Ouabache State Park in Bluffton, Indiana is the one place where I feel most connected to earth and space and God and sense of well-being. This is where I come to feel most freely. I come in the spring to feel hope. I come in the summer to experience joy. I come in the fall to witness change. I come in the winter to know restfulness.
A forested place, the pine trees – ever freshly green no matter the season – stretch up into the sky so high I can barely see their tops for the sun. There are oaks as well, and probably maples. I am no arborist, and not quite a tree hugger, but I am happy wandering the paths under these many boughs.
In the spring, there are leaf buds and flowers of different kinds speckling the branches. Walking the dirt trails among these trees coming alive from a winter’s sleep is an exercise in expectation. Each day brings new growth to every branch. Each week brings new nests and fresh-laid eggs as long-gone birds return to raise new families in familiar woods. Each walk shows promise welling up into fruition as acorns grow, leaves unfurl, and the native fauna begin the rituals that will bring new life into the park come summer.
Walking into summer, I see how the park has grown into its potential. Now the boughs of the deciduous trees are fully leafed. Green does not begin to describe the various hues of color I can see above me now. There are dark and light greens, yellow greens, olive greens, fern greens; so many shades I cannot name them all, but my eye discerns their differences. As I walk the trail around the long, wide lake, I climb the berm and come out of the trees for a while.
At the edge of the lake are cattails and other water plants. Dragonflies practice map-of-the-earth flights and take their brief respites on the gently swaying reeds. Water-spiders glide long-legged across the surface, causing hidden frogs to appear at the offer of such a tasty lunch. Farther out, there are pops of water where fish surface finding their own food. Lazy concentric circles flare out from the pops in seeming unending rhythm, merging into other circles from still other fish bites. Farthest away, I can see the sun’s reflection on the ripples the breeze is causing. The trees across the lake throw long mirror-like reflections onto the water.
Fall comes. The leaves of trees and bushes are tinted with orange, red, umber, and brown. As autumn progresses, the foliage reaches what all the nature lovers crave: “peak color”. The fiery colors blaze forth in such glory that I hold my breath at the wonder of it. Back into the woods and the well-traveled trails, there is a canopy of color that can rival any impressionist’s palette.
Walking the trails deeper into autumn, I am privy to the leaves making their slow, sensuous, spiraling fall to the ground. They flirt with the breeze, swaying this way and that as they come finally to land. Now my walk is strewn with a thick layer of fallen leaves and pine needles. My steps are softened, but the sound is heightened by the crunch of crispness underfoot. I can be heard more easily than any other time of the year, and my footsteps alert the deer that are grazing out of my sight. I can hear them leap away deeper into the woods though I can rarely see them. Only sometimes am I able to glimpse a white tail or a flash of leg. It won’t be until winter when I will see them fully.
At last, winter. Deep snow, bare branches, and a frozen lake are now the stars of the show. Canadian geese fly in and land in long slides on the solid surface of Ouabache Lake. The deer are seen browsing bushes that still have forage. It is face-numbingly cold now, but the sun on the snow is blinding bright. Footfalls are hushed by the deep snow whether on the trails or in the open areas.
I come to Ouabache throughout the year to experience and acknowledge all the beauty nature gives in her every season. I am never disappointed. I am never bored. I am always delighted and surprised by some new thing I am shown and allowed to know.
* John Muir