Dialogue Blog: Camp Favorites

by Katy Creagh, School Programs Developer, and Eric Todd, Gallery Programming Manager

041113_katy_ericKATY: Eric, I am so excited! My job has changed and I am now the Indiana State Museum Summer Camp Director. Now, I know you have a special place in your heart for Summer Camps, so I thought it might be fun to discuss our Top 5 favorite things about camp.

ERIC: If there are two things I love, they are camp and lists. So sure, I’ll play along. 

KATY: Great, I’ll go first.  At number five, I have recess. You get to spend time outside playing games and enjoying the summer weather. It has all the perks of recess when you were in elementary school.

ERIC: You may have just stolen one of mine, but that is fine. My fifth favorite thing about summer camp is the free camp t-shirt. Every time I get one, that’s one more day before I have to do laundry.

KATY: Are you sure it’s just one more day? For number four, I went with looking for fossils. That includes microfossils in Diggin’ Indiana and Exploring Nature Camps and then sifting dirt in Paleontology II. It’s something I’ve never experienced before coming to the museum, and it’s fun to think that I’m doing the same work that REAL scientists and paleontologists do.

ERIC: That is cool, I agree. My number four is making things. You might call them crafts, but it’s really more than that. By summer’s end my desk is always filled with awesome new decorations that also serve as reminders of the fun I had.

KATY: Perfect transition, my number three is also crafty—weaving. You get to try weaving in two different camps (Indiana Artists and History Alive!) and make my favorite, “mug rugs.”

ERIC: I would normally give you a hard time about “mug rugs,” but I do have one at my desk that I use daily. My number three choice is a repeat of one of yours, but you’ll notice I placed it a bit higher on my list. Recess, lunch break and snack time. I have so much fun in those moments! I loved recess as a kid, but now I really appreciate it. And, if my boss is reading this, Susan — what are your thoughts on instituting museum recess?

KATY: I’d vote “yes” for that one. Alright, now we’re getting down to the big ones. At number two on my list, I have all things crafting. See how high it is on my list compared to yours? From the end of the week presentations to making a mosaic in Diggin’ Indiana camp … I love all the projects and crafts we get to make.  

ERIC: I am shocked that is not your number one, frankly, especially with the new Indiana Fashion Runway Camp which I imagine will let you craft around the clock. My number two is behind-the-scenes tours. As you know, even as museum employees we don’t have access to everything in the museum, but during camp, we get to go places and see things that most visitors — and staff — never see.

KATY: Nice choice. But now the big one. My number one favorite thing about summer camp at the Indiana State Museum is … the campers! Spending time with old friends and making new ones — I get to play games and learn new things about Indiana and don’t have to sit at my desk all day … I get to hang out with cool people all day which is way better.

ERIC: Great minds think alike — my number one choice is also the people. I always meet the coolest people in summer camp. From wildlife experts (with their animals) to Abraham Lincoln himself, you never know who you’ll see stopping by an Indiana State Museum camp. Oh, and the campers and counselors are pretty cool, too!

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Wherein we learn why the Limberlost now abounds with deer, but Mrs. Porter never saw any

by Curt Burnette, Limberlost Program Developer/Naturalist

It is easy to imagine the mighty Limberlost swamp would have been brimming with wildlife during the years Gene Stratton-Porter wandered about it, recording her observations and taking photographs. And, in the case of many types of wildlife, this would have been true. However, other kinds of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Believe it or not, some were already gone or disappearing even during Gene’s time.

It is quite common now to see white-tailed deer crossing our local roads, in fields or back yards or dead along highways. If anything, parts of Indiana and some of the eastern United States are overrun with deer, even in suburbs and cities. Can you imagine a time when there were no deer here at all? Although it does not seem possible, it is true.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Deer were abundant when the first settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, but were so heavily hunted during the 19th century that the last deer was reported in our state in 1893. For the next 41 years, there were basically no deer in Indiana but for the occasional stray from a surrounding state! As I wander the Limberlost State Historic Site these days, I see deer or deer tracks everywhere I go. Travel back to when Gene was wandering these same grounds more than 100 years ago; she would never have seen a deer or their tracks.

In 1934, the Division of Fish & Game (now known as the Division of Fish & Wildlife) began reintroducing white-tailed deer into seven counties. By 1951, the deer population had recovered well enough to allow limited hunting. Nowadays, hunting is allowed throughout the state and deer season is a joy to many Hoosier hunters. Hunting fees are also critical to managing and maintaining Indiana wildlife populations and habitats.

