WILSON: Wanderlust 2020 tour part two: Waterfall to waterfall

By early afternoon of the first day of my “tour,” I had logged-in some tranquil meditation at the base of a waterfall near Logansport, Indiana, explored long-forgotten canal paths along the route of the equally long-abandoned Wabash and Erie Canal, and reflected about the past in the once-bustling port town of Delphi — along the sole-remaining portion of that canal. Interesting stuff, but not too high on anyone’s excitement meter.

Initially, my (very tentative) plan was to follow the Wabash River until it spilled into the Ohio River — or until I got bored (hence, the term “tentative”). Geographically and culturally, I consider this confluence of two mighty rivers as the most “out-there” place in the State of Indiana. Proper Hoosier dialect would refer to it as the “furthest-most-point” — where Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky swim together between co-mingling waterways. Eventually, I left the canal towpaths and emerged from the forests and fields — and found myself lost in Lafayette.

West Lafayette, Indiana, is the home of Purdue University and with that, should have been able to provide me with all the excitement a college town has to offer — but not these days. Instead, I found a college ghost town, and an eerie emptiness brought about by a pandemic-driven campus abandonment. Excitement did not seem to be on the menu for the day.

Undeterred, I pulled my trusty quarter from its residence in my wallet, stood in a Wendy’s parking lot and considered my choices. Heads: I continue following the Wabash River, which would lead me to Terre Haute and Vincennes — two more college towns (these days, probably equal in excitement to the very empty West Lafayette). Tails: I follow the first highway heading south. Tails it was — and south it would be.

Now, I don’t want to disparage our southern neighbors — I have a genuine fondness for my birth state — but rolling straight south out of Lafayette on US-231 is the least exciting ribbon of asphalt on which four wheels have ever rolled. I won’t go into detail as to the extreme level of boredom it provided…but suffice to say, “It was a tad bit unexciting.”

However, just south of the booming megalopolis of Cloverdale (population: about 2,000), US-231 attempted to redeem itself. A barely noticeable, brown road sign indicated, “Cataract Falls,” with an arrow pointing west across the corn fields — just the type of mental diversion I was looking for.

I locked up all four wheels on my pretty red pickup, Hoosier Drifted a right-hand turn, and headed off into the afternoon sun. A few miles down the trail, I found a covered bridge and a long line of cars waiting to pay $7 to get into the Cataract Falls State Recreation Area. It was a warm day, it was a beautiful setting, and good Hoosiers from all over the State of Indiana were forsaking social distancing for the opportunity to, once again, become one with nature. I found no fault with their reckless abandon, and eagerly joined in.

Cheerfully, I paid the entry fee and mingled among the throng of picnickers, hikers, and waterfall watchers. Making my way through the informal gathering, I searched for a photographic vantage point that might elevate my line of sight above the bald pate of some “damn tourist,” standing between me and whatever image I was trying to capture. Turns out, I was focusing on the wrong subject matter. That throng of sleeveless sunburns, frolicking fun seekers, and happy Hoosiers conveyed the overwhelming photographic theme of the day — freedom.

This was not the calm and tranquil setting at the cascade I visited at the beginning of the day. Here, there would be no peaceful moments of introspection, no moments of Zen, no opportunity for solitary adjustment to one’s attitude.

This was a form of festival. It was an unplanned, spontaneous gathering of good people — simultaneously attempting to escape the cocoon spun from months of isolation, and emerge as joyful, social beings once more.

The day began with an Indiana waterfall and it ended with an Indiana waterfall. You don’t get to do that very often.

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