For those who seek the lonely places of the earth

Into the Dark

The weekend before last, Carl and I took our friend Greg to visit one of our favorite Indiana caves, Donahue. Although perhaps not as well-known as Buckners and Sullivan, this is still a classic and has been on Indy cavers’ radars for decades, and with good reason. It can be a fairly simple cave, if one so desires: for this reason, it was one of the first that I was introduced to when I started caving in 2016. It can also be challenging, though, with some wet crawls, including a bathtub known as The Eardipper, due to the combination of low ceiling and high water.

To me, the cave is amazing from a geohydrological aspect: the sheer volume of water that carved out the tall, tortuous canyons in the cave’s main passage must have been immense and powerful. Natural bridges can be found throughout, where the stone resisted the water’s relentless push. Once the water levels dropped, formation development began, and while Donahue doesn’t necessarily have the volume of speleothems as some other caves, the ones that have formed tend toward massive flowstone formations, and are as beautiful as any stalactite.

Access to the cave is gained through a culvert that stretches and turns around a corner before the metal gives way to rock. Apparently the intention had been to extend the culvert to cross completely under the highway for improved drainage, but plans were scrapped once they broke into the cave; the culvert was grated over and left intact but building ceased. Not far from the entry, we reach a large flowstone dotted with rimstone dams that blocked the way; we maneuvered over it, careful not to damage the formation. We climbed up into the upper passage and Carl pointed out the connection into Doghill, an adjacent cave, though we declined to navigate through; a somewhat sketchy canyon marked the beginning of Berg’s Squeeze, so we turned back and returned to the stream passage.

We spent the majority of our time exploring the area known as Over/Under Stream, due to all the natural bridges, most low enough to require either clambering over or crawling under them. Being the stream passage, of course, meant that we were in water for the majority of our time, which was generally not problematic but came into play when we were crawling. That said, although we came out wet into the chilly evening air, it was still a fantastic trip, and just like with Wayne’s Cave and many others, each time I have returned to the cave I have found myself in amazing new places.

I have been asked before why I got into caving, and the story has been told before, but it is one that I love to tell regardless. Alison and I had just returned from Isle Royale, which had been my most ambitious adventure to date; we had spent five days backpacking on the remote island, the mainland far out of sight and no resupply options on the trail. It was wonderful and empowering, and terrible and exhausting, all rolled in together; but when I returned back home and to the corporate day job, I felt that wave of depression that hits me every time: the adventure is over. All of those unique, amazing places and things were then closed off to me until I would get a chance to take another vacation.

But in one of those first few days back, while talking about the beauty out there in the wild, a customer suggested to me that I should try caving, and of course the rest is history. I took her suggestion, and suddenly found that it didn’t necessarily take days and distance to see something remote and beautiful. Obviously, having some extra time and traveling farther doesn’t hurt matters at all; but to be able to have an adventure, to see something new that many others never will, well. I couldn’t imagine where my life would be now if I hadn’t listened to her idea, and gone to that meeting.

Time tried to sneak away from me again with this post. As I’ve mentioned before, this time of year is a particularly tough one: the retail job is ramping up to crazy mode, and school is headed the same way. But I do want to reiterate that while I may end up a day or two late (or in this case, a week or so) I do intend keep having adventures throughout the winter and to keep sharing them with you. At the same time, I would love for you to share with me- what are your favorite ways to spend the winter months? And what would you like to see more of on here?

Until next time, keep wandering.

Into Autumn

Fall is upon us, and it is bittersweet. The weather broke overnight after the last official day of summer, dropping from the high nineties to the sixties, and I write this while wishing I were outside; those who have followed and supported As We Wander for a while, though, may have noticed my tendency to disappear this time of the year. It’s not that I stop caring about nature at that point, or the blog, or my fellow wanderers; but it’s now, around the start of fall every year, that time really becomes a commodity, and 2018 is no exception. The day job, being retail, has begun its end of year ramp-up and I’m knee-deep into my final semester for my first undergrad degree- and then I will graduate again, at about the same time next year, with my second. Meanwhile, I’ve just completed First Aid/ CPR/ AED/ Oxygen Provider certification as I look toward both dive and cave rescue. It’s been a busy season already, for having just started. This weekend, though, I get to escape to Lookout Mountain for one of our favorite yearly events, namely, TAG, a caving event in the area where Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia intersect, and we hope to be able to get Alison on rope for the first time at Iron Hoop on this trip.

Axsom Loop fern

Meanwhile, though, I’m just doing my best to keep it all together, and to fit in some exploration whenever I find a chance. I had a rare Saturday off a few weeks ago and we headed to the Charles Deam Wilderness to hike along the Axsom Loop Trail, with the trailhead found behind the same fire tower where I found the Sycamore Loop, previously written up as the Land of the Spiders. It was one of those hikes where little actually went wrong; Arwyn, the teenager, decided she didn’t like how her shoes fit, but in a nod to our friend Stephanie who hiked part of the Appalachian Trail barefoot, she pulled off her shoes, tied the laces together and slung them over her shoulder, and we continued on.

The middle of the week is when I’m most likely to find a few free hours, though, which makes for short solo adventures. One particular place that I have meant to visit for some time is Wolf Park, a non-profit organization that focuses on research, education and conservation matters in regards to the amazing creatures. I remember going there once when I was a child, no older than five, and somewhere I still have a postcard purchased on that day, a quarter of a century ago. So Tuesday I grabbed my camera and hopped in the car to make the about hour drive north to Battle Ground, Indiana, named for the Battle of Tippecanoe, whose memorial stands only a mile or two away from the park.
I arrived about two o’clock, having come from class in downtown Indianapolis; I hadn’t lost much time, though, as the park is only open for a few hours each day, specifically 1-5 pm. I shelled out my $8 for the tour when I got there, which conveniently was scheduled to begin only a few minutes later, and we began our three-quarter mile walk around the park.
The first enclosure we approached was also the only one whose name I learned that day- Turtle Island was the name of it, and the guide explained that the founder of the park had originally intended to research birds instead of wolves, before learning that he was apparently allergic to all of them. Before this unfortunate discovery, though, he had already started to implement this plan and designed Turtle Island to appeal to waterfowl, with a large pond contained within the enclosure. The guide pointed out Turtle Island itself, a small patch of land in the pond, and explained that wolves build their dens there. At that moment, a wolf loped by, and with her tongue lolling from her mouth, she seemed to be grinning.

Wolf Park’s “Butterscotch Boys”

At next enclosure, we met a fat coyote, then two wolves, apparently brothers, lounging in the shade. On around were some more unlikely litter-mates; two of the three were nearly identical, bearing yellow coloration from their Arctic Wolf grandmother, but their sister Fiona’s fur was much darker. The guide explained how the three were all born with juvenile cataracts, which led to the difficult decision of sterilizing them due to the possibility of it being a genetic issue; this has apparently been difficult on Fiona, who has experienced several pseudopregnancies, although of course they have come to nothing. Last year, though, the tenant of Turtle Island had a litter of pups for whom she was unable to provide proper care, so Fiona was given the opportunity to adopt them and was happy to provide that care. Those pups, now yearlings, have mostly remained in the park, although two were traded with another organization in order to maintain genetic diversity for future breeding.

As we finished our tour and headed back toward the gift shop, I tried to think back to the visit that I’d made so many years before. I can’t reconcile the two trips with the little memory I have of that first time- but my love for wolves and for the wild has remained.
Now, I must sign off. As I finish this, we’re in Alabama about to go caving. We will talk soon, but meanwhile, adventure awaits.

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