There were other animals that were formerly present in the Limberlost but were gone by Gene’s time. The hunting party from which Limber Jim got himself lost in the early 1800s could have encountered wolves and bear, but Gene would not have. Another animal both Limber Jim, in his day, and I, at the present, could see are beaver. By Gene’s time, they had been trapped almost to extinction, but like the deer, they have been reintroduced and are now common. Wild turkey were also once plentiful in Indiana but disappeared. They too have been brought back successfully through our conservation efforts and are found in today’s Limberlost, but not Gene’s.

One animal that we know Gene encountered frequently is so rare today it is classified as endangered in Indiana. In her writings, Gene mentions how common the massasauga rattlesnake (the swamp rattler) was in the area. Now, they are pretty much found only in a few protected spots in northern Indiana such as state parks. In the Limberlost of the past, Gene and other residents were very concerned about the bite of a rattlesnake, but that’s not the case today. Today’s concern is the collision of a deer along the road instead of the bite from a rattlesnake. Times sure have changed.

42,000 Years Old!

by Chuck Smith,  Marketing Graphic Artist

When I was young, my dream of being an archaeologist or paleontologist was a close second to an artistic profession. After graduating, I became a full time graphic designer at the Indiana State Museum. I didn’t think it got any better than creating art for Indiana’s #1 place for science and culture, but I was wrong. For the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a few days on the Megenity Cave dig with other museum professionals searching for ancient bones and tools. 

Today is my first full day back in Indianapolis after three days in the cave and I still cannot believe how exciting the trip was. After only five minutes of digging on Day 2, I made my first real discovery! The hope of finding something special sometimes makes your mind turn every little piece of mud into a bone or rock into an arrowhead, but I knew right away that it wasn’t my imagination this time (or ‘bone fever’ as they call it). Something truly awesome had appeared on my shovel. I whipped off some dirt, held it up for a better look and realized that I had found a peccary jaw which I would later learn dates back between 35,000 and 42,000 years!

The digging and time spent with colleges and friends always makes for a great time, but experiencing the magic of unearthing something like this has made for a day that I‘ll never forget.

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Knee deep in June

by LeAnn Luce, West Region Program and Earned Income Manager

“… Tell you what I like the best —
‘Long about knee-deep in June,
‘Bout the time strawberries melts
on the vine, — some afternoon …”

— James Whitcomb Riley

For many of us at our Indiana State Historic Sites, June brings a much needed reprieve from all of the hustle and bustle of holding site related events and having thousands of school children visit our historic treasures during the months of April and May. A welcome necessity in keeping our Indiana State Historic sites doors operating and open.

For most of our site managers, programmers and other site staff, this is a marathon month or two of activity and affords little time to enjoy their own site’s surroundings and the comings of goings of spring. While the phenomenal events of Mother Nature’s show of emerging flora and fauna are noticed, most staff are simply too busy to reflect upon her daily gifts.

And then it happens … we find ourselves “Knee deep into June” and we notice the special things Mother Nature has been saving for us — a new born baby fawn and her mother, a nest of hungry baby birds, new butterflies enjoying June foliage and a beautiful box of flowers that only just now have reached their prime. We see it and we are thankful for these sites and the wonderfully special places we work. This ain’t no ordinary job!

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Come and visit our Indiana State Historic Sites … I can assure you it has been worth the wait!

What scat is that?

by Carrie M. Miller, Science & Technology Program Developer

As the Exploring Nature summer camp director, preparing the activities and materials to be used in summer camp is only half of the fun. The other half comes from seeing the looks on the campers’ faces as each activity is presented to them. Those looks vary from “Wow!” to “Really?”  This year, in Exploring Nature camp, I’m really hoping for an “Ew!” to go along with that “Wow!” Why? Because it’s all about the scat. 

What scat is that? Cat scat? Rat scat? Bat scat?

You may call it dung, droppings, feces, pellets or poop, but we’re going to be scientific and call it scat. Using my notes from back in my park naturalist days, I’m using an activity on how to make your own scat. And no, not in the everday process. This scat activity uses oatmeal, cocoa powder and food coloring. Food coloring is used when creating select scat pieces such as goose scat and you can add pet hair for more realistic canine scat. Creating this pseudoscat has its advantages. First, there’s no nose-pinching smell to run away from. Instead, it’s an aromatic chocolate scent. Second, it’s way safer and more sanitary than trying to actually go out and search for scat from coyotes, geese and deer. Third, the pieces can be strategically placed for the campers to find. And finally, I think it’s just fun to make!

Adding a little pet hair makes the carnivore scat look more realistic.

