Indiana Dunes State Park
Our tent has been around for a while, but it’s still in good shape. If memory serves, we bought this in the spring of 2003, so it is in its 17th summer of use. My sleeping bag was bought in 1997 for my first trek at Philmont; it could buy its own beer nowadays. As I always say, “Take care of your gear, and your gear will take care of you.” That said, the good old tent proved inadequate to the deluge we experienced the first night. I awoke about 12:30 local time to find a couple of puddles in the tent. Well, that happens, for various reasons; I just sopped up the water. But then I realized that the rain was so heavy that it had pressed the fly to the roof and by osmosis was precipitating through as a fine mist on our sleeping bags. Time to evacuate.
I transferred the essentials to the truck and got Daniel ensconced in the back seat of the king cab. He had plenty of room. I was crammed, sitting up, in the driver’s seat. It was going to be a long night. Daniel asked why we had moved. “We’re having an adventure,” I replied. And since Grandbear is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity, Daniel accepted that without question and promptly went back to sleep.
In the morning, I got things straightened up in camp the best I could, hoping that things would dry out. I got a nice, hot shower, and then we went looking for some breakfast. We found a Denny’s outside Portage and had some hot food. The coffee was delicious. (Desperation helps with the taste.) Then we made a quick side trip to a Walgreen’s to get some children’s cough-and-cold syrup for Daniel, who had been nursing a cough for several days.
We took the Skyway into Chicago, dealing with rush-hour traffic and insane tolls. Still, our route delivered us to the museum complex on Lake Shore Drive in good time. We arrived about 15 minutes after the Field Museum had opened. Our first encounter was with Maximo, a truly enormous dinosaur mount whose species I have forgotten.
Daniel meets Maximo
We spent the next five and a half hours in the Field, and still didn’t see it all. I followed Daniel, mostly. It was a new experience for me. I’m used to taking groups of youth through museums, but in my role of trip advisor/tour guide, I am the keeper of the time, and I’m always keeping people together and moving them along to the next thing. On this expedition, there was only one young person to be guided, and the whole trip was for him. So I let him go at his own pace and chase his own enthusiasms. The first thing he wanted to see was the Ancient Egypt exhibit. I think he found the mummies creepy.
And that’s a wrap
Learning how mummies were put together
The Field had teen-aged docents scattered throughout the place, engaging children in hands-on experiences. It was a neat thing, and very helpful. They also had many interactive video screens to help the exhibits come alive. Daniel ran from screen to screen to see what he could get out of each one. At one point, I got a little irked; I mean, here you are, surrounded by the treasures of the world, and all you want to do is play with computer images. But then, I also remembered being a kid going through museums, where all the ancient bric-a-brac in glass cases seemed to my young mind to lack any context. It made me realize that we experience the same exhibits on different levels as we age.
Birth of a dinosaur
Build-a-bear for the Cretaceous
Daniel was excited to make his own stuffed dinosaur. He carried it around all the rest of the day. He really liked the dinosaur exhibit featuring Sue, the T. Rex. I bought the deluxe tickets for the Field, so we saw a 3-D movie about Sue, which he ate up like candy. The gemstones and jades, the Pawnee Earth Lodge and the Maori Meeting House, stuffed animals galore, bones and spear points and pottery, China, Africa, a trip through soil (enlarged 100x): we moved from wonder to wonder.
Fangs a lot
Sabre-tooth cats had a serious overbite
We finally stopped for lunch. The Field has several restaurants in it. I figured we’d be treated to the typical overpriced slop you get at major attractions, but No! The prices were comparable to a restaurant like Applebee’s or Denny’s, and the food was seriously good. I had smoked gouda mac-n-cheese topped with beef brisket for ten bucks. The serving size was generous and I didn’t realize when I ordered that fries came with it. Daniel had a kid’s bucket of ordinary mac-n-cheese.
