems. I have taken part in a few controlled burns and, while earning my Smokey Bear pin, I found out that the distinction between wildfires and other fire is an important one.

Prescribed burn in the Loess Hills of Iowa.

Most people are familiar with Smokey Bear and his famous message, “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.” Growing up I took this message very seriously. I pestered my parents whenever we picnicked to make sure that the fire was completely out before we moved on, and watched for discarded cigarette butts. However, since my childhood Smokey’s message has changed because “wildfires” instead of “forest fires” are now the target.

Smokey Bear has been promoting the prevention of forest fires since his creation in the 1940s by the Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council. At the time, forest fires were a threat to national security as a Japanese submarine in 1942 had almost set the Los Padres National Forest ablaze when a Santa Barbara oil field was hit by incendiary shells. With statistics at the time showing that nine out of 10 domestic fires were caused by people, not lightning, it was thought that eliminating forest fires caused by U.S. citizens would greatly reduce chances of a national disaster. Eventually, Smokey was chosen as the mascot for the campaign (after his predecessor Bambi retired), and has been promoting his message of fire prevention ever since.

1956 U.S. and State Forest Service stamp from http://www.smokeybear.com.

Interestingly, in 2001 Smokey’s message changed to, “Remember … only you can prevent wildfires.” This statement emphasizes personal responsibility in using fire while allowing for its importance as a tool of ecosystem management. In the hands of trained professionals, a prescribed fire (a.k.a. controlled burn) can eliminate excess undergrowth allowing plants and animals to flourish, while preventing fuel for a large wildfire to build.

Controlled burns are planned in advance to take into account weather and societal conditions, insure firebreaks and fire crews are in place and decrease chances of wildfire.

Diagram of a controlled burn created by the Florida Division of Forestry.

This Arbor Day, Friday, April 29, the Indiana State Museum is celebrating with tree plantings, activities and educational opportunities. Please join us from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to explore the wide variety of ways you can care for Indiana’s trees.

A sunny update for a historic sunroom

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

The name of the historic home at T.C. Steele State Historic Site is more poetic than accurate today, but when the house was built in 1907, breezes caused the screens enclosing the sleeping porch to sing — earning it the name The House of the Singing Winds.

Warmed by winter sunshine and fresh paint, this pleasant room is just waiting for furnishings to bring it alive.

As houses (and lifestyles) evolve, the use of space often changes, and so it did with T.C. and Selma’s Arts & Crafts style home. When the couple began staying on the windy hill year-round, the south-facing porch was converted to a sunny room for breakfast, napping and numerous flats of seedlings that would eventually find a home in Selma’s Gardens.

I imagined it was a hard choice to make in those pre-air conditioned days — sacrificing such a comfortable place to sleep in summer for a warm and welcoming room in winter. As it turns out, the Steeles had both.

Close inspection (and some head scratching) by site and regional Restoration Specialists concluded that someone had devised a clever system of seasonally rotating the window screens and storms — and storing them very close to home.

The wall cavity beneath each of the windows was designed to house the lowered window sash in summer. Both the top and bottom sash of the double hung units fit into the space, leaving the entire window area open. What makes this clever?

Usually with double hung windows, the lower sash is raised into position in front of the upper sash, so only half of the window area is open to accept any breezes wafting by. With the Steeles’ set up, when the screens were installed in summer, the entire opening provided ventilation — in effect turning it back into a porch for the season.

This discovery was made as plans were made to restore the space. It’s amazing how much research is necessary before the public gets to see the final product. Details, such as what species of wood were used for the architectural elements, determining color through chemical paint analysis and choosing appropriate furnishings all had to be researched.

Since the House of the Singing Winds was used for many years as a Caretaker’s Residence, a lot of restoration work involves undoing previous renovations. Historic site staff must be detectives as well as interpreters. Steele’s paintings, Selma’s letters and historic photos taken by Frank Hohenberger were consulted.

These recent photos illustrate some of the clues that helped inform an accurate representation of the house as it was when T.C. Steele was alive:

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The room isn’t quite ready for visitors yet, but you can still get a quick peek when touring the House of the Singing Winds. Stop by, whether the sun’s shining or not.

The birds of Belmont and Bracken Hill

 Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

All winter long, pileated woodpeckers and their smaller cousins, the red-headed, red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers hammered away, echoing the carpenters working on the Sunroom Restoration at the House of the Singing Winds. Lately, eastern bluebirds have added to the human and avian percussion section with their warbling melodies.

Birdsong is such a welcome and spirit-lifting sound, bringing relief from winter’s cold and snow. “Real birders” can identify individual voices of these spring arrivals, but nature’s music — like art — can be enjoyed without specialized knowledge.

Both birds and art-lovers flock to T.C. Steele State Historic Site, but for different reasons. As a flower and shrub covered clearing amidst deep hardwood forests, the site’s ridgetop setting provides the edge habitat needed by birds, and scenic views enjoyed by humans. Where there are hills, there must be valleys, and Salt Creek and Hunnicutt Valleys, depicted in many of Steele’s paintings, are a fine prelude to what awaits above.

Last week’s heavy rains caused Salt Creek to overflow onto the fallow fields bordering T.C. Steele Road. I was concerned, since a flooded road could mean a long detour, but all was fine — even more than fine as I spotted several migrating sandhill cranes feeding in the cornfield stubble transformed into a temporary wetland.

As I stopped to watch, I wondered about their diet. Had the floodwaters washed up fish or frogs into the fields? That’s what’s on the menu for great blue herons, which are similar in size to cranes and prefer the same marshy areas. Time for some research.

It turns out that the sandhills feed on corn, left from last year’s harvest, with perhaps an insect or two as an appetizer. But they may have been attracted by the water, since they were gone in two days, along with the puddles. This year, the rains coincided with their migration, and it was the first time I’d seen them there.

I also learned that the herons’ arrival comes a week or two after the cranes pass through — but they stick around. In summer, these large herons can often be seen flying over or wading in Salt Creek’s shallows. I’ll be glad to welcome them back.

Passing by the same field earlier in the week, a large shape in a tree caught my eye. A resident bald eagle was eyeing the field for a possible meal. What a treat to see! Even though Selma Steele found the Belmont grocery lacking when she moved here in 1907, the area wildlife isn’t complaining.

Soon daffodils will add color to the drab winter landscape, but for now, birds are on the move. So bring your binoculars to Brown County for some birding on what was in the Steele’s time known as Bracken Hill.