by Henry Swain
If there are any 50 year old geese that fly over Brown County every Spring and Fall they would wonder at the change of landscape beneath them from the view of their first flight.
I have a 1933 aerial map of the quadrant encompassing Nashville, Beanblossom, Gatesville, returning down Salt Creek to State road 46. Comparing that map with current aerial maps one would wonder if it were the same county.
In 1933 most of the valley ground and much of the ridge top land was under cultivation. The Bessire orchard was in full bloom, and much of the Freeman Ridge orchard remained.
The Civilian Conservation Corps had just been established and a camp was located in Brown County State Park to provide work for the unemployed during the Great Depression. Much of the early park development occurred during that time: Abe Martin Lodge was built, the fire tower erected, look-outs cleared, lakes created along with roads leading to them, and the shelter houses on their banks.
The dust bowl era of Oklahoma had inspired the creation of the Soil Conservation Service. Tree planting became a national trend. The State Forestry Service followed this lead and tree planting in Brown County to stop erosion of worn out or abandoned farms became a near obsession.
The small scrub red cedar is the only native evergreen to Brown County. Most of the evergreen forests in our county are the result of those early plantings for erosion purposes or Christmas tree plantations. The pines and spruces grow well here but do not naturally re-seed themselves, Indiana residing between the northern and southern pine belts.
The Soil Conservation Service and the Agricultural Department emphasized farm ponds as one means of controlling erosion. Our local office estimates that there are 1,500 to 2,000 ponds in our county, most built since the early 1930s by private owners with assistance from various government agencies.
It is popular now to see government as a wasteful entity taking our tax dollars giving little to us in return. I am grateful for what government has done for our county over the years. Our eroded hills are green again. We have Brown County State Park convenient for our use. Fishing and recreational ponds and lakes dot the landscape not only for our use, but for wildlife sustenance when the creeks go dry.
While government accelerated the reclaiming of abandoned farms, nature would have accomplished the same on its own. If you have a meadow and do not mow it at least every two years, the forest reclaims it.
The Sumac and Sassafras begin sprouting first, followed later by the hardwoods. In the 1940s my neighbor Ronald Batten, (Batty) tilled the bottom fields below our place. The narrow strip between the road and field, which he did not till, now is a line of trees 50 feet tall, some 18 inches in diameter.
Had I not mowed every year the field I view from my window, I would be looking out into a forest now. No matter how much we humans alter our environment nature is always patiently to reclaim whatever we abandon.
Geese notice the changing Brown County in their flight and so do pilots. Pilot Vine Hall says it well in his short poem.
Therefore, I see
As knit in one society,
Seers, saints, and airmen, all who rise
To the pure place of the clear skies,
And read, as in a mirror’s face
The hidden things of time and space.