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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM HAZEL

Visiting Brown County, Indiana

Updated: Apr 19

The Moon blocked the sun and we searched for vegetables and people who weren’t white.

We traveled to a tourist nook named Nashville for a chance to see the total eclipse. Not that Nashville. This was the Nashville nestled near the entrance of the Brown County State Park in Indiana. Totality took a narrow lane across the middle of the US, offering several new cities to visit for viewing. The price of Texas seemed extreme and we both felt clouds along the northern Great Lakes track might obscure the magnificence.

In the midst of the Moon’s schedule was Indianapolis. It gave pause. Wanting to be further from expected crowds we scrolled south into a batch of quaint photographs of quaint shops and even more quaint Country Inns. We’re going to Nashville. We spoke this aloud to reinforce reality.

We experienced totality in 2017 and knew the adventure was worth risking stormy disappointment. If the local weather didn’t cooperate with Celestial intention, we had beautiful hiking trails, blatant tourist traps, and as far as the reviews revealed, decent food and a lumpy four-poster bed.

We stayed in The Artists Colony Inn, a 20-room offering in the center of town. Though not historic, the Inn exudes the expected mix of 19th Century color and Colonial Revival style. Our bed did have the expected lumps, with a center valley that slow rolled us together. It proved comfortable in an unexplainable way.

Nashville had been a working town, lumber mills, and tanneries. In the early part of the century artisans came to capture the beautiful landscapes. The old photos showed them creating plein air. The public spaces such as the library and even our Inn’s restaurant featured original works. The art was amazing.

Artists Colony Inn Interior

Our first meal was at The Ferguson House, built in 1873. The town has preserved a number of original buildings from this period. The restaurant didn't changed the floor plan and the intimacy of the space invited quiet. The wood planks creaked beneath the busy steps of staff. We were worried about the food options in town. I have accepted a vegetarian life and lodging next door to the House of Jerky didn’t bring confidence. Yet a woman with the brightest smile and a belly full of baby due brought me a red curry tofu on a bed of zucchini linguini and I chewed it slowly and with great pleasure. Dessert was coconut cream and cacao whipped into a mouthwatering mousse, topped with strawberries as red as the teen hostess’s cheeks. It all smelled of spring and tongue melted like the last of winter’s snow.

The author attempts food photography. The red curry tofu at The Ferguson House.

On the second day two young men entered the Inn’s narrow lobby hoping for a room. One was black. This was the first person we had encountered who wasn’t white. The whiteness began at the Charlotte Airport hub gate for connecting to Indianapolis. M noticed it first. The nearly 2oo us preparing to crowd onto an Airbus all looked the same. And we traveled all the way to our Inn, wandered around the town, had a lovely meal, slept the night, went to breakfast, wandered some more, and were returning to our room after lunch and suddenly saw someone who wasn’t white.

For the second night’s dining we chose Hobnob Corner in another historic building. Again, vegetarian delights delighted with perfect black beans and rice, and the creamiest spinach lasagna I will now spend countless hours trying to reproduce at home. The Filipino hostess doubled the number of nonwhites encountered.

I should explain there weren’t many people in town. The municipality had chosen greed over good, charging huge sums to park, the lots having $100 signs. Word had obviously spread, and nobody seemed to be coming.

We enjoyed strolling and shopping sans the expected throngs. We found Fallen Leaf Books, one of those small gems with narrow spaces crammed with every genre. Another house of books, Naughty Dog, was along East Main Street. If you want to know what bookstores would look like if all the interesting books were banned, visit Naughty Dog. A shop as beautiful as the name was deceiving, the minutes we spent within with wide aisles of narrow minds were at once eye-opening and terrifying.

And then we waited on a hill for the Moon to make it dark.

The author awaiting totality. The anticipated crowd never arrived.

At first, strangely, we were the only folks on the high ground grassy mound between the High and Middle Schools. It seemed the ideal local spot for the rarest of 360-degree experiences. Thankfully, a handful of town folks, or maybe they were tourists, joined us. We counted fifteen of us. An eclipse crowd we had not imagined. The weather was clear and perfect for the nearly four minutes of inhale, a totality marking a timestamp in our short lifetimes.

Back at the Inn two men were packing up the parking signs. The price had dropped to $50 that morning. The Inn's lot remained empty but for the row of guest cars. The parking attendants were black and now we had seen four people in Nashville who weren’t white. This was our third day in town.

We stayed the next day and night, using the time to hike the trails within the Brown County State Park. The Park was established in the early 30s during the Depression Era’s investment in natural spaces. The rugged woodlands and dramatic valley shadows are still worth painting. Whether your time in this area is short or long, plan some quiet hours in this beautiful park. Though the scenery was still winter barren, the dirt smelled of the spring rains and birdsong was riotous. With sweat soaked spines and quads burning from moderate climbs, we celebrated our ability to continue adventuring together.

Brown County State Park Lodge

We had come to Nashville, Indiana for totality. And totality we experienced. And I enjoyed some of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had this year. Left footprints in a beautiful place where both bear and artists had wandered. And gained a deeper, saddening understanding of how the homogenization of culture and suppression of ideas allows the current politics of my county to flourish. Back home at the office I will experience more diversity in five minutes than in five days in Brown County, Indiana.

So, thanks for the perfect weather, Nashville. For the small crowds. And for an amazing, indescribable, breathtaking totality. As we watched the town grow smaller in the rental car’s rear view, we felt appreciative of a fun trip. But we also knew we would never return.  

1. Photos by Author.

2. M took the photo I didn't take of myself.

3. Yes, I capitalize Moon. Please do not send AP Stylebook links.

© Copyright William Hazel, 2024

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