Wherein Gene Stratton-Porter's #1 Swamp Guide is Revealed
By Terri Gorney, Vice-president, Friends of the Limberlost
Who was the man that Gene Stratton-Porter wrote was helpful in her field work and good at finding bird nests? She referred to him only as Paxson. Gene gave clues as to what he looked like and his clothing as she had taken a couple photos of him that she included in her nature book, "Homing With the Birds." The caption she provided beneath one of these photos said "Paxon, my best Limberlost guide, shinning up a small tree to see what a nest contains." Although Gene spelled his name differently, it was assumed this Paxson was linked to the Paxsons of Jay County, but that could not be proven.
There was a short notation in the Geneva Herald, dated July 5, 1901, that stated Mr. Paxson who worked as an oil pumper on the C.D. Porter farm had burned his hand with fireworks. This was the first time that we knew that a Mr. Paxson had worked for Gene's husband Charles. Could this be Gene's Paxson?
The 1900 Federal Census showed there was a J. W. Paxson living in Hartford Township, which was the same township where the farm was located. His profession was listed as oil pumper. Other information included he was married to Isora, and was born in 1867 in Ohio. This put him in the age range of Gene's Paxson. He had one son, Chester, this was the only Paxson family for 10 miles around.
According to the Geneva Herald in October 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Paxson moved into a flat in T. E. Mann's Building in Geneva.
The 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Census were studied. J. W Paxson was James William Paxson. Paxson could be traced through his lifelong profession as an oil pumper through the oil fields of Wichita County, Texas and Carter County, Oklahoma. He died February 6, 1938 in the community of Wilson, Oklahoma.
Fast forward to the present. Limberlost naturalist Curt Burnette portrays Paxson. He has studied Gene's photos to examine his clothing. His hats and his simple garb of a homespun shirt and sturdy pants were typical of common laborers of the early 20th century. Curt purchased clothing of the type Paxson would have worn. Curt then works his own special magic to bring Paxson "to life." "Paxson" has even been the guest speaker at the Pink Tea held at the Barker Mansion in Michigan City, Indiana. Curt has acquired a new family. he has been made an honorary member of the Paxson Family by Marty Paxson Grundy who created the Paxson Family: Sixth Generation hosted by Rootsweb and Ancestry.
Do you want your own tour of the Limberlost Territories? Curt has created the Rent-a-Naturalist Program. A tour of the wetlands with a modern Paxson is as close as you can get to walking with Gene in the Limberlost. Nowadays, in addition to being able to proclaim that the Limberlost lives again, we can also say that Paxson "lives" again.
Writer's Note: This article appeared in the Berne Witness on November 17, 2017. A more detailed account of the research on Paxson was written for the Ohio Genealogical Quarterly in 2017.
Curt Burnette as Paxson with one of our Friends members at an event.
Friends member Kimberley Roll is a popular blogger with her nature hikes at the Limberlost Territories in southern Adams County (Geneva) and northern Jay County (Bryant). Join her as she takes you on a special February hike.
Mallards in the Loblolly Creek in southern Adams County.
Juvenile bald eagle checking out the Geneva nest. This is before the adult pair were nesting.
Wild turkey which would have been our national bird if Benjamin Franklin had his way.
Bald eagle bathing at the Loblolly Marsh.
Rough-legged hawk. Two to three of these hawks have been seen at the Loblolly Marsh.
Fog over the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve.
Three of the resident deer that like walking the Deacon's Trail at the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve.
Short-eared owl at dusk at the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve.
Great Blue Heron. There are a few that stay around here in the winter.
Muskrats are a common site at the wetlands and in the creeks.
Kestrel. They are commonly seen at the Loblolly Marsh and the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve.
We hope that Kimberley Roll's hike has inspired you to explore Limberlost. This is a basic map of the 1800 acres that are preserved.
