Bostonia Rantida

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Memory of Water

(Note: this is NOT a Boston Rant ... more like a wistful hometown remembrance)

My brother keeps telling me about the times that he catches ducks. Usually he's drunk, and they're on their way home from the bar. My hometown, like most of Metro Detroit, was built on a swamp (the perpetually damp grass and discolored, rusty looking sidewalk at the end of the block I grew up on is proof positive of this), but aside from the old pond with the windmill, man-made of course, near Main Street, there is no water in my hometown. There used to be the Red Run, a branch of the Clinton River. If you take Dequindre between 13 and 14 Mile Roads in a different town, you might catch the sad remains of the Red Run in a concrete ditch. All that remains in The Joke are the bridges over Vinsetta, which span the traffic islands and cause some interesting ditches in parks. Underneath runs the beleaguered river, once filled with garbage and eventually encased in a cement tube for its run through my city, killing off the few remaining fish and leaving the Red Run as mere memory, left only in the name of a golf course.

So I don't know why the ducks come. They used to appear at my high school campus in the autumn and spring when the rains came and soaked the already low-lying land, making small ponds of rainwater. There weren't too many. Usually only a couple pairs, and when the ponds were gone, they didn't stay long. Sometimes the geese would stop by before taking flight again, honking and reassembling their "V" formation.

I don't know how he catches them, or exactly why, but I suppose a couple of drunk pictures holding a duck (after they've driven it back to my parents' house to get the camera, of course) would be pretty funny, and maybe worth the duck shitting all over your jacket while you held it in the car.

So the ducks come and go on their way to the bigger ponds in northern Oakland counties. Walled Lake, Square Lake, Orchard Lake, the banks of the River Rouge tributary that runs through Southfield, Pebble Creek, where I have seen deer in the early mornings while I aerated soccer fields. Or Quarton Lake, where I lingered many a night with various love interests ... where the man-made falls rumble just north of Maple and the moon looked so clear in the winter. The ducks do not come to my hometown to stay.

I was always sad that there was no water in my hometown, especially when I learned how it had been brusquely paved over and a small tributary called "Little Run" had probably passed just next to my house.

Instead, we have transient ducks.

I'm a little sad when I think about the terrain where I live now as opposed to that of where I grew up. Everything is so gridded and homogenized in Metro Detroit. It's not as if it improves the traffic any, either. I wonder, what if? What if there had been bridges and parkland instead of cement? What if there had been fishing in my hometown? Could I have gone wading in the river in the summer? It might have been at the expense of some of the houses in my neighborhood, but so what?

When I walk in the Riverway or through the Fens, or just bike to work along the Esplanade, I think of the would-be parks of my hometown, and it makes me a little sad. So much wasted beauty paved over for streets that run north-south and east-west. How lucky I am to live where rivers may meander and damn the streets.


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