April showers in Brown County (umbrellas included)

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

The arrival of spring might be described as lenient, merciful and mild. These terms are also the definition of the word clement, Theodore Steele’s middle name.

I’ve never lived in a city, but I expect that city dwellers also have budding expectations as the end of winter becomes more than just wishful thinking. We all await signs of spring — snowdrops, short sleeves — even rain! A bluebird’s trill one day, a drift of daffodils the next. Spring is cumulative.

Actually spring is more of a dance — two steps forward, one step back. After being teased by temps in the low 70s, it’s back to barely above freezing — but great weather for clearing out the flower beds in Selma Steele’s historic gardens. For you, T.C. Steele’s studio and the country home he shared with his wife Selma offer a glimpse into the past and the arrival of a new season, while sheltered from inclement weather.

T.C. Steele staff member Mary Ann Woerner captured this cheery April scene, despite the drizzle.

Although the site has much to offer on sunny days, (a hike along our wooded trails, a meditative moment at the cemetery, or a stroll through the historic gardens) it’s just as inspiring when the forecast turns gray. Sure, you could remain comfortable and cozy at home, but why not experience a bit of life in the early 1900s — and feel even more comfy in comparison?

Just as 40 degree temperatures feel cool in April but warm in January, comfort is relative. The Steele’s lifestyle (a term yet to be invented in their day) was opulent compared to that of their new Brown County neighbors, but mainstream in Indianapolis, where they usually wintered until 1916.

Eventually, Nature’s attractions overcame convenience, and T.C. and Selma decided to stay in Brown County year-round. Our schedule now coincides with theirs — we’re open year-round — whatever the weather. Don’t let the rain stop you from visiting. We’re high and dry on Bracken Hill.*

Experience spring in both 1907 and 2011. Let your expectations rise along with the waters of Salt Creek. Next time it rains, take a trek to Brown County and enjoy art, history and nature on 211 acres. Leave your umbrellas at home — we have plenty to spare.

*If spring floods leave the road underwater, call 812.988.2785 for detour directions.

Winter at State Historic Sites

The State Historic Sites take on different looks as the seasons change … T.C. Steele and Gene Stratton-Porter’s Sylvan Lake home shine in spring and summer with magnificent gardens, fall colors make the Muster on the Wabash interesting, and here are some great shots of Limberlost under a blanket of snow. Each of these sites have so much history and beauty, you should consider visiting them more than once a year! They’re all a short car ride from home … a nice day trip or weekend adventure. Be sure to check the website first, as some have winter hours (ex: Limberlost hours are now Tues. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.;  closed Sun. and Mon. until April 1.)

If you have pictures to share of your travels to any of the State Historic Sites or the Indiana State Museum, please load them to our Flickr page here.

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Adding Seasoning

“Seasons come and go. Eternal change — but always with their gifts of beauty.”

tc_steele_studio_signSo reads this sign by the studio door quoting T.C. Steele. Recently, I’ve asked myself why I pre-fer spring and fall to summer and winter. Not being a Minnesotan like my sister, the downside of winter seems pretty obvious, but what’s wrong with summer? It’s warm, it’s great for gardening (the only time for tomatoes) and summer means my living space is doubled. (I would rather have my screened-in porch than an extra bedroom.)

The calendar says that summer begins on June 21, but I think it arrived overnight. The woods are suddenly lush and green (but with fewer shades of green). Just last week I didn’t have to leave the porch to watch the birds and squirrels. Now the leaves are so dense I have to guess at what’s rustling around out there.

I think it’s the change of spring and fall that I like so much. Summer and winter are like meat and potatoes — very filling. They fill up the year, but they need spring and fall, however brief, to provide the seasoning. We welcome spring as an end to winter, and enjoy fall bittersweetly — knowing what lies ahead.

Both Selma and T.C. Steele surely appreciated all of the seasons. The artist painted many winter scenes en plein aire — not from the comfort of his studio. They added porches as fast as they enclosed them, to stay close to the natural world around them and more in tune with the changing seasons (and to stay cool in those pre-AC days).

After a few years summering in Brown County, the Steeles made The House of the Singing Winds their year-round home. I wonder if it was so they wouldn’t miss that day in May when spring suddenly turned into summer, long before it was official.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.