Good morning Indiana! Dawn is breaking over another snowy white winter day. Everywhere icicles ornament the rooftops so that Valparaiso looks like a town of gingerbread houses, each one an individual masterpiece.
This glittering silver perfection commands a magic unto itself but can also make for treacherous driving conditions when you discover that your brakes don’t function quite like they do on dry roads. To everyone not working from home or on their way back from a weekend visit with family or friends, drive carefully.
I don’t have anything terribly profound or useful to share today. I’ve recently been afflicted by the COVID blues, social distancing measures making it difficult to connect with friends, old and new. I’m constantly itching for activity and social interaction while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to curl up on my sofa and take a nice long nap.
However, despite the ever evolving trials of 2020, life is good here in Valpo. It snowed today for the first time all year after an exceptionally long Autumn. When I’m feeling stuck, I need only step outside for a stroll around the block to be reminded of the loveliness of nature here in Indiana.
Today’s post is all about the photo. Although I’ve only been living in Indiana for a little over a year, this is decidedly one of my favorite places in the state. Of course, it’s no secret at all but one of the secluded picnic areas found along the dirt trails of Sunset Hill Farm and the perfect spot for al fresco dining.
Here, beneath the emerald canopy, nibbling on homemade muffaletta (the best Italian sandwich you’ll ever have) and sipping a glass of pinot noir, I love to listen to the sound of insects and birds and the occasional walker out for a stroll. Any minute, Bilbo Baggins might come ambling around the corner smoking his pipe and chortling about his adventures. It’s impossible not to feel a deep sense of contentment in this place where the aged hobbit might wander.
You learn something new everyday. I’ve run past these a few times every week throughout the summer and watched them grow from tiny green buds on their thorny stalks. Having grown up plucking raspberries off the bushes in my mom’s garden I assumed that’s what these were. I had no idea this was the land of wild blackberries. It’s always exciting to make new discoveries, even small ones that make you think of home.
There’s a time of evening after the birds have rested their voices and before the insects strike up their chirping symphony when the light is a soft ember on the horizon. A few outdoorsy types appear through the greying light for an easy stroll through Indiana’s emerald woods and fields. There’s a shared understanding among the woodpeckers and the crickets and the midwesterners out for a walk that this is a time of quiet reverence, a moment’s silence to acknowledge the wonders of nature.
Along the earthy emerald paths near the Indiana Dunes there exists a welcoming and supportive community of outdoor runners. Who knew? Coming across other joggers traveling in the opposite direction while out on an expedition through the forest is hardly unexpected. It is an absolutely stunning place, a colorful exhibition of nature’s irresistible majesty. Of course people would go running there.
Finding other joggers on the trail is not unusual. I have however been pleasantly surprised by the team mentality they seem to have here. I grew up used to making way for faster, athletic types along many Colorado mountain trails. They were always polite and friendly but there’s so much more dialogue between the runners of Indiana. Nearly everyone I’ve come across has nodded and called ‘good job’ as we passed each other. People cheer for one another like it’s a race and we’re all on the same team. It makes me smile whenever this happens, seeing the heart of Indiana shine through before my fellow runners continue on their way.
I have found my people, folks who eat like hobbits. I am hopelessly in love with the pierogi culture in Indiana. This is a wondrous place where every county fair hot dog stand has a pierogi truck parked right next to it as the community unites to embrace its Polish heritage. The scents of sizzling sausage and frying pierogies wafts through the streets at every festival and farmer’s market.
I’m proud to live in a place where every grocery store is regularly stocked with spaetzle and kielbasa and numerous meat markets boast the best cuts in town. This is a place where flour and yeast are hard to come by in a global pandemic because everyone had the same idea and is at home baking their own fresh bread. The world renowned Pierogi Fest in Whiting is the perfect culmination and celebration of Indiana traditions.