Some people have memories of being pushed through their mother’s vaginal tunnel 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, which of course arches over the river, just south of the tunnel.
The Detroit River is laden.
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 duties were expanded to include the movement of cargo. 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, with tankers, with barges, with bowel movements, with household trash, with industrial outflow, and with everything else you can think of except clean water and healthy fish.
I think she’s still a bit upset.
Let me put it this way: from the industrial revolution up until relatively recently, talking about her in terms of ecology wasn’t exactly stylish. It wasn’t a dictate of the laissez faire capitalistic zeitgeist, if you will. For a hundred years, Canadian and American GDPs, with their nagging bottom lines, were openly hostile to the idea of measuring ecological footprints for fear of them being too big for the emerging collectivist bed. That is, until Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring hit the shelves in the fall of 1962, at which time shipping magnates and business tycoons braced themselves for the stultifying effects of a paradigm shift: a new ecological awareness that would, four years later, manifest in the first-of-its-kind Hudson River Waterkeeper Alliance. Be that as it may, the wallets of the shipping magnates and business tycoons did not officially take a hit until 1972, when 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., an organization that is presided over by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who, incidentally, has been very candid about his past, and I’m willing to bet that he would include kicking heroin in the short list of his greatest achievements as an environmental attorney, and writer.
Back in the spring of 1962, however, when Rachel was reviewing her galley proofs, the river was a septic tank slash garbage dump. Both shorelines, from Lake St. Clair down to Lake Erie were quintessential ‘use at your own risk’ affairs due to the abundance of Canadian and American sewage, Canadian and American garbage, and Canadian and American factories with their unregulated outflows. It got so bad at one point that thousands of migrating birds died in a massive oil slick.
And then there’s the fish.
The oxygen in the river was so low, and the mercury so high, that seeing a live fish in the Detroit River in the early seventies was about as likely as the Tigers winning the World Series.
The Detroit River is laden.
She’s not as laden as she once was, with sewage, garbage and industrial outflow, but in place of those is a grudge. She’s a grudge-laden river, with a taste for humans. Every summer she steals unsuspecting children from their parents and parents from their unsuspecting children, and the irony is, she does this with a manmade undertow created by the shipping magnates and business tycoons who dredged her out for their ever bigger vessels full of cargo.
As we drove beneath her, I paid my respects. 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.