SANJO Christmas Bird Count
By Terri Gorney
On January 1 Limberlost hosted the SANJO CBC. SANJO stands for Southern Adams, Northern Jay, and Ouabache. Randy Lehman came up with this name to represent the area that the circle covers. This circle was created for the National Audubon Society. It came out of the old Adams County CBC that had a 40 year history. Limberlost hosted this event for the 5th year.
It had to be the coldest on record for this area with temperatures -4 to -9 degrees in the morning. That did not deter a record number of 27 field, feeder and property counters from helping. We had participants from Mississinewa Audubon Society, Robert Cooper Audubon Society and Stockbridge Audubon Society and local residents. A total of 48 species were record, 2171 individuals.
This was the 118th Christmas Bird Count by the National Audubon Society. This count relies on volunteers. It is an early winter bird census. This count gives an idea of bird populations and how they have changed over the years. Some species have prospered and others have not. In our area, habitat restoration and creation of the Limberlost Territories and Ouabache State Park have helped the birds to thrive. We now have a year round population of bald eagles and northern harriers and short-eared owls as regular winter residents.
Some of the best birds were the bald eagles, short-eared owls, rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, greater white-fronted geese, snow buntings, Lapland longspurs, Carolina wrens, brown creepers, yellow-bellied sapsucker, redheaded woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers. We had a record numbers of horned larks, Lapland longspurs, snow buntings, and American tree sparrows this year.
We met at the Limberlost Visitor Center for a chili carry-in lunch. We had a feast along with great conversation. It is a great way to start the new year.
A big thank you to all that participated in this event. In my opinion, it is the volunteers that make this count special. A few of our volunteer had "lifers" - birds they had not seen before. There is always room for more counters for January 1 2019. You do not have to be an expert birder to help with this count. Larry Parker was the compiler before me. Larry has a long history of birding in Adams County and helping with bird counts. He still helps with the counts.
The Indiana Audubon Society's May Count will be held May 12. This count will be for Adams County. Anyone interested in helping with this count are welcome. We can always use feeder counters, field counters or people who want to count birds on their farms or properties.
Some of our counters enjoying lunch.
Carolina wren by J Swygart
Waterfowl on the old gravel pit in Geneva. It was one of the few places with open water.
Most Elusive Moth
by Gene Stratton-Porter
Once when I was a child I brought a Cecropia moth home and kept it for a short time, but not until twenty years afterward did I have one at close enough range to take a picture. I did not see it until one summer morning when a little boy brought me a fine specimen in a pasteboard box with a perforation in the top. I took it out, and found it so numb with cold that it could not cling to a twig. I knew that these moths lived only a short time, and, fearing that this one was near death, focused the camera on a branch and tried again to make it cling. The fourth effort was successful, though the moth crept so far away before it settled that I had to change the shutter. It took less than a minute, but when I looked around my fine Cecropia was sailing over the top of the elm trees near the orchard.
Some months later, after one of the most trying days I ever spent afield, I came home to find a Cecropia slowly working its wings up and down on the top step of the cabin. I reached for my net. The moth for which I had waited twenty years was mine.
Note: People in Geneva would bring Gene moths, caterpillars and birds. She would pay them for their efforts.
Cecropia Moth found and photographed by Terri Gorney.
Wherein Two Winter Visitors to the Limberlost are Examined and Embraced
By Curt Burnette
Going south for the winter from Indiana to most people would mean heading down to Florida or some other Deep South destination. But if you normally spent the summer far north of the Midwest, going south for the winter might mean heading down to northern Indiana. This is, in fact, what some species of birds do. During the winter months, the Limberlost plays host to northern harrier hawks and short-eared owls.
At the Limberlost we generally see northern harriers starting in the fall, though the winter, and into early spring. They are very interesting and unusual hawks in several ways. First of all, they are the most like an owl of any type of hawk there is. They have a facial disk like owls have to help direct sound to their ears, so they use both sight and sound to hunt. They do not soar high above the ground like raptors that use just their eyes, but stay close to the ground to hear prey. They are very acrobatic as they fly and will even hover above prey before dropping down on them. And they are sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females look different from each other. Males are smaller and grey, while females are larger and brown. Both sexes have a white rump patch, though, that is easy to spot as they soar through open areas like Lmberlost prairie and marsh.
