It’s Fall. The heat of the nineties has finally broken and given way to temperatures twenty degrees cooler. Ahhh….
Fall and early Winter are my favorite camping and touring seasons. The fires aren’t wasted in sweltering heat, the crowds are gone, the trees are closing up season while crickets and katydids sing away the last cycle of their season, too. Growing up in a small Michigan town, I still love traveling to quaint and quiet places. One of my favorites has always been New Harmony Indiana–tucked away on the banks of the Wabash River in the southwest corner of Indiana.
Twice a failed Utopian society, built very near the ancient Mississippian Angel Mounds, this is a place of mystery and meditation. The land has always called people to it: Asking them to explore another way of living– to make Utopia real.
The town, today, still holds tours of the original, Utopian community’s cabins and of the meditation sanctuaries all over town. In one of the original log cabins–turned art–there is a pin hole lens that projects the upside down image from outside the door onto the far log wall. You sit on a bench at the door wall in the darkness and wait for your eyes to adjust to see the world turned on its head –using only the smallest pinhole of light. Quietly, quietly one sits in that dark–waiting for their own interpretation of the light. This is why I find New Harmony magical. All the public spaces invite introspection. From the marvelous hedge maze to the outdoor cathedral to the fountain Hosta garden and then the re-created labyrinth from the nave at Chartres Cathedral.
All invite a quiet looking within. A quiet questioning of why utopia is so hard to obtain and how our own spirit holds the key.
Throughout time, people have found focus and peace in the mindful walking of a labyrinth and, to my heart, there is no more beautiful labyrinth than the quatrefoil of the Chartres example.
For a mind like mine, who finds it hard to find the focus of meditation in a seated and stationary position, walking a labyrinth occupies the body and mind, allowing the soul a freedom to explore. The setting in New Harmony is a simple manicured garden. At the back is fountain; a prostrate lyre. The sound of the water falling further deepens the allowance of peace. I love that fountain. It is a beautiful, elegant design which harkens me to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice–where Orpheus goes down to Hades to try and win back his lover, using his gifts with the lyre, to soften the gods of the underworld. His magic works and Eurydice is allowed to follow, if only Orpheus will not look back. He must trust in the path and in the rightness of love. Alas, he forgets that love has the power to heal all and make all things right. In his frailty or humanness, he turns back and loses all.
Orpheus’s tale is one of walking a labyrinth, too. The question will always be: Can we get out of our own heads long enough to find the connection we are seeking?
All over town there are interesting sites. The Roofless Cathedral is just a remarkable place–and so unexpected in a tiny town like this. The gates are giant and noble and give one the sense of entering something on the scale of a great Roman building.
But, enter and the sanctuary reveals a simple garden of sculpture and form. Again, as in all things New Harmony, it’s Occam’s razor –a clearing to get to the core, inner, truth.
New Harmony’s most successful business–the Red Geranium Restaurant, B & B and Conference center–is at the heart of the town. They rent golf carts for self touring and if you don’t have a bike, this is the best way to explore. The meals at the Inn are savory and enjoyable. There are several other small family owned restaurants in town, with more casual fare. Murphy park (just west of the downtown) is a nice spot for a picnic as well as camping. Up until recently, they allowed camping there in unimproved lawn spots for $5 a night (now with water and electric $20/night).We once rode out a tornado there in our little green tent–keeping an eye to the sky and an eye on the poison ivy filled ditch.
Murphy park is still a good place to camp if you want to be able to walk to all the sites but if you want more camping luxury, Harmonie State Park is just a few miles away.
New Harmony keeps working on itself. I love the fact that they chose a very modern museum, The Atheneum, (designed by the same architect who created the Getty). It sits out in the field, surrounded by the log buildings–a giant white modern sculpture of a building. Many of the homes in town are lovely Victorian brick and clapboard buildings. The town sits on the Wabash earthquake zone and several years back we saw toppled chimneys after a small shaker. All has been rebuilt but even the quakes remind us that change comes and to find a calm center in it all.
There are a few shops in town and none more charming than The Mews. This might actually be my favorite place to shop in the Midwest. From antiques, to gourmet kitchen gifts, to artful clothing and jewelry and art it’s just a wonderful place to while away an hour and shop for gifts.
I could go on and on about the memories we’ve made in New Harmony but before I end this, I will remind you to visit The Peony garden (if you are there in season) and watch them harvest the blooms for shipping. To visit Angel Mounds and walk the site with an ear to the drumming in the forgotten distance and to walk the boardwalk at the oxbow on the river.
And, heretofore unremarked, take a quick side trip over to Evansville and tour the ornate and stately Willis Library. It’s quite a building. Make sure and see the dollhouse in the children’s space where, as a little patron whispered to me; “The furniture moves around behind the glass all by itself.” Yes, famously haunted, this library and the private leather bound volumes room is worth a stop. Evansville has a nice art museum and riverfront walk, as well.
I hope you will find yourself in this corner of Indiana one day. It’s worth the trip.
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