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Collett – A scientist and a poet

A note from my friend, and alum, Nate Mullendore [W2007] is the inspiration for this posting. For the past few years Nate has been the go to guy (officially the Watershed Projects Coordinator) for the Friends of Sugar Creek, a non-profit founded in the 1970’s as an advocacy group for our beautiful river here in Montgomery County. Nate asked if I was familiar with the 1875 Geological Survery of our county – written by John Collett [W1847]…I was, although mostly in passing.

Nate continued, “It’s beautifully written, particularly for a scientific document. Similar surveys for Parke, Boone, and Clinton counties are dismal in comparison.”

Here are some samples of the survey as sent to me by Nate this morning…

“The surface, gently undulating, is carpeted with shrubs and blue grass. The oak and elm forests which prevail on the cold tenacious clays are replaced with a thrifty growth of ash, beach, walnut, poplar, sassafras and sugar trees of superior size. In autumn, when the frost just touches the ripening foliage of the latter, as if by magic, they are at once arrayed in festive robes of glory. The forest becomes a giant parterre, brilliant with a thousand vivid tints of purple, gold and crimson, relieved by a setting of russet and azure, while the emerald carpet is flecked and strewn with drifting leaves ripened to the deepest hues of orange, brown and vermillion. We may well suppose that the citizens of this county rejoice in this thanksgiving scene painted by God’s own hand; and absorbing transfigured inspiration, her theologians and orators have spoken words that have deeply molded human character; that her poets in ·alt and bass have sung songs that have touched responsive chords wherever the English language is spoken.

“The sedimentary clays and shales near, but not immediately above the limestone pockets, are rich in fossils. At favorite localities, the bottom of the sea was crowded with life. Armies of Crinoids with strong stems 1 to 20 feet long, yet pliant with life and safely anchored to the solid bottom, lived in great communities in the deep dark waters. Their heads, a wonder of artistic beauty and ingenious mechanism, were supported and surrounded by strong arms divided into fringed fingers, which, elastic with vitality, served at once for defense, and at the same time, with prehensile instinct, grasped and sorted the food which sustained their strange and complicated being.

“Other animals of artistic structure and wondrous symmetry prevailed; minute coral insects, gastropods intimately connected as food or otherwise with the reigning crinoids; brachiopods reached out their spiral arms loaded with tentacles; curled ophiurians twisted their snaky fingers about the crinoid bases, and starfishes lent their subdued rays to enliven the gloom of that watery night.”

What beautiful prose to find in a geological survey, the liberal arts at their best! All of this talk calls to mind the many alums who may fondly remember canoeing the creek on a pristine “Elmore Day” or dashing downstream on the spring rains. For those who are interested, the Friends of Sugar Creek have accomplished many good things, including dragging tons of trash out of the river. Here is a link to their website, http://www.friendsofsugarcreek.org/

Among the things I will be grateful for this Thanksgiving are the beauty of this area and the rugged beauty of Sugar Creek.

Best,

Beth Swift
Archivist
Wabash College

of particular interest to the Wabash community–

“At an early date in the settlement of the west, when the pioneer had just entered the wild forests, still occupied by wilder savages, a band of young missionaries, hopeful for the future of this region, and foreseeing its moral and educational needs, determined to found a school for collegiate education. Like knights of chivalry or standard bearers of a forlorn hope, they laid their plans, staked off the grounds, and kneeling on the snow that frosty November morning, consecrated themselves to the enterprise, and it to the God of Heaven. The vow then taken, with the enthusiasm of young manhood, has been fulfilled with single devotion and untiring energy. Its founders taught and worked on a salary of six hundred dollars a year, but with the spirit of martyrs they returned one half to the treasury of the college, gave one hundred dollars to other charities, and reserved only the meager sum of two hundred dollars from which to feed and clothe themselves and families. In determination and self-denial “there were giants in those days.”

  1. Do you think some future president will ever bring back Elmore Day?

    • Hi Zack! I don’t know about the return of Elmore Day since the point of Elmore Day was to create a day off in the fall…we now have fall break. Have a good Thanksgiving break. Beth

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