Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 8: The critical dunes

South Haven to Lake Michigan Beach. 15.3 miles/96.7 total

Before heading out onto the Blue Star Highway again, I take a brief stroll through the downtown of South Haven, not so much because there's anything special to see there, but because this will be absolutely the only civilization I go through on today's walk.

A sign in Gaelic on the side of an Irish pub says, "Cead Mile Failte to South Haven," which I imagine means welcome. The place is called Biddy Murphy's. Around the corner I pass the South Haven Center for the Arts, as well as the town library.

As I slide back out toward the highway, I pass a Burger King and notice that they're promoting something called "The Angry Whopper." It has hot sauce on it, I guess. So, I think, it's finally come to this here in the 21st century:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an Angry Whopper....

A little way down the road I see a McDonald's, advertising their Angus Burger, and I realize that this Burger King thing is probably a riff on that--Angus Burger-Angry Whopper. At first when McDonald's started marketing the Angus burger I thought, big deal, Angus is a beef cattle breed. Then I remembered that this was special, because the average McDonald's hamburger is probably made from retired Holsteins.

After I've been out on the Blue Star Highway for a couple of miles I see a brown and white sign, from the State of Michigan, that says, "Michigan Critical Dunes." I immediately figure that these dunes must be the fussy, censorious kind, as opposed to the more laid back, live and let live dunes.

Now, as I walk down the road, with the Critical Dunes to my right, I picture them looking back at me through the trees, one eyebrow raised, thoughtfully frowning. Like Steerforth's man Littimer, in David Copperfield, giving me a look that says, "You, sir, are a very foolish man. Very, very foolish indeed."

Of course I know that Critical Dunes are ones that are somehow, in the judgment of some guardian of the environment, especially "important," in that they are essential wildlife and vegetation habitats or the like, and that we must protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, lest dunedom as we know it become a mere historical relic. (Later, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality website confirms this, stating that Critical Dunes are are "a unique, irreplaceable, and fragile resource that provide significant recreational, economic, scientific, geological, scenic, botanical, educational, agricultural, and ecological benefits to the people of this state and to people from other states and countries who visit this resource." Jesus, how verbose. Sounds like it should end with, "when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care."

A few miles down this otherwise very boring road I encounter another "Critical Dunes" sign, and I can once again feel the heat of the opprobrium of the dunes radiating toward me from the west.
Then, as if Critical Dunes weren't dangerous enough, I pass by the premises of a nuclear facility, the Palisades Power Plant. Wonder what that sucker did to the dunes. Every hundred yards or so, signs warn me that the plant's "safety personnel" are authorized to use "DEADLY FORCE" on me if I trespass. Makes a little criticism from the sand seem pretty tame by comparison.

Finally, about 14 miles into the walk, during which I saw very little of anything but trees and a few wild turkeys (alive, no less), a dead four-point buck, and the usual assortment of possums and raccoons in varying states of decay, I come to a roadside park that allows me access to the lake. I walk about a quarter mile down the soft sand to the beach, and get my hands and feet wet and take a few photos. Lake Michigan realized at last. Then I steal a final glance northward into the mist, toward the Critical Dunes.

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