By John Green
When my wife and I first moved to Indianapolis five years ago, we heard multiple times that Indianapolis was the largest American city not on a navigable waterway. This seems a strange thing to be proud of; it’s one of those extremely fine distinctions, like saying that Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the NFL with a surname that is
also a noun, just as Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL whose surname is also a gerund.
“Ours is a city of strip malls and parking lots; we have no mountains, no beaches. Our autumn is less spectacular than New England; our winters are too cold, our summers too hot. And yet, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
But many people see this lack of non-navigable waterways as a symbol of Indianapolis’s lack of physical beauty. Ours is a city of strip malls and parking lots; we have no mountains, no beaches. Our autumn is less spectacular than New England; our winters are too cold, our summers too hot. And yet, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
And I used to wish for mountains and beaches, or really any kind of topography. But then my son was born. He’s two now, and one of the many pleasures of having a two-year-old is that they are always playing. Well, or throwing a tantrum.
Henry and I often visit the non-navigable waterways of Indianapolis. Walking down to the river in Holliday Park, Henry notices EVERYTHING. While I fight the urge to look at my phone every ten seconds, Henry a full minute examining a red leaf barely clinging to a tree. He leans against each tree trunk we walk past, trying to determine which are small enough to shake with his weight. He stops walking every few steps to look for rolly-pollies.
“So, okay. We don’t have any navigable waterways, or beaches, or mountains. But you don’t need them to play any more than you need fancy toys.”
When we get down to the White River, he starts throwing rocks into the water. I show him how I can skip stones, which he finds boring, because skipped stones don’t makes big of a splash. He heaves stone after stone into the water. After every splash, he says, “That was a splash,” as if all the other ones weren’t splashes. He can do this dozens of times without getting bored, and when I finally say, “Okay,Henry, we need to walk back to the car now.” “One more, daddy,”he says. “A big one.” He grabs a stone takes both his hands to hold, walks to the edge of the water, and drops it in. “LOOK AT THAT
SPLASH,” he says.
In the winter, we will bundle up and come back to watch the rocks crash through thin ice. In the summer, we’ll be here in shirt sleeves, sweating, scaring the turtles away with the splashes. So, okay. We don’t have any navigable waterways, or beaches, or mountains. But you don’t need them to play any more than you need fancy toys. You only need the ability to pay careful and sustained attention to the abundant beauty that is always–always–in our midst.
A native of Indianapolis, John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Most recently he has been named national winner of the 2012 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award.