Don’t worry! The sign doesn’t apply to you!
One can find this sign, and several with the same message, a short walk from my house. Indeed, these signs greet people who walk in a popular wooded destination in the town where I live. It has a running trail and is located beside the river that runs from the nearby harbor. It is a lovely place to come for a stroll, and I like to take my kids there frequently.
One might surmise from the sign that, in addition to being an appealing destination for hikers and runners and small children in search of sticks, the spot is also a wildlife habitat. Many different sea birds nest in the marsh grasses that grow along the banks of the river. As is so often the case, this habitat is fragile and has been in need of restoration. Restoration which is presently in progress, as it happens.
Thankfully, one can (as indicated by the sign) enjoy the trails without disturbing the shore or mudflats. The woods are as open as ever. Walk, run, hike — all to your heart’s content. Just mind the habitat restoration, if you please.
Behold another picture. Let us analyze the various subjects contained therein. One can see a rope fence alongside what appears to be a clearly-marked trail. One might guess that the fence is there to delineate those areas open for public use, and those that are meant to be avoided. One would be correct in that guess. Unfortunately, there are other clues in this picture indicating that the fence has not served this purpose effectively. The towels festooning its length are one such clue, as is the bikini-clad figure in the distance perched atop a rock on the “off-limits” side. (I actually did my best to crop all the people out of the picture, since I’m not here to pick fights with anyone in particular. I could have taken a similar picture on any given day, with different people behaving just the same.)
I took both pictures standing in the exact same spot. All I needed to do to capture the second shot was to rotate my body 90 degrees to the left after taking the first. Lest you conclude that the people flagrantly ignoring the sign hadn’t yet come across it and did not know they were swimming in an area clearly marked as a closed habitat restoration, let me assure you that I could have taken about ten pictures of similar signs, several with people swimming right past them, and all within view of the dozen or so ladies and gentlemen disregarding them.
There are many human flaws that I find unpleasant or objectionable or sad. I am, myself, a deeply flawed person who cannot go a day without doing far too many things that I regret or wish I had done better. I struggle to be a good father, a good husband, a good son, a good doctor. Sometimes I get things pretty much right, but I never get them perfect and much more often fall flat on my ass.
But there are very few tendencies that drive me more blind with fury than when folks look at signs like these and think “those are for other people.” When people’s own sense of privilege or entitlement or simple, base indifference to any interests but their own motivate them to hold themselves aloof from restrictions that are meant to apply to everyone. Who fail to either consider or care that, when they emerge dripping from the water, they are actually damaging something someone else has worked hard to preserve and which will not endure if a sufficient number of similarly self-centered individuals do likewise. Something that really is worth preserving.
I am well aware that, by posting this, I am likely coming off as a petulant crank who should mind his own business. You can insert the rest of the “we live in a society!” rant that probably goes along with what I’ve already written. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much when I see people disrespecting the beautiful landscape I personally saw other people maintaining scant weeks before, or when I patiently try to explain to my son why he can’t climb through the rope fence even though those other little boys have. Maybe I’m just a scold or a too-liberal do-gooder.
Ah, well. I do care. Not enough to get into a confrontation with a large crowd of people all by my lonesome, which could escalate into Lord knows what, and certainly not when I’m off on a walk with my kids. I care a lot, all while recognizing how utterly powerless I am to do a damn thing about the abject indifference of entitled people. Instead, I seethe quietly to myself, write an angry blog post, and hope the two small people I’m trying desperately to raise right will learn from me that signs like those are there for a reason.
And yes, that means they apply to us, too.