Short-eared owls are ground-roosting birds of the same open areas that harriers prefer. They roost communally, which means they spend the daytime together in thick clumps of grass or other vegetation. These owls arrive at the Limberlost later than the harriers and leave earlier. There are fewer of them in our area and they are harder to see, as they come out at dusk like other owls, although often a bit earlier than most owls. They don't hoot like some owls do, but instead make an odd squawking sound. Since they live in the same habitat and have similar behaviors as the harriers, short-eared owls are the night shift and the harriers would be the day shift. There is a bit of overlap with the two shifts since these owls come out before the harriers retire for the night. Apparently the owls are not fond of their daytime counterparts. Several people, including me, have watched short-eared owls chasing and harassing the northern harriers. They must not want the competition, and are encouraging the harriers to quit their shift and go home.
The best place to go to see these two interesting birds is the 850 acre Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve. While driving slowing down County Line Road during the day, watch for the acrobatic harriers swooping low to the ground in the open areas. To see the owls at dusk, park in the gravel parking lot where Jay County road 50E intersects with County Line Road, or drive slowly through the preserve and watch for these graceful owls also flying low to the ground. It's worth a visit to the Limberlost this winter to meet and enjoy these two fascinating feathered visitors from the north!
Short-eared owl. Photo by Brian Daugherty.
Short-eared owl. Photo by Brian Daugherty.
Northern harrier. Photo by Bill Hubbard.
Northern harrier. Photo by Bill Hubbard.
Photo taken by Curt Burnette of a northern harrier in his yard. Curt lives at the edge of the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve.
Long time board member and Friends supporter Becca James shares this blog with us. Gene Stratton-Porter spent her winters writing books and magazine articles in the library of the Limberlost Cabin. Gene loved winter walks to the Wabash River and feeding the birds along the way.
"When it grew cold enough to shut the doors, and have fire at night, first thing after supper all of us helped clear the table, then we took our slates and books and learned our lessons for the next day, and then father lined us against the wall, all in a row from Laddie down, and he pronounced words-easy ones that divided into syllables nicely, for me, harder for May,and so up until I might sit down. For Laddie, May and Leon he used the geography, the Bible, Roland's history, the Christian Advocate, and the Agriculturist. My, but he had them so they could spell! After that, as memory tests, all of us recited our reading lesson for the next day, especially the poetry pieces. I knew most of them, from hearing the big folks repeat them so often and practice the proper way to read them. I could do "Rienzi's Address to the Romans," "Casablanca," "Gray's Elegy," or "Mark Antony's Speech," but best of all, I liked "Lines to a Water-fowl." When he was tired, if it were not bedtime yet, all of us, boys too, sewed rags for carpet and rugs. Laddie braided corn husks for the kitchen and outside door mats, and they were pretty, and "very useful too," like the dog that got his head patted in McGuffy's Second." Gene Stratton-Porter, Laddie: A True Blue Story
The picture is of the fireplace in the dining room at the Limberlost Cabin. Photo by Becca James.
The Rose Parade, California Marshes, and Indiana Connections
By Adrienne Provenzano
When I was growing up, watching the Rose Parade from Pasadena, California on TV was a New Year's Day tradition, and I've continued this tradition as an adult. This year, one float in particular caught my eye, because it represented a marsh. After the parade was over, I did a little online research and thought Friends of the Limberlost, and others, may enjoy my findings.
