Here is a fun fact for your amusement, which I just invented: The Grand Canyon is seven miles longer than Indiana.
OK, I didn’t “invent” it. I discovered it. You do that by taking two discrete pieces of information and putting them together in a way no one else has considered and – voila! – a new fun fact is born.
(Fort Wayne used to have a mayor who tried to impress people with his erudition and kept saying things he didn’t really understand, such as, “Viola!” Getting an expression wrong is amusing to word snobs like me. A reader responding to my most recent column accused me of ignoring facts and evidence and relying instead on “antidotal” evidence.)
What happened was that I was trying to find something silly and diverting for this week’s column. My last several had been so grimly serious, and I needed a break.
I first considered “the slap heard round the world” involving Will Smith and Chris Rock. What is more diverting than a stupid feud between two Hollywood darlings we will never meet in real life?
But it appears we have reached the point in our society where we can’t even talk about something that inconsequential without dragging race and the culture war into it. So much baggage. So not amusing.
And then I stumbled across the tidbit that the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and thought, “Boy, that is one long canyon. My sister was not entirely accurate.”
She had told me about “seeing” the Grand Canyon. But the truth is that she took a day trip on her Las Vegas vacation and saw a tiny piece of it. It would take days to see all of it.
For some reason, that made me think of Indiana, probably because it is one of our vertical states, as opposed to the horizontal ones, squarish ones and funny-shaped-because-somebody-slapped-somebody-over-a-border-dispute ones.
And I discovered that the Hoosier state, from Lake Michigan all the way down to the Ohio River, is a mere 270 miles, which is a little bit humbling.
It wouldn’t do to carry the analogy too far, however. Indiana still wins the square footage sweepstakes, being a whopping 140 miles wide, compared with the Grand Canyon’s mere 18.
And the canyon, of course, is up to a mile deep in some places. Indiana is much shallower. There is a joke in there somewhere, but it’s mean spirited, and this is supposed to be a light column.
Anyway, it would be a mistake to say you “know” Indiana just because you know your part of the state well or even if you’ve taken a day trip or two.
Northwest Indiana takes its spirit of urban vibrance from nearby Chicago. Southern Indiana mirrors the bucolic leisureliness of Appalachia. In between are a trove of hidden treasures and awe-inspiring wonders. If you seek diversion from the anxieties of the daily news, you could do worse than spending a few weekends exploring the flyover territory around you.
You could start by seeking out the under-appreciated gems in your own town. The Sunken Gardens if you live in Huntington. The Bluespring Caverns in Bedford. The Labyrinth in New Harmony. The world’s largest ball of paint in Alexandria.
Here in Fort Wayne, it’s the Ardmore Quarry. It’s not exactly a grand canyon, but it is a mighty big hole. Standing on the observation deck, you’d swear you were looking at part of the set for “Jurassic Park.” Is that a dinosaur peeking around the corner?
Once upon a time, it was called May Sand and Stone. It’s the first place my father worked when we moved here from Kentucky, and sometimes I’d go with him when he had the Sunday guard duty. It was the first time I ever heard my father curse, when he hit his thumb with a hammer. I won’t tell you the word but can report that he pronounced it perfectly.
Ooh, did you know – another fun fact – that Fort Wayne has roughly the same latitude (about 41 degrees north) as Istanbul, where the Russia-Ukraine peace talks are currently going on?
There’s probably a joke there, but we should let it go.