Last weekend my wife Anne and I were out of town visiting my in-laws’ church and scouting the surrounding areas for fresh donuts when we stumbled across a surprise delight. Apropos of the autumn season and the upcoming Halloween holiday, we learned the nearby town of Danville, Indiana, holds an annual contest inviting local businesses to create their own scarecrows. A few craftspeople kept it simple. Some drew inspiration from their own lines of work. Some dove right into pop culture for their subject matter, which of course is bound to catch our eyes. Still others let their imaginations run amok. These were some of the standouts to me, proudly on display around the town square.
Twice each year my wife Anne and I drive down to southern Indiana. Usually it’s for the sake of visiting relatives, helping family keep in touch, doing something nice for others, that sort of thing. Usually it consists of one three-hour drive down slow highways behind lackadaisical drivers, four to six hours of sitting and chatting and letting the older folks enjoy each other’s company while we might or might not nod off, then another three-hour drive home. We’re adult enough to accept not every weekend can be a convention or even a trip to the movie theater.
Dateline: October 24, 2015. My aunt suggested we break routine and get together for a bit of Indiana tourism. We headed out to the twin towns of French Lick and West Baden. When I was a kid we drove through them frequently but rarely stopped in either of them except for gas. Fast-forward four decades later, and now each town has a special attraction to boast as their own. For West Baden, it’s the enormous West Baden Springs Hotel, a structure with a history dating back to 1855 filled with frequently changing ownerships, periods of disuse, extensive restoration funded by multiple donors, and a new life today as a premier getaway in the southern Indiana area.
Once upon a time in the early ’80s my aunt took us inside for a quick look around. As I recall, beneath its large dome was a massive rotunda exquisitely detailed by proud artisans in styles hearkening to ages of yore. Back then we didn’t carry cameras around. We have no record of that visit. I thought it was a wonderful idea to return and see what’s been done with the place.
One little problem: upon our arrival we learned the entire facility had been rented out for the day for a fancy wedding. No uninvited visitors were allowed inside.
So this Saturday afternoon exploratory jaunt turned into a brisk autumn walk around the grounds, viewing the exterior features and digging the fascinating colors that nature shows off in southern Indiana every year ’round this time. Not quite the full West Baden Springs experience, but it would have to do.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
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 of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
Once upon a time in 2012, we willfully stayed in town for a change and spent a Saturday at a pair of nearby attractions with connections to the Halloween season. It’s not her favorite holiday, but October is her birth month and she had her motives. The first half of that fun-filled day was spent driving around the most famous final resting place in all of Indianapolis, Crown Hill Cemetery. A renowned institution since 1864, Crown Hill houses several of the Circle City’s bigger names in history and/or local government, as well as the highest elevation point in central Indy…
Our feature presentation was the gravesite of Benjamin Harrison, the only American President buried in Indiana. We also found the burials of a number of Hoosier Vice Presidents and other famous figures and contributors to society. Beyond the purview of our preceding photo gallery, a number of other Crown Hill tombstones, crypts, and special features caught our eyes as we wandered the grounds, took in the sights, tried to be respectful, and hopefully angered no vengeful spirits.
Every day at work this week, the small talk turned largely to one of two topics: “Here, have some sugary snacks!” and “Got your Christmas shopping done yet?” I hate when small talk uncovers a festering wound the questioner didn’t know was there.
On our birthdays my wife and try to find some new place to experience or untested activity to try. We’ve visited rural town squares, we’ve checked out local tourist attractions, we’ve done day trips to outer Indiana, and one time we even attended a film-festival screening, complete with famous-actors Q&A afterward . Last May for my birthday, I had us on a walking tour of the town of Muncie. This year my wife wanted to keep her own birthday outing simple yet nonetheless original. For once we took advantage of her autumn birthday and went somewhere fairly alien to us: an orchard.
Indiana has its unfair share of copious farmlands in general and orchards in particular. Every October and November the local media like to trumpet dozens of opportunities for Hoosiers to leave the house for fresh air and edible scenery. The busyness of life tends to block those from catching our attention. In the interest of broadening our horizons, or at least in the interest of observing the little things nearer to us than to the horizon’s edge, a few weeks ago we drove out to Danville and attended the annual Heartland Apple Festival at Beasley’s Orchard. ‘Twas the season.
In a modest Indiana town called Danville, there’s a place called Beasley’s Orchard where parents can bring their children to let them experience the natural resource of fresh air, and older couples can wander around as a birthday date and/or happy excuse for light exercise. During certain times of the year, visitors to Beasley’s can peruse a farmer-food shop, walk quickly through a small-business sales-tent, get lost for years in a corn maze, or lay traps for the Great Pumpkin in their rather sincere pumpkin patch.
You’re surely familiar with one of the orchard’s biggest superstars: Them Apples.
My wife and I are largely immune to the siren call of the fall pumpkin stampede. We don’t hate them, but we don’t wake up on October 1st and draw up a meal schedule of pumpkin omelets, thin-sliced pumpkin sandwiches, and pan-seared pumpkin steak with a pumpkin reduction served over a pumpkin salad tossed with pumpkin vinaigrette. Pumpkins are acceptable, but they don’t wow us.
Maybe it was odd, then, that we spent part of her birthday celebration last weekend traipsing through a pumpkin patch, surrounded by the very source of so much autumn shrugging. We couldn’t deny their iconic appearance, though.
It’s a familiar dream to many. You find yourself in an unreal labyrinth with imposing walls beyond your normal ken. Maybe it’s dungeon stonework, or blood-red bricks, or a solid grayness that’s nondescript yet intimidating. Maybe you’re in a pitch-black forest, or in a cornfield that towers over you on all sides.
The scene above was part of today’s breakfast: a pumpkin donut. Only because it’s that time of year when every American has a pumpkin quota to fulfill. My part is done. I’m legally free to move on and go back to eating normal food in the flavors I like.
Every year the same product wave pummels all consumer shorelines: pumpkins are in, everything else is out. Pumpkin flavors permeate and overwhelm every conceivable grocery item, restaurant dish, and miscellaneous product or service. Looking away or hiding are futile defenses because pumpkin surrounds you in every direction from your personal space to the horizon. You’ll never be allowed to exit autumn until and unless you surrender to the will of Big Pumpkin.
My wife and I spent last Saturday deep in the heart of southern Indiana, a land whose most outstanding feature is the autumnal color change that sweeps the forests and lures us city folk from our comfort zones for a spell. If you need a break from your internet addiction, it’s an eye-catching time for it, especially since that entire half of the state is largely off the grid and proud of it.