I am back in Michigan. I have nothing particularly profound or insightful to say regarding my week-long trip back to my Ozarkian whelping grounds, except that it became painfully, perhaps even absurdly, obvious just how pale I have become since moving to Teh North. I am delighted to report that the cliffs of the Meramac River do indeed amplify one mightily, especially when one sneezes whilst floating below them in a kayak. I thought I was being shot at.
This little series, "Notes From The Sprawl", will continue a little while longer until it dries up. I go back to the place that I used to call home, that I fought so hard to get out of, and I see how much has changed. Not for the better, just more of the same. It seems like almost every single fucking one of the wild places I inhabited growing up has been plowed over for more bland tract homes or been walled away behind fanciful shrubbery. The fingers of wilderness that the developers couldn't profit from are being razed anyway, plowed under for more vacuous consumption as new construction techniques are magicked into thin air. I still think it's stupid to try to build houses in a swamp.
But it remains gut-wrenching to behold. The swampy forest with the deep ravines that I used to carry my bike across a fallen tree to get to, where I could ride wherever and however I wanted, every green tree blurring past my handlebars climbable, has been felled, filled in, and paved over. I wonder where the salamanders I used to chase down the streams have gone now that those same streams are heavy and swollen with the mud running off of the clear-cut land while small-minded box homes are put up in their place. The ponds I used to chase tadpoles in have been fenced off and labeled as dangerous. The hollers are being swept away underneath the bluffs being rudely shoved into them by bulldozer armies, replaced by pesticide lawns and asphalt parking lots that ooze malodorously in the summertime heat. Every piece of the wild, every part of the real, is being torn apart or boxed away. The proud old oaks with their gnarled roots hiding years' of birdsong are being pulled down to make way for plastic ficus trees and cheap lawn frappery. The birches, the elms, the hickorys, the careful slow dogwood and the stodgy firs: my friends, our family.
Sure, maybe it's the American Dream to own your own piece and house and fill it with whatever you like; but at the same time, we're doing so en masse and completely losing the authenticity of the red clay earth that holds that land up, losing reality when we truck in manufactured top soil and sod instead. I wonder, perhaps cynically, how many of the people who dwell in these cookie cutter houses have ever actually dug in the earth, gotten the lovely reek of it up to their elbows and ingrained its grit in every tiny whorl of their fingertips. I wonder who among them has ever tried to jump a creek and failed laughing among the startled turtles. I wonder whether any of them have ever looked down and seen the tiny, ancient shells that run through the area's red flint stones like fire through our veins and felt small and insignificant in the sheer scope of what the earth is and has been and will continue to be long after they've ceased to be, and just wondered at the sheer marvel of it all.
We're rushing to trade this*:
What are we losing?
Damn near everything that matters.
*Yeah, it's blurry. I apologize, but I was rolling backwards when I took it.
2 weeks ago