Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lost River, Lost Lifestyle

The Karst landscape of southern Indiana's cave country is overwhelming in Orange County, near Orleans. The fields are dotted with sink holes of many different sizes. One study found 1,022 sink holes in an area one mile square, and this is deemed to be typical. Although the focus of our trip was the Karst, I enjoyed the birds too. In the country, the Red-winged Blackbirds were abundant. I was excited to see so many Meadowlarks perched on the telephone lines. Purple Martins lived in apartments at every farm house. On the river, large black water birds, which I thought some sort of domestic goose, ended up being Mandarin ducks, 32 inches long with red feathers on their faces. I only saw one Kestral, although this looked like ideal hawk territory.
The Lost River starts above ground, winding its way through the fields, providing water and homes for fish and wildlife. After a while though, the river disappears altogether, sinking into swallow holes, leading it to underground caverns and streams. When it rains hard, the underground system fills up and the stream overflows into the normally dry river bed for a while. It may even boil up into a spring as it escapes the pressure of confined passages. Millions of years of flowing water are in action here, molding the topography.
The Gulf, as the locals call it, is where two caverns have collapsed, leaving a big footprint in the ground. At one end, it is about 10 feet tall, while at the other end it is closer to 90 feet tall. When it rains, up to 10 feet of water can collect in the bottom of this natural pit. Drains at the other end allow it to all seep away in a short time into the underground system. Minute fossils of the Mississippian era have been worked loose from the dissolved limestone and gather like sand along the drain areas. Around the Gulf we saw and heard a Northern Parula, Eastern Towhee and Prairie Warbler.
The river is only one vanishing feature though. Many of the well kept farms are owned and operated by Amish farmers. During our tour of the river with the Naturalist @ Heart group from the Falls, we paid a stop at one such farm, where the women were selling fresh strawberries on the front porch and just happened to be removing fresh-baked bread from the oven. We saw entire families working in the garden, and laundry hanging on the line. It reminded me of my grandmother's house and garden, and the long hot hours we grandchildren spent picking strawberries. Our guide said that when the Amish bought a farm, they took the satellite dish off the roof and the phone out of the wall. I saw no power lines going to the house. We discussed the dangers of pesticides and pollutants entering the water supply and how those risks affected farm wells almost immediately. A large portion of at risk babies at the regional hospital are from Amish families because of the untreated water.
Sometimes I fear the consequences of losing touch with the land. If some catastrophe struck, our urban/suburban society would fall apart in short order and violence would be the rule rather than the exception. We would be unable to feed ourselves, through lack of land but mostly through lack of knowledge. We depend so much on technology, and I don't think the technology will be reliable in an emergency. Too many of us no longer know how to be self-reliant. Even the small towns are dying all over mid-America, and have been for years. If I had to live on a farm, with little communication with the world, working from dawn to dusk just to keep my family going, I could. Do I want to? Not really. But I'm glad someone still can. They may be our hope at some time in the future.

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