The float, entitled "Protecting Nature: the Madrona Marsh Preserve," was built by the Fiesta Parade Floats company for the City of Torrance, California (with lots of volunteer help!) and designed by a high school student, Irene Tsay from West High. This vernal freshwater marsh in Los Angeles County is unusual for the area nowadays, but there used to be many such marshes. A vernal marsh does not have a built-in water source, and in this case is created by winter and spring rains. There are many micohabitats, and some of the species located there are depicted on the float - such as monarchs, cattails, and egrets. Hmmm...do any of these sound familiar, Friends of the Limberlost?!? Over 275 native and 50 non-native species of birds have been spotted over the past 40 years. Check out friendsofmadronamarsh.com for lots more information, including photos of flora and fauna!
I wonder if Gene Stratton-Porter may have visited the Madrona Marsh area when she lived in California. According to GSP researcher extraordinaire Terri Gorney, Gene did enjoy picnicking at Laguna Beach, and other biographical information about Gene, as well as her writings set in California, show an appreciation for the flora and fauna of the region. Her home on Catalina Island was certainly part of this area once frequented by the Tongva Native Americans, who had 100 settlements in the area of Los Angeles basin and Southern Channel Islands, including Catalina.
I also wondered if Gene ever attended the Rose Parade. It was started in 1890, and she moved to the area in 1919 and had an article, "Why I Always Wear My Rose-Colored Glasses" published in American Magazine that year. There is no mention of the parade in the article, but certainly, with her love of roses, it would have been a delight to her! So, no research so far has disclosed any mention of the Rose Parade by Gene, but she did include roses in her California landscaping!
The overall theme for this year's Rose Parade was "Making a Difference." Friends of the Limberlost, Limberlost Swamp Remembered and Friends of Madrona Marsh share in this important conservation work. It seems all roads lead to the Limberlost, even Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards in Pasadena where the Rose Parade takes place!
Happy New Year!
Kimberley Roll is a member of Friends of the Limberlost and an excellent nature photographer who spends time hiking the trails of the Limberlost Territories. She shares her pictures and her finds with us. We thought you would enjoy her photographs of the birds that winter at Limberlost. Gene Stratton-Porter would be pleased that so many still enjoy the birds around Geneva Indiana, a place that she lived for twenty-five years.
Short-eared owl flying over the Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve. In November 2017 they returned to spend their seventh winter here.
Bald eagles have become year round residents in Geneva. They have nested here the past several years. They are commonly seen at Limberlost Swamp Wetland Preserve, Loblolly Marsh, Red Gold Wetlands, Rainbow Bottom and the old gravel pit.
Northern harrier hovering and looking for prey. They have been a winter resident since several were first seen in November 2011.
The old gravel pit in early January where there were Greater white-fronted geese, Canada geese, and mallards.
A number of horned larks are wintering at Limberlost. Flocks of horned larks can be seen in fields and along roads in the area.
The Kestrel is another year round resident. Their numbers around Limberlost appear to be on the rise.
Sanctuary in the Limberlost
By Shari Wagner
Indiana Poet Laureate 2016-2017
For my artist residency at Limberlost State Historic Site, I led three poetry workshops with writing activities designed to help participants explore the beauty, history, and ecological importance of the Limberlost, as well as its connection to Gene Stratton-Porter. Now that this Arts in the parks and Historic Sites project has come to completion, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the site staff and Friends of the Limberlost who have been so much a part of its success. I am also deeply appreciative of the people who attended the workshops. They came from all over the state, as far away as New Harmony. If you scroll down this blog site, you will find some of their individual and collaborative poems.
Not only did I enjoy my Limberlost events, I had a great time preparing for them. This involved becoming acquainted with the Loblolly trails and Limberlost Cabin, reading all of Gene Stratton-Porter's poetry, and thinking about what prompts, models and activities might best inspire workshop participants. One particularly nice surprise was discovering that Gene was greatly influenced by one of my own favorite poets -Walt Whitman.
