by Joanne Nesbit
The heat of summer drives folks to find relief.
There was a time when Brown County offered urban dwellers that hideaway from sultry August in its shaded hillsides. In cottages, cabins, and summer houses scattered along its paved and dirt roads, its hills and its valleys, Brown County still gives respite from a scorching August.
Marietta Moser in her poem about a Brown County summer describes it as a place of warm sunshine with refreshing showers and gentle breezes with “brilliant flowers of every form and every hue, yellow, purple, red, and blue.”
It was and is such idyllic scenes that draw folks not only to their own cabins and summer homes, but to bread and breakfasts, rentals deep in shaded woods, motels and hotels, and camping in or out of Brown County State Park.
Of course the artists came to capture not only the vibrant colors of a southern Indiana summer and the way of life in the town they called Peaceful Valley, but also the more gentle environment nestled in the hills. Writers also brought their art to Brown County, among those one most famous to Indiana, native Hoosier and famed World War II journalist Ernie Pyle. During August of 1940, Pyle spent time writing and relaxing in and around Nashville.
“I am living a mile out of town,” he wrote, “under great shade trees in a log cabin on a hill. The whole place is mine, for I am its master, its servants and its guests all combined. There is nobody here but me. Not only the cabin is mine, but the breeze under the shade trees is mine, and the uncanny stillness of the night is mine, and mine are the chipmunks in the chimney and the cool drink in the icebox and those first soft streaks of dawn over the dark ridges. They all belong to me, and no one may share them unless I say so.”
The former president and chancellor of Indiana University also spent his summers in Brown County. Herman B Wells’s summer home in Nashville was described by Pyle as “a lovely big cabin on the hill well screened by trees, with a yard and an open terrace….” Who wouldn’t want to spend a blistering August in such a setting?
But people weren’t the only creatures who found comfort from the summer heat in Brown County. Bears, too, came to cool off in several “wallows” found atop some of the county’s highest points. The most notable of such wallows is Bear Wallow about three miles north of Nashville. This Bear Wallow became the site of the home of Marcus Dickey and wife. Dickey served as stage manager and secretary to Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley, though Riley is said never to have visited the Brown County property.
Just behind the mailbox in front of the Dickey home, “Heart of the Highlands,” was a wallow that contained enough water for a bear to, well, wallow in and get some relief from an August heat wave. It seems that the fur shed by the wallowing bears in combination with the natural mud of the depression crated a sort of cement that ensured water would be held there even in August.
During Ernie Pyle’s August respite in Brown County, he attempted to visit Marcus Dickey but didn’t get to see him as the to-be biographer of the great poet was ill at the time. However, so many tourists made the trek to the Dickey door asking about the bear wallow and the bears, Dickey put up a sign in the front yard saying “Bears Not Wallowing Today.”
Whether it’s having a cool drink in one of Nashville’s eateries, tantalizing the tongue with the cold of ice cream on a cone, driving through the hills and valleys with the top down or the windows open, or relaxing on the porch of a cabin among the trees, Brown County remains an August respite for urban dwellers and a source of inspiration for artists.