Chains and bogwater


The Stars of Ballymenone

By Henry Glassie

Indiana University Press; $35

The Stars of Ballymenone is a splendid affirmation of what it means to love the land and make from it a life of value; and it is equally a story of the families Irish immigrants left behind. Folklorist Henry Glassie first encountered this remote corner of Ulster in 1972. Glassie went where Saint Patrick chose not to, and therein lies the charm of the place and its inhabitants.

Glassie makes the past jump off the pages and sit beside you over months of savoring this wordsmith’s delectable prose. You come to understand the necessity of “tea and talk,” for silence brings forth brooding and sadness. Safety is at the hearth with endless evenings of chatting among the grownups and stories passed along to the children. You learn of the richness and sacredness of spoken words before electricity and television shuttered speech. You learn even more about the depth of community — its integrated qualities of interaction, cooperation and being united in destiny. You learn about lives. People are the “stars” of the title: “the ones who shine in the social scene.” Yet, in Ballymenone, “nothing brings censure more swiftly than an effort to make oneself seem ‘bright’ [because] the star’s brightness is fated [and must be] returned generously to the world.” The written word is at first suspect, yet Glassie proves his honesty and quickly is embraced.

Thirty years and five books later, his horizontal study of this place is in itself a star. Before you travel, read Glassie as a tutorial on how to be in a place and allow yourself to become of it, to absorb it in your bones. Read aloud what Glassie writes: “I wish my words would sound like a wooden flute in the night, feel like a steel chain on a farmgate in winter, smell like bogwater.” Do you not indeed hear the flute, feel the chain, smell bogwater?

My Indiana: 101 Places to See

Text and photos by Earl L. Conn

Indiana Historical Society Press; $19.95

Hoosiers, start your engines, ignore the cost of gas and savor jaunts into the state’s six regions. Earl Conn entices you to the unusual and not-well-known, along with some of the hot spots that make travel magazines. There’s a mix of museums, outdoor  attractions, historic sites and events. His format is clarity, his style is chatty. He’s been to each of the sites, camera in hand.

You get snapshots of what you’ll see, a description as to why it’s a destination worth your visit, how to get there and basic contact and fee data.

Starting from the north, Rag Tops Museum in a former pants manufacturing building in Michigan City (where they used to make the “Sans-A-Belt” slacks) immediately caught my attention. Wow, a whole building devoted to convertibles — the kind of car most people dream of and drool over.

Travel east to Ligonier for the Indiana Historic Radio Museum, located in a former automobile repair shop and gasoline station.

In our own central region, take a spin to Morgan-Monroe State Forest in Martinsville.

Head south to get a different perspective of Milan, and still farther south to Tell City and Cannelton to savor the Ohio River.

Out west, go maple sugaring in Parke County.

Strapped for gas cash? Armchair travel by the book and learn a lot more about Indiana than you imagine is out there.


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