The term “Bucket List” is everywhere today. I have several. Recently, along with writer and friend Susan Braun, I was able to check a newly added site off my “Literary Places Bucket List.” I am late to discovering the joys of fellow Hoosier, Gene Stratton Porter’s writing. As I said before, her books were out-of-fashion when I was in school in the 1970s. Thanks to my reading from the Ambleside Online book lists though, I found a new go-to author. I’m pretty sure I will work my way thru all of her books. When I was in Indiana for the Ambleside Online “At Home” Retreat, I made a detour on my way home to visit the Limberlost site maintained by the State of Indiana. Mrs. Porter, her husband and daughter all lived her for a few years. After they moved out they allowed local teachers to live there rent-free.
The visitor’s center helped to make this a great “Charlotte Mason” outing for all ages. Inside were displays explaining the real cost of the “progress” that drained the Limberlost back in Mrs. Porter’s day and the efforts to restore the wetlands to their original state at least in part. This focus on nature, which of course extends into Mrs. Porter’s books and home, makes this an educational as well as fun trip.
The house itself is a log Queen Anne and as lovely a home as I’ve ever seen. The many, many personal touches made it instantly homey to any visitor. I, naturally, especially enjoyed the library, which is at the front of the house and has the big window where Mrs. Porter often sat to write. Though the typewriter shown is simply “of the period” and not her own, it gave me the feel of her working day. What a setting! Imagining looking out the window to the yard, with it’s local-stone fence designed to allow wildlife access–yes, access, and enjoy the warm sun on her shoulders as she wrote in the winter; it must have been a wonderful “office.” Note in the background the display cases for various artifacts collected by Gene and, not seen on another wall, the Native American artifacts collected by her husband, banker Charles Porter.
As I said though, it is the personal touches, that make this a true home. Here are a few of my favorites.This is the Porter’s bed in the master bedroom. It’s exactly the type bed I envision my own characters, Alva and Meg, sleeping in in my historical novel Meat, Potatoes and Pie: A Midwestern Love Story, albeit without the wonderful personalization. Gene had this bed made for the house and the owls were hand carved by a craftsman. Yet another homage to her life as a dedicated naturalist and lover of birds. I personally think owls are among the most fascinating birds, so I really liked this detail.
Above one fireplace is Gene’s Moth collection. In addition to being the “Bird Lady,” in Freckles, she was also quite a “Moth Lady” and naturalist, even publishing on the subject. The display case was created for the space and the glass, in an era when panes so large were still rare, must have been a major expense. The specimens are so fragile today that the case cannot be opened–the woosh of air it would cause would shatter the nearly century old dried insects.You can read her book, Moth’s of the Limberlost, here.
Trivia: Did you know Mrs. Porter’s name was really “Geneva?” Well, this house is in Geneva, Indiana!
It was a bright day so photographing the conservatory with just my phone was a challenge. This lovely room was, again, custom built for its purpose with drains in the floor and water available. Readers of Freckles may recall the moment when this room is featured in the story:
“The night was warm, and the Angel most beautiful and kind. A triple delirium of spirit, mind, and body seized upon him and developed a boldness all unnatural. He slightly parted the heavy curtains that separated the conservatory from the company and looked between. He almost stopped breathing. He had read of things like that, but he never had seen them.
The open space seemed to stretch through half a dozen rooms, all ablaze with lights, perfumed with flowers, and filled with elegantly dressed people. There were glimpses of polished floors, sparkling glass, and fine furnishings. From somewhere, the voice of his beloved Bird Woman arose and fell.
The Angel crowded beside him and was watching also.
“Doesn’t it look pretty?” she whispered.
“Do you suppose Heaven is any finer than that?” asked Freckles.
The Angel began to laugh.”
There were other treasures too– her ‘darkroom’, i.e. the bathroom, where she, like the “Bird Lady” developed the glass plates of her nature photographs. Then there were the stuffed birds and the photograph of them dressed up for a playtime tea party as Gene’s daughter once did to them. Currently the kitchen is not yet restored, but the separate “room” for the icebox is still there and just outside it, now for display only, is the hollow tree smokehouse from the Limberlost. The upstairs, which features a large gathering spot and the bedrooms that were later used by the teachers, is not decorated, but can be toured.
At the Visitor’s Center, in addition to the wetlands display, you can also see the safe and desk from Mr. Porter’s bank as well as buy copies of Gene’s books and books on local wildlife.
Trivia: Did you know Mrs. Porter wrote a book on “Birds of the Bible?”
These little ladies were created to represent some of Gene’s best loved characters. The dresses are hand made, hand embroidered. They were so lovely.
Our guide, author Curt Burnette, is himself a naturalist. You can purchase his book on the the wetlands from the Friends of the Limberlost, who run the gift shop at the Visitor’s Center. Sorry, it is not available for Kindle, though we both encouraged him to do so! The Friends also have nature programs which in June featured a Wildlife Safari, a guided nature hike of the Limberlost Restoration and a night out watching Swifts–a local bird.Homeschool students will be interested, too, in their Early Native American Culture courses designed for homeschoolers. Their website has an excellent webliography of free resources on the natural history of the area. Finally, The Friends hold Bluegrass Jamborees that usually feature (all volunteer and all amateur) musicians playing blue grass, folk music, gospel and other types of music.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Gene Stratton Porter’s “South Cabin,” and the Limberlost area. Leave me a comment with Literary Journeys you have made.
Mrs. Porter’s nature books are available in many forms–print, kindle format, e-book. Her photography is included in several of her books, though not in all versions. Here are links to a few:
Print versions are also available.
A Children’s (middle grades) biography of Mrs. Porter is also available, published by the Indiana Historical Society, Nature’s Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton Porter.
And, if you are interested in Nature Study, Natural History stories or Nature Journaling with your children, check out Amblesideonline’s great list of Natural History stories (see the topic in each year’s curriculum) or on nature journaling as Charlotte Mason intended it. (If your children are interested in nature, ecology or science, Ambleside. Please note: Some books recommended on Ambleside Online have copyright use restrictions–please be courteous and abide by them.
My own recommendations include:
Susan Braun’s collection of Thornton Burgess Nature Stories Collection
The children’s picture book series One Small Square is wonderful for little ones.
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New World Around You introduces all ages to nature journals.
Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature is big help to beginning to draw the natural world.
Walking With Henry: The Life and Works of Henry David Therou [picture book but for all ages]
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks (includes great naturalist Anna Botsford Comstock, author or the classic of classics on nature study: The Handbook of Nature Study which is worth every dollar it costs to purchase it, though it is available for free here.
Audubon Society Field Guides series
And don’t forget local nature and natural history sites–as well as local Literary Journeys. Leave me a comment with sites you’ve visited.