A Sunrise Muse

This was my daily view of the rising sun over Kesling Wetland. The photo was taken in November 2017 at Merry Lea’s Reith Village, where sustainability students live for an entire semester.

This was my daily view of the rising sun over Kesling Wetland. The photo was taken in November 2017 at Merry Lea’s Reith Village, where sustainability students live for an entire semester.

Corn fields have always surrounded me. Do you ever try to imagine how high the pile of corn could be if we made a single pile? How much corn does Indiana produce?

Then, I wonder what the land in must have looked like in a former glory. These are the thoughts that would often meander through my mind during long car rides. With my childhood imagination, I pieced together the limited yet vivid forest images gleaned from parks and the National Geographic Channel.

During my Sustainability Leadership Semester at Merry Lea, I explored what lay beyond my childhood memories and thoughts in recently restored Indiana wilderness. Much of Merry Lea used to be farmed for onions, mint, and cornfield.

If you’re unfamiliar with Merry Lea, it is a nearly 1,200 acre patch of restored wildlife habitat in Noble County, Indiana near the town of Wolf Lake. Within those acres of land, are great breadth of what could have been there before European settlement.

In the short fall semester of 2017, I experienced the beauty and peace that only a sanctuary can offer. I breathed it in every morning in the form of a crisp inhalation and a warm white cloud. Beauty and peace might as well have been the same or faces of the same coin, I write this as I think of the sun rising over a the Kesling Wetland. Intense yellows, oranges, and pinks emanate from the sun’s yolk on the purples and blues of a new day. Such a beautiful thought is peaceful.

The sun rises in similar ways over midsummer cornfields in Northern Indiana. Growing up, I witnessed many sunrises on the car rides with my dad to car auctions. We would often wake up at 6:00 in the morning and about once a week, depending on how far the drive was, we would rise at 5:00. Regardless of the time, we were usually on the road to see the rays of yellows and oranges stretch over the horizon.

So, when I was at Merry Lea and saw the sunrise over Kesling Wetland, they reminded me of my childhood, the early morning car rides, and how I dreamed about transforming thousands of acres of cornfields to forest. Then there I was, fresh into my adulthood, marveling at a rising sun over a wetland, which believe it or not, was once a cornfield.

Now, as I begin my career in sustainability, I continue to think about the landscapes that can change. My mind toys with ideas and visions for the spaces that might as well be the urban equivalents to thousands of acres in South Bend, Elkhart, and Goshen.

It helps to have Merry Lea equivalents to the urban environment as well.

Take for instance the Elkhart Environmental Center..

Once a city dump and industrial waste deposit for the City of Elkhart, it was transformed into prairie, wetland, and forest habitat. A small learning center is staffed with two city employees who run educational programs and events for the public.

Today, it has trails and recreational areas, all within an urban context and sitting on top of 15 feet of trash. It’s incredible but also something that would not have occurred without someone’s ability to see potential and a strong team to carry out such vision.

Then there is Fidler’s Pond in Goshen. Once a sand and gravel mining pit and then a beautiful quarry that few had access to. Today it’s a park that not only attracts humans to use it and even move to Goshen, but also an alleged beaver and the occasional bald eagle out on a fishing trip.

There are many other examples in Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties that exemplify the creativity and restorative potential of our communities.

Think about what buildings could look like with a garden covered roof. Or an entire downtown with each exterior wall dressed in vertical gardens?

Perhaps the Universe will humor me in 8 or 10 years and I’ll find myself before another sun rising over a building with a living façade and roof garden.

José Chiquito