Letter from Birdland: Indianapolis Trail connects city, nature

I'm walking on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail next to the Indiana State Museum. I'm here for the 4C's Convention, a professional conference, where I'm meeting colleagues from around the nation, learning some tricks from a variety of English teachers, listening to research findings, and sharing experiences. It's a sunny day, so I'm taking a little time between sessions to walk.

The Cultural Trail joins six districts around Indianapolis in an 8-mile path where people can hike or bike from one district or neighborhood to another. I was intrigued when in our welcome to the Convention, the speaker mentioned the Trail, so I did a little research and found that the New York Times called the trail a "bold innovation."

I parked in the garage across the street from the Convention Hotel, and practically tripped over the trail on my way in. That's just a metaphor. It's a lovely, smooth, easy-to-walk trail. Nothing, really, to trip over. In fact, it is nicely marked, a wide path of brown brick, inlaid with symbols of stick-figure bikers and hikers. A stylized wheelchair user shows that the path is accessible though, curiously, I couldn't find any information about accessibility on the otherwise information-rich website — indyculturaltrail.org. As soon as I heard about it, I looked for an opportunity to follow the trail, at least a little ways.

I cross the busy road and walk down toward the canal. Here is the Indiana State Museum (http://www.indianamuseum.org). We were here the night before, for a party hosted by one of the textbook publishers.

I took the opportunity last night to browse the collection after hours. I wandered alone through rooms rich in Indiana history, both natural and cultural (from Limberlost to Mastodons, to a double-barrel wringer washer called "Woman's Friend").

And now I continue that tour outside because the white stone wall of the museum is embedded with sculptures, one representing each county in Indiana. A steamship, carved in the same white limestone the wall is built of, seems to be chugging up the river of the wall.

Each county has a plaque explaining its particular and sometimes peculiar sculpture. Some of them are puzzles. High on the wall is a shelf with glass jars, (the Ball Jar Company was once there) and Garfield, the cartoon cat, is trapped in one of the jars. If it were up to me, I'd rather honor James Dean, who, like Garfield's creator, graduated from Ball State University in Muncie. Another county features a smooth, flat stone carved as a basketball court. On it sits a bronze basketball and a biplane. I am too busy taking pictures to look for the story on that one.

I walk for a bit, looking up at the sculptures, but then turn toward the canal. People are out walking their dogs, jogging with strollers, or just sitting by the river that flows rigidly between straight cement walls in the middle of the city.

Further down the canal, geese bounce buoyantly, and two drakes duel over a duck. She flies away; the drakes follow. I pass small beds where lilies are breaking out of the earth. A tree stump has been recently cut. It is shaped a little like a heart. Civilization meets nature, and the canal spills suddenly into the real river. It makes a little waterfall straight down stacked blocks of limestone.

I pass some men tending tiny gardens. One scratches up perfect circles of earth around the trees bordering the trail, another adds manure, raking it flat and then trailing the rake through the surface, so that each tree is surrounded by a little Zen garden. A boy on a skateboard rolls past. At first I think the board is motorized, but it's just the sound of wheels running over the bricks.

I walk back to the parking garage, and the spiral staircase I will descend to my car looks like a short squat lighthouse. A couple is dancing an old-fashioned dance. He twirls and dips her. They smiled at each other, and at first I think they're just playing, until I see the photographer squatting, aiming his camera at them. "You guys look great!" he says, and I wonder whether they are making their engagement photos or advertisements for a dance.

I turn back the way I came and see the convention hotel towering over the city like a blue ice cube, and I think it doesn't look so bad for such a chunk of commercialism. I am thinking that the trail is really one of culture, connecting the city and nature and a community of neighbors, in a bright ribbon of activity.

Hike in beauty; bike in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in art and culture and history wherever she goes. You can see photos and read more about Birdland at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdlandgmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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