SACRED SANDS: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes by J. Ronald Engel

SACRED SANDS: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In his introductory remarks, which call for a transformation of American traditions to achieve a humanitarian and environmental ethic, Engel promises a report on the 80-year struggle to save the Indiana Dunes from industrial development. Only in the last of six chapters, however, do we get a straightforward account of the legislative and administrative battles for state and national park designations. The rest is a commemorative tribute to the ethic, ideals, reformers, artists and writers, scientists, citizens, associations, institution (University of Chicago), neighborhood (Hyde Park, where many early ""Dune Patriots"" lived), and dedicated politician (Sen. Paul Douglas) involved in the struggle. To them, and to Engel, the dunes represent a sacred place, a mythic vision, the body of God, the American civil religion of social democracy, the artistic creativity of existence, the sacred epicenter of the nation, the hearth, evolution in progress, and the birthplace of ecology. The book begins with a long description of ""the great 'Historical Pageant and Masque of the Sand Dunes of Indiana,'"" which drew 25,000 people in 1917 but reads now--with its thees, thous, and Gitche-Gumee grandeur--like the sort of cultural activity we know (or knew) from Tarkington or Leacock parodies. Along with the few survivors, such as Carl Sandburg, every forgotten writer who ever paid homage to the dunes appears to be quoted here with the same local-historical veneration; we even get Enrico Fermi's recollection of 1942: ""I liked the dunes. . . . We came out of the water, and we walked along the beach and I talked about the experiment with Professor Stearns."" Both the record and the ideals of the dune-savers merit publicizing in these times when, as Engel's more plain-speaking final chapter puts it, ""common currency in debate on matters of environmental policy [is] not poetic intuitions, or ethical principles, or ecological understandings [but] quantitative norms, such as cost-benefit ratios, or abstract secularized goals, such as 'recreational needs,' which only thinly concealed a regnant economic mode."" However, some deference to the times' changing rhetorical conventions and literary tastes might have inspired more assent and emulation.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1982
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press--dist. by Harper & Row