Using the readings in Next Indiana Campfires: A Trail Companion you’re invited to look more closely at a beloved Indiana landscape, to see what is rare and distinct, to restore a sense of wonder and delight in a familiar place. Some readings, like Roger Pfingston’s “The Presence of Trees” or Michael Martone’s “The Flatness” describe precisely this particular corner of the earth. Others, like Jared Carter’s “After the Rain” and Mary Oliver’s “Going to Walden,” instruct us how to move through nature. And still others, like those by Charles C. Deam and Tecumseh, ask us what will become of our wild places—and what we can do to make sure they survive.
We’ve read each of the texts in the book during treks for Indiana Humanities’ Next Indiana Campfires program, which pairs nature and literature to spark conversations about Indiana’s future. Since 2016, we’ve taken Hoosiers on hikes, bike rides and paddling trips, pausing to read aloud the words of important Hoosier and Pulitzer-winning authors. On the trail, we’ve considered Indiana’s history of conservation and discussed how we might carry this legacy forward. We’ve talked about the role of literature in defining a sense of place, how place shapes identity, and how writers help us understand the natural world and ourselves in it.
Though each trek has been unique, some common themes have emerged. One is that Indiana is a beautiful place, but sometimes we Hoosiers have struggled to articulate its loveliness. Another is that many Hoosiers have had powerful early experiences in nature, and that it was often on a grandparent’s farm or garden where they first felt connected to the land.
We’ve also noticed that people are surprised that Indiana contains ecologically rich landscapes. We’ve observed, unfortunately, that many Hoosiers seem to have internalized the idea that we’re “flyover country.” That there’s nothing particularly special about where we live. That you have to go somewhere else to experience awe and amazement in nature. We’ve wondered if this sensibility leads to disinterest or apathy, and whether it might explain the fact that despite our history of innovation and leadership in conservation, today our water quality, protected acreage and other environmental indicators lag behind other states.
Just like the Next Indiana Campfire treks themselves, we hope this book helps you discover our state’s beauty and appreciate the unique ways writers create and deepen our connections to the natural world.
Special thanks to Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose Pulitzer Centennial grants first sparked a vision for literary hikes in Indiana’s wild places and whose recent support made this book possible; David Hillman and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust for their continued investment in the Campfires program; and Upland Brewing Company, whose cold beers cool us off and open up conversation on the trail.