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 and tankers and barges and bowel movements and household trash and industrial outflow and everything else you can think of except clean water and healthy fish.
I think she’s still a bit upset.
Let me clarify: From the industrial revolution up until relatively recently, talking about her in terms of her ecological fragility would get you laughed out of every board room in North America because ecology wasn’t yet a thing. And even when it became a thing it remained a no-thing inside the board rooms of the capitalist zeitgeist. For a hundred years, Canadian and American GDPs, with their nagging bottom lines, were hostile to the idea of measuring the ecological footprints of their industries, because they knew that the feet producing those footprints would be too big for the emerging collectivist bed. But then Rachel Carson’s 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 manifest in the first-of-its-kind Hudson River Waterkeeper Alliance, in 1966. As for the shipping magnates and business tycoons, they continued not giving a shit 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, an organization 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.
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, feces, and trash. Both shorelines from Lake St. Clair all the way down to Lake Erie bristled with use at your own risk signs that transferred liability away from the main perpetrators (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 laden.
She’s no longer laden with sewage, garbage and industrial outflow, but in place of those things 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 deeper to accommodate their vessels.
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.