Monday, April 28, 2014
Dark nights in the sand dunes
It was a wonderfully starry night for our campout so we took a hike away from the site, walked north, across the park's main road and into those bountiful sand dunes. I have no memory of how many guys went with us, but a few of us, no adults, hiked out into the night in a state park we thought we knew.
Except not in the darkness. Once out in those rolling dunes, we got lost. I honestly remember thinking that we couldn't be really lost because the lake--we could hear the waves lapping--was a constant. I mean, we couldn't mistake Lake Michigan. As long as we knew where the lake was, we knew east.
But we didn't either. In the dark, every last sand dune looked and felt like the last one. Whenever we expected to find lights just beyond the next hill--and didn't--fear climbed up my spine, my stomach falling away. I was 12 maybe, and really, really scared.
And then there was the time we went grouse hunting--a perfectly bright afternoon in the endless Kettle Moraine woods, nothing anywhere but hardwoods. Somehow we got lost in a place where there was no Lake Michigan, no ready reference, only what seemed unending wilderness. I was 17 maybe, and not about to broadcast my fear to the gang I was with, but we were lost and we all knew it.
In my memory, we wandered aimlessly until, fortunately, serendipitously, providentially, we simply stumbled on our car. No one fell to their knees and gave thanks. We were men. We carried loaded shotguns, for pity sake. But I remember dragging my stomach along ominously through those unfamiliar woods--I remember real fear.
Both of those moments have stayed with me for more than a half century. Just bringing them up makes stomach bottom out. I'm serious.
Prof. Katie Davis, in The App Generation, says that as long as people these days have their smart phones they really can't get lost. Some seventh grader in an endless roll of sand dunes will always know exactly where he is and where to tell someone else to find him. "Hansel and Gretel" will make no sense. A generation of kids won't know what lost is.
What's even more interesting, one reviewer says, is what a GPS does to our perception. Think of it this way: is a forest really a forest if you can't get lost in it? For good reason the Puritans feared what lay west of the colony, a primeval wilderness teeming with who-knows-what kind of monster deviltry.
Seriously, what if, in life, we lose the ability to get lost? What if, in life, we really can't get away? What if, in life, there's no such thing as being alone?
Last night at church, I sat around a coffee table with a bunch of guys who talked about planting corn and beans--it's that time of year--and how new technology does absolutely everything for the farmer, the entire tractor and planter guided by satellite. Do farmers experience the earth the same way when a guidance system reads the ground beneath their tires for them?
Do we live in the same world our parents did? No way.
Years ago, Abraham Kuyper attempted to assuage the fears of ordinary folks who were thrown into a tizzie by brand new technology they believed was going to alter their lives. What's it going to do for neighborliness?--they must have asked. Will people ever leave home?
Kuyper tried to settle their nerves. Now, now, he told them, think of it as a blessing, even a new way to spread the gospel. What exactly were they scared of?--the telephone.
Connectivity is a brave new world we'll simply have to experience, something we'll continue to explore, a space in which, even armed with our own personal GPS system, some of us will have no problem getting helplessly lost.
Yesterday, I dropped in to see my father-in-law, who's just about 95. He was eating what seemed a rather unbecoming supper at the counter in his apartment in the Home, but I could hardly talk because that boom box of his was blasting some age-old men's quartet on a hymn no one has sung in church for since 1955. Blasting. Seriously. Technology?! Ugh.
It's a brave new world all right. Always was, always will be.
And something tells me there will always be dark nights in the sand dunes.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:25 AM