Ephemeral…The Rest of The Story

Beach stabilization is a constant concern for anyone who lives on/near the water. In my last post: https://dunelight.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/ephemeral/ , I shared a photo of a little girl rapt in making and counting ‘sand’ pies. To better illustrate the transience of beaches and all things time I wanted to show you the little girl’s “Sand Pie Table” from a different angle and a different year:


This is from last summer. The sand was born away by high water and storms leaving behind the larger boulders of rip rap that help stabilize the sea wall. The little girl had her pies lined up on top of the wall just a bit right of the graduation graffitti.  That wall is steep. If I stood next to it I could not see over it. This photo, along with the earlier ones, show the ephemeral nature of beaches and time, as does my story below.

I fell off that wall today. I have to go back. The City of Norton Shores decided it would be better to buy their water from the city of Muskegon. Towards that end a massive construction project has disrupted our beach world for over a year now. I blogged about it:  https://dunelight.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/weekly-photo-challenge-between/ . You can see how large those pipes are. Deep trenches were dug through the heart of my neighborhood and out along Beach Street that runs the length of our sugar fine sand beach on Lake Michigan.

I have to go further back, back before the turn of the 20th century. Towns and cities took their water fronts for granted. Bodies of water were for shipping and commerce and for the dumping of waste. Towns literally turned their backs on their water fronts. Over time many towns (Chicago, SanFrancisco) built up their waterfront and beaches on land fill. Turns out so did Muskegon. Digging these deep trenches disturbed that original fill. Up with the sand came a lot of history in the form of garbage; large shards of plate glass, antique bottles, broken chimneys, rusty nails, old paint cans, broken ceramics….in short, not optimal beach material. The old fill garbage from this construction was never disposed of properly. I discovered that it had been scooped up into large piles and left on the beach. Those piles of garbage blended with the regular large sand piles that the city constructs every year as they push the snows and blown sands from November gales to the side of the road. (The amount of sand a gale can move is awe inspiring. I’ll share photos sometime.)

I was out shooting the extensive ice pack early in March of this year when I climbed what I thought was a normal winter sand pile to get a better view of the pack ice on Lake Michigan. I found I was ankle deep in broken glass and metal shards. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do so I took pictures and videos. During the middle of the month the city spread out the regular winter piles of sand as they do every year. Unfortunately the garbage piles were also spread out evenly over the beach. I was livid.

I ended up calling and meeting with the Coast Guard on Monday of this week when I discovered that some of the fill had been pushed into Lake Michigan. I also posted videos of the nature of the piles on FB asking my neighbors if anyone knew what was up. From there it grew. I could not let it go. On Tuesday I contacted the woman in charge of City Parks and wrote to our Commissioner. On Wednesday the press got a hold of it. I did not want to go on TV. Instead, at noon on Wednesday I met with the man in charge of public works and showed him the area of the beach I was concerned about. In real time I picked up fill garbage that was laying on the sand and showed it to him. Promises were made. Wednesday afternoon the commissioner called to tell me my videos were used on television and thanks for my vigilance.

Today I went down to see which promises had been kept. A lot of the garbage had been removed from the fast receding ice forms on The Lake and the sand on the beach had been moved around again. I saw some more construction garbage out on an ice shelf that had formed on top of the little girl’s pie pantry. (At last, I have come full circle.) I wanted that piece of evidence as some were trying to make it out that I couldn’t tell the difference between clean fill, rip rap, garbage and construction fill. I know my beaches. The waves were running to three feet on a SouthWest wind but were carrying huge ice boulders. I looked at the rotten ice shelf, the evidence I needed and the grinding ice boulders, I took some vid then walked up to a perfect stranger, told him what I was going to do and would he be so kind as to please come get me if I fell in. I laid belly down on the ice, timed the waves and went for it. The minute I grabbed my evidence the ice shelf gave way and I went headfirst over the wall with my boots in the air. It was my finest Darwin moment.

In short I told that stranger what I was up to, that the ice was not safe and that I might go over the edge. And then I went over the edge. Boy Howdy, that stranger was fast and I’m here with my evidence, my vids, my photos and my ice rash to tell the tale. Thank you, random beach stranger. We are all stewards of this planet…this lovely ephemeral blue marble.

I wanted to focus on the positive with this blog. I guess this is a positive story as it ended well for future beach goers.

EDIT: Ice Rash…the northerner’s winter version of road rash.

12 thoughts on “Ephemeral…The Rest of The Story

  1. Wow! Good for you for pursuing this, and I hope your fall didn’t cause too much damage. It’s shameful, irresponsible and downright dangerous that the city would just spread that landfill garbage over the beach.

    • I’m still processing this. How could they? Social media is powerful. The lens is powerful. I’ve pled my case for the beach before neighbors, friends, and the Coast Guard. I’ve met some nice people ‘just doing their jobs’. I’ve been politicianed. I went head first over the sea wall. I’m hanging on to the garbage and the film for while.

  2. I keep hearing and experiencing first hand instances such as this, both locally and from around the world. I despair at the lack of foresight and stewardship that the bodies that are supposed to be looking out for our best interests – councils, local government etc exhibit. It is wrong that it has to fall to individuals and groups of individuals to fight for the world that we all share, but it does.. and the more people that get that they can make a difference the better. Bravo.

  3. I suppose when I think about it.. by and large you could assume that elected bodies essentially reflect the society that placed them in power in the first place.. and hence greed, laziness, lack of concern for others as a general rule perhaps can only be expected.. so it really is the responsibility of the individual to take the lead in changing that… as you have done.

    • It was frustrating in that it was like so many other things I have advocated for. Replies to my first query ranged from “You didn’t grow up here so mind your own business.” to tangential rants of a very personal nature as the ranter expounded upon whatever ‘he’ thought was wrong with the city in general, to “It rots from the head down no one will listen to you so give up now.” God bless the two reasonable voices that said, “Welllll call so and so and let me know how it goes.” Very few will stand with you til the battle is over. The story is being spun in interesting ways by various parties involved. I’m just sitting here on top of all my proof waiting to see that promises are kept. Social Media is powerful.

  4. Glad to know that there is persons protecting the lake, it’s so easy to see to other side, also I like the attitude of the authorities, in my country people feel comfortable with environmental destruction if they can have a cheap house and authorities say that they’re going to fix the problems in the “future” Hoping your fall hadn’t serious consequences.

    • Well…some of the authorities genuinely cared because with manufacturing going oversees to countries with cheaper labor and easy environmental laws some of the local powers realize those miles of sugar fine sand and crystal clear water are our greatest asset and our future.

      It was a slow motion collapse and slide down rough ice. I got out before the next set of big waves came in and I wasn’t too wet. 🙂 I know the water and was keeping my eye on it. I’m OK, thanks.

  5. Pingback: Ephemeral | My Atheist Blog

  6. Wonderful story. In response to your comment on the disabled story, I was going to say I’m convinced that there’s so much more kindness and caring in the world than what makes the news, and here you’ve already provided support for that. Thank you.

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