We’ll be using the homemade “scat” in the “What Scat is That?” activity in Exploring Nature camp the week of June 18. Campers will spend three days (Monday – Wednesday) at the museum with their own backpacks going on habitat hikes at White River State Park, seeing a live animal presentation, learning about animal adaptations and testing their scat identification skills, just to name a few activities. Campers will then spend the rest of the week (Thursday – Friday) at Eagle Creek Park where they can put their knowledge to good use. Who knows, maybe one of them will come across some actual scat on a trail at the park and be able to answer “What Scat is That?”

A passion for wildflowers

by Karen Lowe, Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites member

If you want to indulge your passion for wildflowers and enjoy the sound of a variety of birds, I recommend a visit to the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site at Rome City. Overlooking Sylvan Lake, her Cabin at Wildflower Woods has been accurately maintained to represent the author’s years here. Built with the proceeds from the sales of her many books, the cabin and surrounding land reflect her interest in the preservation of natural habitats for flora and fauna.

Members enjoy thier tour of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Cabin in Rome City. The author is in the yellow jacket.

The site managers gave an impressive tour of the cabin. The beautiful cherry woodwork was fashioned from trees which were on the property. Several examples of Stratton-Porter’s photography are on the walls. Some of the furniture is original, such as a cherry chest, carved by her father, Mark Stratton, and given as a wedding gift. Her piano, which she brought from her Limberlost home in Geneva, is in the library, which also contains her Victrola. The library is lined with built-in shelves filled with the many books that interested her. The cabin has four fireplaces, the most impressive one being in the parlor. This massive fireplace, called the Friendship fireplace, is made from a variety of interesting stones, including the colorful pudding stone, which she liked so much that she also had it surrounding a spring out in the garden. A large picture window, which Ms. Porter called the million dollar window because of the view of the lake, dominates this room. The conservatory has much natural light coming in through the many windows, and is designed to serve as an aviary as well. This is much like her conservatory at the Limberlost which she designed to bring in moths.

The second floor of the cabin has a sleeping porch that looks out on the lake, and can be accessed from Ms. Porter’s bedroom. There is a fireplace and half-bath in her room. The built-in storage units include a huge cedar closet in the hall, used to store blankets and winter clothes.

Equally impressive was the tour of the gardens. There are both wildflower habitat and what she called her “tame garden.” She left extensive information as to how this garden was laid out and planted, and the managers, with the help of master gardeners and other volunteers, have painstakingly worked to recreate these plans. In one of the gardens there are globe thistle, butterfly weed, milkweed and other plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A garden designed for sun-loving flowers contains black-eyed Susans, cone flowers and ladies’ mantle.  Another area is for Indiana native flowers: wild oats, wood poppy, May apple, bluebells, bloodroot, wild ginger.

There is a fascinating variety of wildflowers throughout the property. In bloom during our visit were large flower trillium, rue anemone, Dutchman’s britches, violets, shooting stars, Jack- in-the-pulpit, nodding trillium. As we strolled through the gardens, we heard many birds, and saw a few, such as a downy woodpecker and a nuthatch snacking on suet cakes. A mute swan was gracefully gliding across the lake, and we heard the call of geese, the twitter of the tufted titmouse, and the louder voice of a pileated woodpecker.

Gene Stratton-Porter died in California in 1924. Her wish was to be buried under her favorite tree here in the Wildflower Woods, which was the chinkapin oak. Many years after her death, her wish was fulfilled and there is a sculpture and lovely headstone for her and her daughter Jeannette off one of the footpaths.

Postscript: As usual, Chrissy Vasquez arranged a great members’ tour to Rome City on April 14, which included a comfortable bus (driver, James), informative literature, snacks and videos pertaining to the subject of the tour. A meal was provided at the site as well and each participant was given a package of wildflower seeds and some postcards which show rooms in the cabin. Consider becoming a member of the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites!

On Expedition at the Indiana State Museum

By Krystle Buschner, Science & Technology Interpretation Specialist

A new program titled Expedition! is premiering at the Indiana State Museum this Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21.  It is a game similar to Oregon Trail, but slightly different. Expedition teams will be traveling through 19th century Indiana to complete scientific objectives (even “hunt” with rubber band rifles!) or their team will face consequences. 

In anticipation of Expedition!, the education staff decided to go on their own expedition … through the Indiana State Museum:

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During the Expedition! program, leaders will explore a cave and uncover fossils, identify three rocks or minerals, find a new discovery, identify three types of soil found in Indiana, and encounter a Native American tribe. We hope to see all expedition leaders on April 20 and 21!