Some of us have memories of being pushed through our mothers’ vaginal tunnels into the world.
The tunnel under the Detroit River is the second busiest border crossing between the U.S.A and Canada. The busiest is the Ambassador Bridge, arching over the river, south of the tunnel.
The Detroit River deserves to be capitalized.
But what else can I say about it that hasn’t already been said?
Maybe I’ll start by saying that for ten thousand years its job was to move clean water and healthy fish from Lake Huron to Lake Erie and thereby ensure the unimpeded drainage of the largest freshwater basin on earth. After the French and English imperialists arrived, however, her skillset was expanded to include the movement of cargo, and thus she became a dollar sign in the jaundiced eyes of colonial empires and robber barons, and within a couple hundred years she was laden with container ships and tankers and barges and bowel movements and household trash and industrial outflow, and everything else you can imagine, except clean water and healthy fish.
I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that she’s still a bit upset about this.
Allow me to clarify what I mean by ‘upset’: From the industrial revolution up until fairly recently, talking about her in terms of her ecological fragility would get you laughed out of every board room in North America, because the fragile ecology narrative wasn’t a thing yet. And even when it started to become a thing, it remained a no-thing inside the board rooms of the capitalist zeitgeist, because Canadian and American GDPs, with their nagging bottom lines, were hostile to the idea of measuring the ecological footprints of their industries, knowing full well that those footprints would be way too big for the emerging green intelligentsia, one of whom was Rachel Carson, whose juggernaut book, Silent Spring, hit the shelves in the fall of 1962, the year that shipping magnates and business tycoons all over the continent began worrying (correction: they continued not giving a shit) about a new ecological awareness that would, four years later, manifest in the first-of-its-kind Hudson River Waterkeeper Alliance. Nevertheless, the shipping magnates and business tycoons continued to not give a shit—that is until their wallets took a hit in 1972, the year the Clean Water Act was completely rewritten in order to include much stricter provisions aimed at combating industrial pollution. Sadly, it wasn’t until 2002 that the Detroit River saw the formation of its own Riverkeeper Program, supported solely by the Waterkeeper Alliance of the U.S.A (shame on you Canada!), an organization presided over by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who, incidentally, has been very candid about his past struggles with drug addiction, and I’m sure that kicking heroin is on his short list of greatest achievements, right below his sterling legacy of campaigning for environmental justice.
But let’s jump back to the spring of 1962, when Rachel was reviewing her Silent Spring galley proofs, and the Detroit River was a carcinogenic cauldron full of manmade chemicals, poop, and trash, with both shorelines, from Lake St. Clair all the way down to Lake Erie, bristling with ‘use at your own risk’ signs that oh-so-cynically transferred liability away from the main perpetrators, the Canadian and American factories and shipping companies, to the victims, the public who wanted nothing more than to enjoy a day at the beach without chemical burns and E.coli infections.
I can say without any hyperbole that migrating birds in the Detroit river circa the early nineteen seventies were dying by the thousands in massive oil slicks, and live fish sightings were as probable as the Tigers winning the World Series.
So yes, the Detroit River is probably still a bit upset.
She may no longer be laden with sewage, garbage and industrial outflow, but in place of those things is a palpable grudge that informs her taste for human flesh, and rightly so! Every summer she steals unsuspecting children from their parents and parents from their unsuspecting children, and the irony of this is that she does it by way of a manmade undertow, created by the shipping magnates and business tycoons who got together one night and decided to dredge her out, so she could accommodate their ever bigger vessels.
As we drove beneath her, I paid my respects, because she still held the balance of power, and if she knew that I was on her side, then maybe she could float us through the gates of Detroit unviolated.