I am fiercely in love with my ‘flyover’ state. I’ve probably not talked about it much before, but our weekend was so wonderful (barring a short, scary heat stroke problem) that I have to share it with you. If you’ve never been to Indiana, you need to understand that I’m talking about the southern half of the state because I don’t spend much time up north and the southern half is the pretty half. There are rolling hills and forests and, of course, a multitude of crop fields at every turn, but there are also interesting cities that haven’t outgrown themselves and forgotten where they came from. We don’t live near any of those cities. In fact, we live in the hills and cornfields and have to drive a good, long way to get to civilization. Just the way we like it. It means when we make plans to visit a city, we have a beautiful drive ahead of us.
On Friday, we decided to take the day off from summer science and take the Littles to the zoo. We live within a 2-hour drive of 4 different zoos, each of which is spectacular in its own way, but our favorite is the smallest, the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville. So we set out on the back roads for a pleasant drive to one of our favorite spots. It worked out better for us than we could have hoped, because a slight detour took us past the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial. Abe Lincoln spent 14 years of his youth in southern Indiana, and the cabin where he lived still stands, as does his mother’s grave site, and there’s a beautiful memorial building complete with relief sculptures of Lincoln’s life on the outer wall. Inside, there are copies of letters Lincoln wrote to his Indiana friends and neighbors, pictures, and an information desk full of answers to all your questions. Since this was a detour to our original plans and the day was already heating up, we didn’t hike out to the cabin but decided to go back when it’s cooler and see it. Just looking around the memorial building was fascinating enough.
After spending about 45 minutes at the memorial, we got back on the road. Now, my family loves all genres of music. Rock, classical, country, folk, bluegrass, hip hop, pop–if it’s good music we love it. But this day, spent in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, dotted with farms and corn fields, little towns and soybeans, called for a good country music station. So, singing along with Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, and Florida-Georgia Line, we made our way to the zoo.
Here’s a gorgeous pic of an Amish hay field. If you’ve never driven by one of these, it feels like you just stepped back a couple centuries in time. We are so used to seeing square or round hay bales that these hay stacks always jolt us and make us feel a little nostalgic for a simple way of life. Teachable moment. We discussed the history of hay baling and how smart the Amish way of doing things is and how better prepared they are than most of our society to take care of themselves should the zombie apocalypse come. And you know my Littles, they are just waiting for the day. So it was a good lesson for them to learn if they want to grow up to be Daryl Dixon. Which they do.
As we approached Evansville, we fell in love with it all over again. It sits on the Ohio River, and is the third-largest city in our state behind Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Now then. Here’s a pic of the outskirts of Evansville. I’m not kidding:
Just ahead on this road is the beginning of a row of restaurants and department stores, gas stations and car lots. I love that there is absolutely no transition. One second you’re in the country, the next you’re in the city. I love that it doesn’t take long to get away from the hubbub here. I’m so glad I’m raising my boys in a place with such roots.
There are many reasons Mesker Park is our favorite zoo. Its smaller size means we are not (usually) going to wear completely out before we’re done seeing everything we want to see. And I’ve never been able to figure out the reason, but the animals at Mesker Park are ever so much livelier than at the bigger zoos. We arrived at feeding time so for the first hour we were there, all of the animals were up and about, easily spotted, and fun to interact with.
We went to Amazonia first, which is a relatively new exhibit that has (obviously) animals and birds from the Amazon in it. Apparently we were the khaki shorts family that day. Except for Martin, who always has to be different. haha
Here are some of the animals we saw:
How cute is this guy? He acted like he wanted to talk to us.
This gorgeous cat paced so much we had to take the pic quickly. And we all wanted to take him home.
Another thing we love about this zoo is it is rarely crowded. You never feel like you’re not getting to see the exhibits because of all the other people around trying to look at the exhibit. You get to actually take your time and look at each animal for as long as you want to without feeling guilty. Here’s the path leading towards the Australia exhibit. Notice how much room there is? That’s because we were the only people on it.
By about noon, the day had heated up to sweltering. 100 degree weather and humidity like we were walking through a wet blanket. The animals scurried for shade or the indoors, which made the last part of the trip a little boring and the heat seem even worse. But we still saw some really cool things like this goose family who went past us. I guess they were enjoying the sights, too.
And this peacock feather garden:
Isn’t that cool? There were dozens of them all sticking up out of the grass like planted flowers. It looked like someone was trying to grow peacocks. I guess it takes longer to do that than a sunflower or cornstalk. 😉
And of course, we always have to get a pic of the Littles on the giant spiderweb. It’s like their school picture–taken every year.
We had to cut our visit a little short, because apparently I’m older than I think I am and my body wasn’t too happy with the heat. An ice pack and a water bottle later, we headed home. Here’s a pic of my beautiful husband, worrying about me as he drives. Notice there are still cornfields in the background? It’s Indiana. There are always cornfields. And forests. We love them or we wouldn’t live here. We love them fiercely.
The day ended on a bright note despite me heat-stroking out. Martin ran to get dinner after he brought us home and came back with a garage sale-find coffee table. Big deal, right? Well, we’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent used coffee table this year because we wanted to make a game table out of it. He got this baby for $5. Another great thing about Indiana? Yard sales still have yard sale prices. The table was in perfect shape except for the inserts which were missing the glass. Which made it perfect for our purposes. He spent Saturday cutting some of our favorite game boards down to fit into the inserts on the table and covering them with plexiglass. The end result? A permanent game table. Now all I have to do is buy some seagrass baskets to keep the pieces in and our game table dream has come true. Isn’t it awesome?!
I guess I should have cleaned the board shavings off the table before I took the pic. Oh, well. You get the idea. The great thing is, all of our other game boards will sit atop these inserted babies and we can use the table for any ol’ game we want. And we own A Lot of board games. You can see some of them peeking out from their new home under the table.
So guess what we did for the rest of the weekend?
If you ever come to Indiana, there are so many fun and educational things to do. If I wasn’t such a wimp, we could have visited the Angel Mounds–a thousand-year old Native American site–at Newburgh, which is just a short drive from Evansville. We could have hiked in the Hoosier National Forest (part of which actually abuts our property, so we can do that any day). We could have gone to the pioneer village of Spring Mill. So much of our country’s early history happened here. People forget that in favor of the coasts, and that’s okay. If everybody remembered, more people would line the paths of the Mesker Park Zoo.