Throughout my activities, I kept recalling the first book I read by Gene---her novel, Freckles. I was about ten years old, and what struck me most in the book was Freckle's "cathedral," a particular place in the Limberlost that became his special sanctuary. After reading that book, I went in search of my own Wells County cathedral and found it in the remotest section of my family's ten-acre woods. A fallen tree trunk served as my pew. Oak and honey locust formed the columns. When I was lonely, this room in nature offered solace and communion.
Not long after I found my cathedral, I began exploring the creek near my home--Griffin Ditch, a waterway that flows between fields and empties into the Wabash. I discovered many intriguing places along the creek's wooded route, including a tiny oxbow pond with an island (a fragile spot that disappeared in dry spells), an old apple orchard with fairy circles in the grass, and even a heap of discarded furniture almost hidden in thistle and raspberry vines. My psalm to Griffin Ditch titled "Creek-Song" appears in The Harmonist at Nightfall (Bottom Dog Press, 2013), a book that grew from my desire to find sacred places throughout Indiana---special touchstones for the spirit. For this poetry project, I revisited several places from my childhood, but mostly I made pilgrimages to new places, especially to state parks, nature preserves and historic sites. My impetus for this project came from many sources, but surely one was Freckle's cathedral.
This past September, on the morning of my last workshop at the Limberlost, I left the motel feeling disheartened by the news of mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States. But when I arrived at the Loblolly Preserve, I was immediately consoled by a scene of enchantment--immersed in a prairie fresh with fog and dew, where it felt like the first dawn on earth, with every good thing possible. It was a magnificent sanctuary that I tried my best to memorize and to write about in the poem that follows. I think we all need these places that we return to, either physically or through memory, places that connect us to a reality larger than human concerns.
At the Clock Tower Motel
I'm eating cereal with CNN
on the screen: breaking
news of tremors
in North Korea--a small
earthquake or the testing
of a nuclear bomb.
Twitter accounts escalate.
Thirty minutes later, pulsing
cricket and cicada song
engulfs me. I'm on foot
in the Limberlost, where
forest was hacked, wetland
drained, prairie tilled
for crops. Now acre by
tender acre, the uprooted
are returning. Fog and
dew cling to seven-foot
bluestem grass. Above my head,
eastern sun illumines
each beaded filament
of a web, one of the true
wonders of the world,
this world, handing me
her huge bouquet
of partridge pea and tickseed,
rattlesnake master and
wild purple asters.
Dawn will succumb
to the forecast: late September's
ninety-plus heat. But I
keep in a locket this
memento of Eden
where roots reach deeper
than the height of a man
and clutch earth,
for better, for worse,
through drought and fire.
Photographs by Shari Wagner taken at the Loblolly Marsh.
Gene Stratton-Porter wrote "Music of the Wild" about a place she loved which was about one mile south of the cabin. Today, some of the area that Gene walked is a nature preserve called Music of the Wild. We will let Gene introduce you to this area. We hope you enjoy your walk with her.
"......the [Limberlost Creek] flows through the upper corner of the old Limberlost Swamp, hurries across the road once more and so comes singing into Schaffer's meadow."
"Here [Limberlost] creek reaches deep-shaded channel once more and bursts into song crossing Armantrout's pasture; for it is partly shaded, many large trees on the banks are felled. A happy song is sung on the Rayn farm, where it is sheltered by trees and a big hill. In full force it crosses the road [US 27] again, slides below the railroad bridge, rounds the hill, chanting a requiem to the little city of the dead [Burris Cemetery] on its banks......"
"When the Limberlost leaves the thicket and comes into the open again it does not spread, as it did on the bed of ooze; for in the firm clay soil of fields and meadow only a narrow channel is cut, and so with forces renewed by concentration it comes slipping across Bone's woods pasture."
"There is little variation, and the birds are the strongest accompanists. Later, when it falls into the regular channel, it sings its characteristic song and appears so much happier and more content."
We hope you enjoyed your walk with Gene. Her words came from Part II of Music of the Wild. It is not too often that you can walk into a book that is over one-hundred years old. All of the Limberlost Territories are left in a natural state for all to enjoy.