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Proposed Sand Dunes National Park

October 13, 1916 — Hearing on the Sand Dunes National Park Project, Chicago IL


Mr. Secretary, ladies, and gentlemen, I think there is no place in the world that gives me the same emotional reaction as the dunes. I was taken there first as a student 30 years ago, and I have been going there ever since from one to five times a year with classes. It is indeed a matter of no small moment, as has been repeatedly said here — the preservation of the dunes. I should like to stress the points that have been made from the educational standpoint. With regard to educating children, we sometimes think that the geology, of which Prof. Chamberlain spoke so interestingly, is a subject in which only grown people are interested. I have taken children and been with classes there from the kindergarten on through to graduate students of college and found all interested in this wonderful region. During this last year a second grade teacher with a class of 7-year-old children was there, and the children were perfectly delighted with the great piles of sand. They said: “Where did all this sand come from?” One child said: “Why, don’t you see? The waves are bringing it up there on the shore.” Then the teacher  said: “But how do the waves get it?” The children thought a little while and then said: “Why, God did it.” The teacher said: “Yes, of course, but how did God do it? How did God bring it here?” “Oh,” one child said, “God did it with His magic.” Now, that explanation, that God did it with His magic, has been in the past the interpretation of scenic beauty. The work that has been spoken of, that Mr. Mather has been doing — leading people to see the beauties about them — I think is one of the great things to which we are coming, although we have not yet arrived. Most people even yet are as children in school, only they are big children.

Prof. Chamberlain, Prof. Salisbury, Prof. Cowles, and these other people who are leaders in their lines of teaching people to read the book of nature, and in their love of nature, are all ahead of their time. Most people only see things that they have a capacity for seeing. I was going through the canyon of the Grand River in Colorado for the first time, and being thrilled, as everybody must be who goes through there, and I saw a woman sitting near me reading a novel. I thought she did not know where we were, and so I attracted her attention to the beauties of the place. She looked up and said, “Oh, it is only rock. Now, that was true. It was only rock. You know,

A primrose by a river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.

We must begin with the children, and teach them to read nature just as we teach them to read books; and it is much more difficult to read nature than it is to read books. The ABC’s of nature are not so many nor so clear as those in printed books. Most of us do not know the ABC’s of nature,and we pass over them unseeing. But if we can read the book of nature, there is no place that is uninteresting. In Australia two years ago I indicated that I wanted to go back into the interior of the country. They said, “What in the world do you want to go there for? Those back blocks are nothing but desert. What do you want to go into the desert for?” All places are interesting to one who can read their story. The book of nature is more interesting and more thrilling than any novel we can read. And the dunes represent one of the most dramatic chapters of the book of nature that we have — the influence of the wind. Most of us do not learn the whole alphabet of nature; we learn only a few of the capital letters; and the dunes are the capital letters of the story of the wind and its influence. To permit that wonderful beauty spot of nature to be done away with would be a crime for which an adequate punishment could hardly be devised. I can truthfully say that I should like to believe in the old orthodox Hades for the people who will not save the dunes now for the people who are to come. I thank you.



Source: Report on the Proposed Sand Dunes National Park, Indiana, by Stephen T. Mather, (Washington DC: Government Printing Office) 1917, pp. 48-49.