By: Caroline Wickes, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, History and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Bloomington
I grew up in a small farming community in central Indiana. I didn’t feel particularly connected to nature, perhaps because the vast swathes of corn seemed hardly natural. Once a month, my family of five would pack into our station wagon and drive to my grandmother’s house in Bloomington. We would always arrive late at night and my father would have to slam on the brakes constantly to avoid deer.
My grandmother lived in Meadowood, next to Lake Griffy, and on these coveted weekends my siblings and I would get to explore a magical world of tall oak trees, winding creeks, and steep ridges. Bloomington, in my mind, was a very wild place indeed. I loved every inch of it.
In high school, when I was looking at colleges I was drawn to IU not by the candy striped pants at Assembly Hall, but by the trees. They were big, as if they had stood there a long time and held inside them secret histories. I remember walking from Ballantine to Woodburn, crossing the Jordan River on a crisp fall day, and realizing that I belonged. I continued to feel more and more at home on IU’s campus with teachers who focused on sustainability, a job at IU Outdoor Adventures, and every free moment spent outside.
My love of natural spaces is matched only by my love of history. For many years, these loves dueled one another in my head—history or the outdoors? The outdoors or history? When I started my internship at the Office of the Bicentennial, there was a ceasefire. I had found perfect harmony in my project, which was a study of IU’s use of natural spaces particularly the IU Research and Teaching Preserve.
I decided to study the historical use of nature as a “laboratory” and came across the IU Biological Field Station in Warsaw, Indiana. In 1895 Professor Carl Eigenmann established the station and began teaching summer courses there to IU students. Days were spent studying what they found either in their fishing nets or on their botany excursions. It was the first inland biological station in the country.
I was amazed to see a rich history of marrying the natural and the academic. The Biological Station was able to produce high quality research and, perhaps more importantly, high quality researchers.
It got me thinking a little more about the process of research, something I was doing a lot of during my internship. When sleuthing for a clue in the archives you must be attentive, creative, and doggedly persistent, but most importantly you must be curious. Curiosity, not obligation, drove me to do my best work. I followed rabbit holes and I came across tidbits in the most unlikely places because I was interested in what I might find.
I feel the same way when I am in nature. When I am hiking or climbing or just sitting in the grass I feel inclined to wonder about the things around me. I pick up interesting leaves, observe sedimentation, and listen to the calls of some yet unknown bird. All the while, I am becoming more and more curious about the world around me.
I grew to recognize the transferability of my two lives: historical bookworm and adventurous outdoorswoman. I also started to see more and more instances of Indiana University doing the same. IU has balanced its natural spaces with its institutional setting and has often blurred the lines between the two.
I found this to be very true in the case of the IU Research and Teaching Preserve, which provides a space for academic inquiry using an outdoor laboratory. As more cases of this emerged, I also started to see an overarching ethos of environmental integration at Indiana University.
IU owns a lot of land for the express purpose of research and teaching in a natural setting. The field stations are as far away as Montana and as close to home as a jump across the bypass. This did not occur in a vacuum. This environmental ethos has developed over the years as students, faculty, and administrators continue to advocate for natural spaces.
I am currently pouring over documents about the Lilly-Dickey Woods, one of IU’s properties just 20 miles from campus. As I read about its previous owners, the various groups that have used it, and the research taking place there now I am struck by how much this land has meant to so many people.
A 1942 newspaper article about the land gets me thinking maybe it’s time to lace up my boots and go there myself. If history is any indicator, it is well worth the hike.
Read more about the creation of IU’s natural spaces here: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/05/25/ius-biological-field-station-podcast/