Outdoor Skills Weekend in Parke County

On the last, rainy weekend of May, nine hardy adventurers traveled to Parke County in west-central Indiana for a few days of primitive camping, skill-building, and hiking some of the best trails this state has to offer. Club member Eric, along with some friends from the New Sotterlee Project (an organization dedicated to conserving and disseminating information about our past, from historical documents to how-to demonstrations and more), arranged for us to pitch our tents on private property and learn about outdoor survival skills that our ancestors may have used. It was this author’s first time camping in the wild, starting a fire with flint and steel, threading a maggot onto a hook, changing outfits four times in one day due to mud, and digging a hole to… well, you know. And it was so much fun!

We arrived late Friday evening and set up camp around a patch of poison ivy. The under-18 crowd went straight to bed, and the rest of us stayed up late to chat, stargaze, listen to the wildlife, watch the moon sink below the trees, and debate the Oxford comma.

After a few hours of sleep, we woke to a hot and humid Saturday morning. A few of us took a walk down a little creek, where we saw raccoon tracks, water bugs, a turtle, and a crayfish. However, this excursion was deemed too dangerous after some of us got stuck up to our knees in quicksand-like mud. We returned to camp to find the others rousing and ready to roast some coffee. The adults busied themselves with their beans, and apparently also discovered some snakes and raptors in the process, while the children (and children at heart) played board games. We reconvened for Eric’s lesson in Setting Things on Fire using flint, steel, char cloth, and bundles of twine. Everyone who attempted the hands-on portion of the lecture was successful in setting something on fire, so the meeting adjourned. H, head of the New Sotterlee group, took over for a guided tour of a tree plantation that has been part of his family’s lumber business for about 30 years. He showed us the incredible differences in tree growth between areas that had seen an abundance of deer and areas that had been fenced off until the trees became too tall for the deer to munch. He also talked about the multigenerational aspects of forestry: clearing out invasive species and reintroducing natives to keep the forest healthy for years to come, and tending to acres of cherry that his great-grandchildren will one day be able to harvest. H was just starting to show our youngest adventurer how to scrape bark off a tree to reveal a chocolate-brown interior when the first thunderstorm of the day rolled in. We ran back to camp, getting extremely damp in the process, and took shelter in the swallow-infested barn. Eric got out the camp stove again and gave us a quick “five minute” lesson in Cooking your Clothes (i.e. making char cloth from an old cotton t-shirt). The rain let up, and H took us over to the pond for some hand-line fishing. H, with his modern fishing equipment, caught three bluegills (or was it the same bluegill three times?), but none of us had any luck with the hand lines. We weren’t out there long when the next storm rolled in. So rain, very wind, wow. That was a scary (yet thrilling!) powerwalk back to camp! Not wanting to introduce moisture into their sleeping areas, our drenched adventurers shed their modesty and wet clothing at the same time, then met back under the barn, in dry clothes, for dinner (bratwurst!) and second dinner (pizza!).

Day 3 dawned cold and rainy. After enjoying more coffee and pizza, we packed up and went our separate ways. One contingent headed a few miles up the road to Turkey Run State Park for a quick loop through the hollows. Although crawling with other two-legged creatures, the rock formations, waterfalls, and brilliant green photosynthesizers still made for breathtaking scenery. But weekends are ephemeral, and all too soon we were forced to pile back into the car for the long, cornfield-filled journey back to South Bend.

Many thanks to Eric and JH for organizing this extraordinary event!! I hope there are more of these to come!

Photo credits to Eric, Rochelle, and Stephanie.

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