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.

In-Your-Face Tree Fun, Free Trees and Tree Planting Tips for Arbor Day!

Tall or short, full or droopy, fruit-bearing or nutty: Trees, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. And of course, like people, they’re awesome for lots of different reasons.

From climbing trees as a kid, enjoying their shade as a teenager, or eating cherries grown in my own backyard, I’m happy to be a fan and I hope to instill the appreciation of trees in my 2-year-old son, who can’t wait to reach that first low hanging branch and begin his own climbing adventures.

So planning the Arbor Day Celebration for the Indiana State Museum is less like work for me and more like hosting a great big party for all of the trees that have contributed to my memories growing up. From the energetic program Trees, Who Needs ‘Em? to free trees, tree planting advice, tree trivia and wood art – I get to go hog wild with in-your-face tree fun each and every Arbor Day.

In addition to free trees (American plum and gray dogwood this year) and tree planting advice from the Department of Natural Resources, we’ll have a wood turner, live animals, Native American plant use, dulcimer building, tree science, bonsai trees and tons more!

Purdue will be on-hand to talk about tree-destroying insects and a giant Smokey Bear will remind us all that only we can prevent forest fires. Live demonstrations, take home treats, plus the chance to talk to tree experts and artists will round out one very nature-filled day and I hope you get a chance to stop by and enjoy the party.

Come join our Arbor Day party on Friday, April 30! For a full list of this year’s participants, please visit the official Indiana State Museum Arbor Day page.

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When I Say, “Arbor” You Say, “Day”…

Marcus Harshaw, museum program specialist and Arbor Day facilitation extraordinaire, shares his thoughts on the 2009 Arbor Day Celebration.

Children enjoying the "Trees, Who Needs 'Em" program.

Children enjoying the "Trees, Who Needs 'Em" program.

Did you ever say, “I want to be an arborist when I grow up?” Me neither, but after another successful Arbor Day Celebration, it has me considering a career change! (Part-time of course) The day was filled with so many activities and so much to learn about trees that one could not leave the museum without a new respect for trees.

Greeted at the front door by Indiana 811’s Holey Moley, over 1,700 visitors from schools across the great state of Indiana were on hand to participate in the festivities. DNR Forestry distributed free redbud trees to everyone to plant in their own backyards and ran out of trees by noon! Tim Womick returned to play his classic role as Johnny Appleseed, and a towering 15-foot tall Smokey Bear was on hand reminding us that only we could prevent forest fires.

arbor_day_smokeyTim’s visit was joined by Treesearch Scientist Professor Arbor E. Tum, and Indiana’s favorite survivor Rupert Boneham of Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: All Stars. They all joined forces to teach everyone about proper tree care, stewardship. We were all reminded of the wonderful things trees give us including oxygen, and food. Trees create a treecosystyem and provide plants and animals with shelter and food. Trees even help the treeconomy by providing jobs! One job in particular is one held by Chad Brey. As an arborist he climbs trees to take care of them, and demonstrated how to climb trees by climbing up and down the side of the café building in the Governor O’Bannon Great Hall! My favorite part is when Tim asked the audience if it was ever okay to cut down a tree, and we all answered no as if we were hypnotized! Of course the answer is yes it is okay to cut down trees as Tim reminded us with a roll of toilet paper.

After the t-shirts were distributed and the Frisbees were tossed into the crowd, it was time to plant a tree! Dozens of students migrated to the redbud garden on the east side of the museum to help Tim plant this year’s redbud tree, and as quickly as the event began it was over. Learn, teach, give away free stuff, and have fun? All in a day’s work at your Indiana State Museum.

Until next year,

When I say Arbor, you say Day, ARBOR …

I “heart” trees!

Planting trees on Arbor Day.

Planting trees on Arbor Day.

By definition, I’m probably not what you’d call a tree hugger. I’ve never attended a protest or chained myself to a tree (or anything else, actually) and I’ve never gone on a hunger strike for the cause. Perhaps I should though, because I really dig trees. I loved climbing them as a kid and investigating what kinds of critters lived in them; and even old, dead trees meant the possibility of morels in the spring!

Since moving to “the big city” several years ago, I’ve especially missed having lots and lots of trees around. Luckily for those of us who need our tree fix, city and state park systems help provide a welcome reprieve from the daily bustle, treeless commutes and new subdivisions with their fresh landscaping. But we also need to do our part to make our yards, neighborhoods and cities more tree and nature friendly.

Carving trees with a chainsaw.

Carving trees with a chainsaw.

So in honor of trees, the Indiana State Museum, Indy Parks and Indiana Urban Forest Council are throwing a little party (okay, who are we kidding – we throw a HUGE party) to celebrate trees. We invite Tim Womick to come all the way up from North Carolina to get us hyped about planting trees and being good stewards of our environment. We have experts from across the state, including Dr. Speer from the Indiana State University Dendrochronology Lab in Terre Haute. (Dendrochronology: the science dealing with the study of the annual rings of trees in determining the dates and chronological order of past events.) We have a chainsaw carver, beekeeper, wood turner and tons of other groups. Then we invite the Department of Natural Resources down to pass out free trees to everyone!

As spring rolls in and the weather gets nicer, it’s time to head out to the park and enjoy the shade of a big oak tree and watch squirrels frolic in the branches. And hey, if you are looking to plant a tree or see a great Arbor Day show – stop on by the museum on April 24. We’re always looking for more muscle to help with our own tree planting.

For more information about the Arbor Day Celebration or to see a short video from a past event, please visit the official museum website: www.indianamuseum.org.