Time to slay some lunch
Good eats at the Field
Eventually we decided to move on. I missed one exhibit at the Field that I had wanted to see, but in the maze of wonders that is the museum, I kept forgetting to head back to it. We exited the Field and I asked Daniel, “Fish or stars?” By that, I meant, the Shedd Aquarium or the Adler Planetarium. He opted for stars, so we walked over to the Adler. At this point, we got our first really good look at the immensity of the lake. We also had our first serious exposure to the cold Chicago wind. The Adler isn’t as big a museum as the Field, but still, we were tired and probably didn’t do it justice. We did a forty-minute sweep and then went to the Grainger Sky Theatre to see a movie on the Moon. Daniel was entranced. I was grateful for the opportunity to doze a bit in the dark. I don’t know if I could have safely driven home at this point if I hadn’t.
Daniel at the Adler Planetarium
As we were exiting the Adler, I suggested that Daniel let me carry his dinosaur in my backpack. It promptly fell out. Daniel stuffed it in more securely, and off we went again. Two blocks down the street, he suddenly cried out that his dinosaur was gone! My pack had fallen open again, and there was no dino in sight. We quickly retraced our steps to the Adler. There was a stuffed animal on the steps, but it was somebody’s doggie. We went inside and asked for Lost and Found. No dinosaur.
Daniel was heartbroken. He was also tired out and coughing terribly. Since I wasn’t sure what I could do for him, I didn’t dare promise him that I could fix it. And I wasn’t going to scold him for losing his heart over it. So we walked on back to the Field. He was grappling with his loss. At the same time that he was crying out for his lost dino, he was also trying to talk himself into adjusting to it. These things happen, and he understood that. I’m not a spoiler of kids, but listening to him do his own grief-work would sunder hearts far harder than mine. Still, I couldn’t promise anything, as I wasn’t sure what I could perform.
We got back to the Field and I approached a security guard and asked if we could be readmitted on the same ticket to get him another dinosaur. The lady looked at us with a wise and careful air, and then said, “I think that’ll be all right,” and waved us through. She gave us directions back to the Dino Store. “If it’s still open,” she said. As we got there, the sales clerk was just helping another customer. Daniel wanted to butt in and blurt out his problem, but I kept him back. Learning about taking turns and being polite doesn’t stop just because you’re unhappy. She finished with that customer, and I had Daniel explain his problem then. She glanced at the cash register – checking the time – and said, “we’ll keep that till open for one more.” Apparently, she was just that moment supposed to close the shop, but she and Daniel made another dinosaur just like the original, and the electronic till accepted my payment, even after closing time. That made this dino a very expensive kewpie-saurus, but then I thought: It’s. Only. Money. And though it may seem a trivial thing to attribute to the hand of God himself, nevertheless, the way everything just worked out to restore to him what he had lost seemed a minor miracle. “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” said David. Consolation isn’t just about “someday.”
So, we returned to the truck and I gave Daniel some medicine for his cough. We took off into the out-going rush hour traffic. He was asleep before we got completely free of the central city, and slept all the way back to the Dunes. Back in camp, we discovered that things had dried out nicely, and we had clear skies finally. I set camp back in order, and we got ready for the night. We ate another cold supper; we were both so tired and so full of the big lunch that Clif bars and cookies were enough for both of us. We were in bed before dark. The whippoorwills and bobwhites were calling; in fact, they called all night, because the moon was so bright. I didn’t sleep all that well, but it was a beautiful night in camp.
In the morning, we broke camp and I took Daniel down to the lake to see the dunes themselves. I had told him that Lake Michigan was really an inland sea, and there were breakers to prove it. We also talked about how sand was formed.
Early morning on Lake Michigan
As we were leaving, an old guy (probably my age or a bit older) and his dog were just arriving. He offered to take a picture of us together. As we talked, he said, “Children are the best thing God ever made. If he made anything better, he must have kept it for himself.” I have to agree. And with that, we went to get breakfast at the Denny’s again, and get on the intersnake and drive back to Richmond. We arrived at noon. After a brief visit with Anna and James, I left and made my way back to my own digs here at Bloomington, arriving safe and sound a little after 3:30. Home at last.
Daniel was an excellent travel companion. He is reasonably well-mannered, up for anything, helpful, and shares interesting thoughts. We talked about many things. I enjoyed his company. And he got 48 hours of exclusive attention from one of his favorite adults – no mean birthday present, if I do say so. Many happy returns, to both of us.
Grandbear and grandcub
If God made anything better, he must have kept it for himself.