VALPARAISO, Ind. — John Vukmirovich slapped his hat on his knee with joy at finding pawpaws at Gabis Arboretum. It caught me off guard, he’s usually reserved and serious.
We stopped at Gabis on our way to see sandhill cranes Nov. 2, breaking up the drive (it’s an hour and 40 minutes from downtown) to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.
His serious side reasserted later when he insisted “it was more a splurt of pawpaws, rather than a patch [my term].”
While Vukmirovich, a pawpaw apostle, explained the splurt to me and wondered whether it was separate trees or clonals, a hickory nut nearly beaned me.
We spent the most time in a hickory and oak savanna. Gabis serves as a “living laboratory” for Purdue University Northwest. Its 300 acres has multiple ecosystems and landscapes.
Whimsy plays at Gabis, from bespectacled wood sculptures to Jason Hawke’s mixed media, “Don’t Worry, the World’s Not Flat.” Vukmirovich had pawpaws, I had bald cypress.
I picked Gabis as a stop because my wife and I have a Morton Arboretum membership, which has a reciprocal agreement with Gabis. Otherwise, it is $10 a car. Get more info on the arboretum here.