The October 2020 Birthday Trip, Part 1: Nature Under One Roof


2020 is hereby declared the Year of the Vulture. Choose your own joke-reading into that.

In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

Well, at least we did before 2020.

This past May we celebrated my compromised pandemic birthday by inventing our very own personalized stay-at-home comic con. Results were fun, but not quite the same. They sufficed for the birthday boy. Anne turned 50 this year and in my opinion deserved better than a sedentary make-believe romp like mine. The birthday dinner was a start, but I was willing to do more, albeit within the same limitation imposed upon our 2020 vacation: for work-related reasons involving the Age of Coronavirus, I’m currently not allowed to leave the state of Indiana for the foreseeable future.

Anne did some local travel research, a longtime hobby of hers (you have no idea how many of our future road trips she’s already mapped out), and came up with a few things she thought would be fun to do on a Saturday in autumn. Naturally we had to start with a long walk around someplace with millions of leaves changing colors. When you live in Indiana, it’s what you do.

After picking up some sugar for breakfast, our first attraction of the day was McCormick’s Creek State Park, southwest of Indianapolis and located near the town of Spencer. Readers who followed along with this year’s road trip miniseries may recall walks in parks as a recurring motif. With numerous activities severely curtailed due to COVID-19, which I hasten to add has been neither cured by actual science nor frightened off the planet by the surliest American politicians, many Hoosiers had the same realizations we did: Indiana parks are cheap, plentiful, full of wonder, and largely outdoors, where infection risk is decreased. So yes, of course we went to parks.

The trick here was to find a park where the fewest possible residents might show up and present a danger if they cluster too thickly. Indiana’s COVID infection rares are not something to be proud of at the moment. We immediately ruled out Brown County, the first name that comes to mind whenever a Hoosier plays word association and you give them the word “fall”. The leaves are lovely as they change color, and Brown County is blessed with more than their fair share of deciduous forests, but folks flock there in droves of thousands every October. Hard pass for us, 2020-wise. After vetting some of the nearest state parks we’ve never checked out. McCormick’s Creek was our winner for this outing.

At any Indiana park it’s a given that visitors need to stop at the Nature Center first, if the park has one. As it happens, McCormick’s Creek fits that description. Contents vary by park, but each nature center has a similar list of requirements: taxidermied animals; a few small, live animals; educational placards and displays about nature, animals, ecology, and so forth; and a big bay window for watching a carefully cultivated area filled with foodstuffs to lure assorted critters into view yet not within physical reach. Their window was deserted by the time I walked into that room, but the rest of the center had a few items to catch the eye.

Midland Banded Water Snake!

Come watch a Midland Banded Water Snake ponder its attack upon an unsuspecting fish in its water bowl.

cave salamander!

A cave salamander gets a fair amount of display space.


A live copperhead, among Indiana’s best reasons not to go skipping pell-mell through just any old forest.


Turtle, turtle! Another recurring motif of our 2020 travels. Ponderous and lumpy, just like us.

fossils in rock!

Fossilized remains, guaranteed to fascinate precocious kids who can already spell the word “paleontology”.

Lucy Pitschler!

A mannequin tribute to Lucy Pitschler, a beloved self-made park guide who became a pioneer in Indiana state park interpretive services.

muskox head!

A petrified muskox head. In its own way, creepier to me than the live snakes.

skunk and bobcat!

A stuffed skunk and bobcat, locked in a diorama duel.

bear up high!

Lurking high above all, a stuffed bear gaze upon all visitors and judges them according to secret bear criteria we can never know.

Ah, the fun of nature centers. Kids can look and learn in wonder; grown-ups can remember what it was like to do the same. Then both demographics can avail themselves of the last restrooms and water fountain before heading into the great outdoors.

To be continued! Other chapters in this special MCC miniseries:

Part 2: Ambling in Autumn
Part 3: Woodland Signposts
Part 4: Obligatory Food Photos
Part 5: The Art of B-Town
Part 6: Flora and Media

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