I don't have access to the older pictures, they are still with my parents in Michigan, while I harbor on the other side of the country. So I had to flip through some that one of nieces sent me. Probably not the best or clearest but then, cameras of the day were not known for their brilliant picture taking. The black and white was taken when we were very young, the other when we aged up a bit. By the time that one was taken, the older kids were left at home to work or had already moved away.
The main reason was for the benefit of an acquaintance. This is a vacation at place known as Tahquanemon Falls. These are the Upper Falls. The one on the top right is slightly deceiving, since it makes the falls appear rather small. In reality, this is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. They drop 50 feet and stretch nearly 200 feet, give or take depending on the season. Flow varies according to the season and run off, but it runs as much as 50,000 gallons of water per second. Yup, that's lots of water.
One of the big reasons I am showing off here, is because Tahquanemon Falls, like so many other places, is a much different place today than when I was growing up. Its not really wilderness any longer because laws made it necessary to be accessible to all. That means hacking away at nature until a nice level, paved path can be carved into the landscape. Then there is the need to add fencing, rails, warnings, and a host of other safety features to protect individuals from the hazards that nature normally provides. So it sort of becomes a bit of a show piece, a distant thing to gaze at that one can get to without so much as stubbing their toes. I suppose, it has given more people the opportunity to see it, but that's all there is to it -- look, take a picture or two, do an ah or an ooh, and then move on.
There's no experiencing it. No hiking a trail to discover the glory. Certainly, they could never allow anyone to climb down that rock face to the bottom of it. If they did, it would have to be down some proper stairs, and from a distance, so that the viewers were kept a safe by fences. Most probably the fencing would have to be high enough to keep leaners safe and the view would be enjoyed through the grid of chain link. And we shouldn't forget the educational signs like the one on the top.
It was the changes which really led to the search for the old pictures. When I found the picture of the sign, a more recent addition than my previous visits, I laughed. It was amusing to think that the state now has to inform people of what used to be considered common knowledge. After all, 50,000 gps isn't exactly a trickle. Of course I also wondered if they had to state the obvious for those who couldn't figure it out on their own, would the people be capable of reading it? Or if they were would they assume it applied to others and not themselves. That's a common reaction now days, that people can be informed of anything and still not pay the least amount of attention to it. To me, it kind of came as a sad state of affairs that such reasonable conclusions must be written out and posted.
So its probably not so surprising that if they need to inform visitors of this, they also have to make great efforts to protect them from any sense of adventure in connection with enjoying nature. It is not only a matter of keeping the visitors safe, it is also stems from the fact that if any minor injury were to occur, the first thing people tend to think of is, who is to blame and who can I sue for it. Rarely would anyone think that accidents happen and the best thing to do is not repeat the same action, or perhaps just be more careful. All accidents must happen because someone failed to take every possible precaution for keeping individuals safe from their own mistakes. We must place blame, and we must demand that everything be sanitized, fenced, controlled, contained; whatever measures are necessary so that no one suffers a bump or bruise, and certainly never pays with greater injuries.
But as you can see, at one time, even little kids ventured down those steep, rugged trails, to get to the very base of the falls. It was a challenge, at times even slightly dangerous. The State Park website even cites the occurrences of deaths resulting from people climbing around the base of the falls. My parents were not dumb, they knew there was some risk involved. With so many kids, we had our share of stitches and broken bones. Yet they also knew that kids had to have the opportunity to test their skills and stamina. They allowed us to take risks for the challenges they presented. It was thrilling, exciting, and when it was accomplished without harm, it was a victory. Even today, I look at those pictures and I recall the thrill of it. The water spray soaked us. And yet the view was awesome and remains a glorious memory. The sense of danger and adventure can still bring a smile to my face. That was what it meant to explore, to learn, to challenge every sense from touch, sight, smell, feel, and hearing. With that water roaring down from above, enveloping a person in its mist, the water with a metallic tang wetting our lips, toes curled tightly in the shoes as if it might help grip, hands grasping at slippery, coarse rock, and watching the foam and froth billowing up, it is hard not to recall it fondly.
Today, most people would shudder. After all, look at how small we are. One wrong foot and we might have been swept under the pounding waters. They would think our parents there were irresponsible. Accidents did occur, but at the time, it was considered a part of living, a way of grasping life without letting it pass by as a mere spectator. So when something went wrong, their was sadness, probably guilt, but also the knowledge that accidents happened even to good people.
So today's kids grow up without challenges, without taking risks. When something goes wrong they too look for someone else to point the finger at. The only excitement they can challenge themselves with is a video game that most likely will inure them to any suffering, any physical challenge. They won't ever embrace the thrill of pushing themselves against a greater force. Instead, they remain observers, distant, and cut off from all the physical responses of learning what it means to stretch themselves against a true danger.
With so much lack of opportunity to confront challenges, to remain protected and seek to lay blame for every bad thing on someone or something else, it isn't all so surprising that they react to others in such negative ways and never once consider their own complicity in their response. I feel sorry for today's coddled kids, but more than that, I feel sorry for the victims when they release their boredom on others. There's more to life than safety, and when things go wrong, it can lend strength to character and a willingness to take on the future with optimism. And mostly it can lead to life long memories -- that remains a certainty.