Monday, July 11, 2011

Field trip -- the beach

A rather lowering day at Indiana Dunes State Park, all high hazy clouds and cool, damp winds. The soft sunlight on the pebbles made them gleam as if they were in moonlight -- I suppose. I've never seen the beach at night.

Below, a native plant up on the dunes. Milkweed, I think. I have the same in my garden.

And below, the dunes. The lake's waters reached this far -- and much farther -- in previous aeons.

The beach was not as empty of people as these photos suggest. We chose to picnic in an area where there were no lifeguards and therefore no swimming allowed, and therefore fewer would-be swimmers. Besides, one can always grab the camera, get up from the beach towel, and keep on walking toward still more isolated spots. 

Come to think of it, why do masses of people obey two teen lifeguards who drive around the beach in a dune buggy, mournfully telling their fellow citizens that they mustn't swim here, but may swim over there where lifeguards are posted -- and where it's correspondingly crowded? One angry lady raised a sensible point. "Why on earth," she yelled, "is it any safer to cram hundreds of people into one area of the beach, so you can watch them there? We've got this whole beautiful beach -- you are not going to be able to save anybody in trouble. You won't be able to see them." And the teen had to explain, in age-old fashion, that he was just following orders.

There was nothing for the erstwhile swimmers to do except either leave the water -- which they did -- or leave and go swim where the rules allowed it. Or rise up, French Revolution style, and hurry the teen lifeguards à la lanterne, or (and this would be better) simply ignore them. But people don't ignore authority. It's a pity, but it seems the bureaucratic, Leviathan nanny state has ground all of us down in this way. When we are faced with a silly command from people who deserve to be ignored and who are embarrassed at giving orders anyway, still our minds work forward and anticipate the sanctions. If we don't obey, eventually the kid will fetch a higher authority, not because the issue is so important, but because it's as much as his job is worth not to enforce rules he's been told to enforce. The higher authority will then be able to impose real sanctions -- at minimum a "scene," at maximum physical removal from the park plus probably a fine. Meanwhile, the day of fun would be ruined, when all we need do to go on having fun is obey the orders of the nanny state which can claim it is only looking out for our safety anyway. Doctor Johnson would never have tolerated this. The Duke of Wellington would never have tolerated this. Our ancestors of a hundred years ago would not have tolerated it. Maybe the liberals are right. Maybe human nature can be changed.    

Although, to be fair, nothing prevented anyone from wandering off and swimming far away from other people, teen guards, the nanny state, and all. And there were plenty of dogs on the beach, despite the signs warning "no pets." Maybe the teen guards had long since decided to pick their battles.

And finally, I am puzzled to know why anyone should have decided that a stock image of a bewigged eighteenth-century French couple in a bosky glade adequately represents the experience of going to Indiana Dunes State Park. I found this plate at a local thrift shop a long time ago, and bought it as a curiosity. We didn't bother stopping in any gift shops this day, so I have no idea what sort of souvenirs are sold on behalf of the park now. Perhaps, years ago when this plate was made, some foreman at a Chinese factory simply glanced at the wrong order form and gave the nod to the wrong assembly line. And there we are.

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