What if it all worked out? What if all those great ideas turned out to indeed be as good as their originators through. The New World was indeed new. The migration to the Great American West was brought by the hand of Providence as was that of the founding of old smokey New England and it was a Blessed and peaceful march of progress. What if the wonder drug worked wonders? The promise of freedom from the drudgery of chores was provided by the Sampson Washing Machine, the Buzz-O Blender, The Kut-Co Knife, or sundry other goods?
There was a time, not too long ago, when Hope and Change was not a slogan but something optimistic in the fabric of the majority of the citizens – or, at least, those so franchised by dint of Station. Buildings went up as an indication of our expanding civilization, wild areas were tamed by the kind hand of Mankind to efface the chaotic hand of the Devil, Progress was a force for Good and all trundled after the electrification of the farms, the paving of an excellent network of highways, the wireless communications that connected outposts and urbanizations so we could focus on love, art, and knowledge.
But those Hopes and Changes of the old days have become a much-maligned punchline in-joke and memes of a generation of solipsistic and natty little troglodytes pounding away on flesh and plastics. The wonder breads, drugs, corn syrup products, and complex carbon chains are today sitting on the fridge refusing to rot, filling our waterways with unused estrogen and Wellbutrin, and rusting features leaching all sorts of interesting metals and chemicals into the once fertile ground. In time, all will be restored, we are told.
This is not more stark than at the dunes and beaches of the Illinois Beach State Park. To the North of the south of the park sits the proud towers of Zion. Zion is today a hapless now rusting structure that may appear as just a set of cement cylinders and a few stacked metal boxes save that their collective silhouette resembles the famous Chernobyl and perhaps given time other features of likeness will emerge detected only electrostatically.
Zion represents a monument from that epoch when we thought we could harness the atom in new inventive ways in order to finally free humanity from the bounds of our mortal confines. Free mother to blend, chop, and stir with the aid of machines. The power would allow father to study longer for work or pleasure. Allow the family unit to recreate late into the night at a local sports center or perhaps an exchange of scientific ideas at a show and tell. One day we would drive atomic cars along fusion roads all harnessing the mighty power of neutrons and protons as our beast of burden. A perpetual motion machine was to rocket Mankind into Tomorrowland.
Then, after a series of disastrous setbacks, a few explosions, and quite a few cancer plumes, as well as more science… we started to look with ill ease at our Friend The Mighty Atom and doubt that these powers could be contained. Also, we had pool after pool of spent rods from the reactors and realized that we would in time run out of rifts in the ocean to hide them in. Mountain crevasses to stuff, pack, and hide them under. Still dangerous – and will be for thousands of years – but useless from an energy perspective, these rods sit in pools like so many pickup sticks. There is only so much depleted uranium we can turn into bullets and spray at our enemies across the Middle Eastern World. So, Zion came to be decommissioned. The estimate is that in 40-50 years the structure will be packed up, perhaps into Ziplock(c) bags, and carted away into some deep hole in some state where the locals vote against their interests and the monied classes don’t have vacation homes. If I live life to my oldest, and mind you I will try, I will perhaps not live long enough to see the waters of Zion returned to the dunes from whence this failed estate once arose. I will then always live to see Zion.
To the south of the park is a preserve that appears untouched and forever wild. As with other nature preserves, this untouched wilderness has previously been very, very, very touched by the ingenuity of Man. Home to the state of Illinois only asbestos Superfund site, the aptly named Dead River ligs slowly and describes the official end of the path and all human contact and commune with the rambling flora and scurrying fauna. Signs threaten with arrest all those who dare trample on the regrowth and disturb the delicate balance of nature as well as the potential for yet another Mesothelioma lawsuit by kicking up the dust. On that site unreachable today by picnicker or avid hiker there was a plant that produced all manner of fantastic products made from asbestos.
In the process, as the layman of any trade would suspect, this activity created a good deal of toxic waste that was once thought harmless – sort of like Fracking today. Now, most of this very bad waste has been dumped into the lake or carefully packed into barrels and shipped in tin cans to be stuffed into a hole next to the hole they dug in Mount Mordor (or whatever county prostitution is legal) or Bash Bish Falls, or NIMBY Mountain. This is a sad end to science. There was a time when asbestos was a good idea.
