I've been making the rounds on Lake Michigan this summer; doing a version of the "Circle Tour"... in pieces. Part 4 of the journey took me south to Mt. Baldy Beach in Michigan City, Indiana. This is a great beach, crashing waves, lovely sand, families, dogs ... and a looming power plant cooling tower.
That last part was a little unsettling. The tower looks very 'nuclear'. It's not; the plant it's attached to burns coal and natural gas. Not nice stuff, but at least not radioactive. Small comfort.
As I swam in the shadow of that tower I thought about the structures we build and use -- and about what they mean in a larger sense. I thought about how what we make shapes our sense about our place, and also our expectations and experience of where we live.
Before I went to Mt. Baldy I read about how the big dune is making its way toward the visitor center parking lot at an alarming rate. And about how, ever since Michigan City built a breakwall for their harbor, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been trucking in sand to "feed" the beach. The structure disrupts the lake's natural wave movement, and sand that would naturally collect on the beach doesn't get there, or gets carried away. The Corps brings in sand, not only so people can have a beach, but to help keep even greater erosion at bay.
Swimming there, I thought about this amazing body of water, and that tower, and what it feels like to live with a structure like that always in your presence; looming over your home, framing your walk to school, your soak in the sun. There I was, bounding around in the crashing waves, loving it and thinking how completely beautiful that beach was. It WAS beautiful, and also in a way, compromised. Complicated. Complex. A little weird.
Technically, while I wasn't actually swimming in the shadow of a nuclear tower, in a broader sense, I was. The signature shape of that tower is a powerful referent; drawing to it a roiling cauldron of questions and ideas about human ingenuity, city planning, zoning laws, environmental safety, water rights and the delicate balance between pleasure, security and industry.