Let me pause for a moment and extol the wonders of asbestos. This writer grew up in an asbestos shingle house. For all the greenwashing hoopla and the virtues of recycling, nothing beats pulverized and reconstituted stone. It lasts forever and is fireproof up to the point one sets aside Celsius as a thought experiment, Fahrenheit as child’s play, and breaks out the Kelvin scale. The shingles on my childhood home will outlast me and generations to come. Talk about a diminished carbon footprint. My old house in Brooklyn had asbestos sheets behind the wall by the stove to prevent fire – perhaps the single fire prevention in the entire tinderbox of a structure. My current house has asbestos pipe covers and in a few places the rockwool insulation. I try not to disturb these materials as I know that these particulates will eventually get deep in my lungs, and murder me very painfully. Nevertheless, undisturbed, it is no wonder people thought this was a miracle of the modern world and so applied it to more things that I think you would be comfortable knowing and did so long before you were born so today, you have no say in the matter. Like lead in tap water (and ahem..), dust by roads from all those years of leaded fuel, and coal tar in the soil, asbestos is everywhere whether you see it or not.
Time erodes mountains, and so do bucket loaders and trucks and metal drums with lids on them. It just so happens that more of that everywhere is on the beach of the park – but only from time-to-time in huge chunks tossed up by storms. Mainly, it is invisible and mixed in with the sand. Depending on who you talk to. Since we live in a post-fact environment… And everyone has their own true study and True Stories.
To the further south of the preserve and the Superfund Site, almost out of view, is the healthy and active pipes of the current power station, one fired by traditional coal. And so this parkland is almost perfectly hemmed in by the sins of science and society. The radioactive. The asbestos. The urban sprawl to the west and vacant stores and downtowns. And the cherry on the poop pot pip pie – the proud furnaces turning out energy to free mother from Her Genderrole of provider and homemaker and father from His boredom and Unchecked Privilege and lack of sport on the electrical TEEVEE.
There is yet a return of nature, for She doesn’t allow her children to be gone long before replacing them with new and hungry beasts. The dunes are but a few heaps of of sand decorated with grasses and little somethings of what appear to be a piney nature. On a cold winter day, and with the constant wind, the cry of the gull is met with the crashing wave and yet no salt spray as this writer is used to but a strange and deep tri-shade of blue from sweet waters. That warm almost greenish blue of the close waters shift to a deep and unfamiliar blue further out – almost tropical yet the scale of colours are incorrect – and then the distant blue, the blue-black making for a false coastline on what appears the other side and yet this is no landfall but much more distant and strange waters. In this silent spring there are patches of ice in shaded areas and yet the peep of the frog (or toad I know not nor does Spotify have a nature sound app?) heave up from ponds that in more familiar climes would be brackish and foul and here are calm and potable. The marshside of the dunes, that furthest from the lake, have wood ducks, and I am not sure if they should be there since these are strange times, but they are there, and the call of mating seems in the air. Walking along the trail at this time of year – and a weekday nonetheless – I encountered no other human soul. The trees were all witchtree, and many had fallen over or had at some point come to an end in a conflagration of some note since all to a one appeared scarred with charcoal. Back to the resort-hotel, I was able to shake off these strange musings. I settled into the dining room that has an expansive view of the lake. The sun was dipping to the west, and as cloud had gathered, the lights were ever dim, and shadows evenly settled upon the land. I pondered this slice of land and all that I had seen.
Next to me at a table, a woman was gently sobbing. Small little swoons shook her large body. Her friend consoled her with just a hand on her arm and nothing else. There was nothing that could be done. The sad woman got up and left her friend. The friend explained to the waitress “time heals all, time is the only comfort to restore.” The waitress bashfully agreed and some further exchange was made in hushed tones, the sort grandparents use when something dire has taken place to the household and the grandchildren are far too young to understand. From somewhere I heard a choir singing. Some deeply felt calling to God murmured under my feet and mixed with the stultifying music being pumped throughout the hotel in order to drown out the Monday Blues. This sort of singing I had not heard in a long time since those listless and sultry summer nights sitting outside of my old house in Brooklyn surrounded by churches and madmen. This singing was just on the edge of hearing. I was alone in the needlessly vast dining room of the off-season hotel-resort and looked out to the darkening sky the blue water melting into black. The fake fire licked the pretend log in the plastic and glass fireplace. “It’s like a church service,” she explained to me.
“Mothers who have lost a child are meeting here tonight,” the waitress whispered seeming ashamed as death is the naked fruit of the loins of fear and our society has lost all ability to talk of this frightening night. And as if she stripped her covers to expose her breasts, I did not know what to say but “ah.” I too am at a loss for words. She limped back to the kitchen with the foot she complained about bothering her all night and I sipped my martini and watched the glow of light leave this planet for boundless darkness. The blinking lights of the smokestacks far off in the distance twinkled imperiously. What was alive in there was not on the schedule of us mortals, no matter how or how many mothers would loose their children. I listened to the muffled songs to Jehovah and thought of the poisoned land and how we must all grow up and face the reality that all things come with a price, especially science and technology. I considered the waters of Zion. And ye, I wept.
Psalm 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
Editor’s Note: Certain mistakes are an indication of authenticity as well as the failure of the writer to turn off autocorrect or the limited features of Grammerly.com.