Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.
About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.
In several parts, with periodic photos and videos.
Begin by considering the lay of the land and water—study the works of past masters—recall the places of beauty that you know—then, on your chosen site, let memory speak and make into your own that which moves you most.
(11th century Japanese court noble, probably about gardening art but generalizable to any creative effort, thanks to Chris Jorgenson)
June 27, 2010, Sunday, Traverse City, MI, home of AR
In the North Country, at the southern tip of Traverse Bay. Does the name Traverse Bay stem from this once being an Indian traverse point, perhaps between the bay (connecting to Lake Michigan, itself an Indian name) and a small river feeding the bay (Boardman River, obviously not an Indian name)?
I’m here to present my Hydropolitics show at Higher Ground, which sounds like a coffee house. In introducing me to my current host, AR, Randy said of my Hydropolitics show that he’d seen at the US Social Forum, it’s an outstanding presentation, one of the best. With that intro I am challenged. Jointly sponsored by 3 organizations, I owe this gig to Anne Remley.
Weather is cooler, and perhaps drier than further south. This morning it is lightly raining. People are whiter, and, in the estimation of Randy, my ride here from Detroit, more conservative. He told me that Michael Moore, famed filmmaker, frequents this area. Moore renovated an old movie theater which is now the centerpiece of an annual film fest featuring Indie productions. Moore has also put money into other aspects of the town, shifting what had been negative town reaction to positive.
Courtesy of the internet
The drive north was mainly on the expressway and relatively boring. I slept for nearly 1 hour, catching up on sleep lost during the Forum. Then the 2 lane took us thru heavily forested regions, mostly devoid of agriculture, as was the first segment of the trip. Corn and a few other products were all I noticed, with one corn harvester the only sign of working the land. It was Saturday which may be a factor explaining the lack of farmer presence.
Traverse City is known for its fruit, not only its cherries, reminding me of Salfit in the West Bank, a point of reference I may make in my show tonight.
Cherries are in season, I helped myself to a bowlful when I arrived yesterday late afternoon after a 5 hour drive. This leads to the annual cherry festival in one week, what some called the annual scary festival because of the tourist invasion. The Blue Angels’ flight team performs. Tourism is now one of the main industries, replacing lumbering, the primary reason whites settled here. Currently the population is decreasing, possibly because of the draw of larger cities.
Randy told me Michigan is particularly hard hit by the crumbling economy. Partly because of Detroit’s downfall, also possibly the state’s reliance on agriculture. Roads are in bad condition. Mr. Segal, recently retired from his ambassador’s position in Afghanistan, said Michigan roads are in worse shape than the road to the Kabul airport.
AR, my current host, is a retired teacher, with 4 children all grown and spread around the country, with a flock of grand kids who she seems not to see very often. She told me, I’m available, I wait for my children to ask my services, I do not come naturally to the role of grandma. Unlike my former wife for sure, an exemplary grandmother, and me partially.
After touring me around her compact, well-kept, elegant house, converted from the carriage house of a mansion across the street, living here with her late husband since 1974, she invited me to join her and 2 women friends for dinner last evening. They are mother and daughter, the daughter a high school art teacher who feels overworked by her job, plans to retire after next year. She seemed grumpy and distant. By contrast, the mother appeared energetic, engaged, fun. They initially expressed interest in the Social Forum, suggested waiting till we were in the restaurant to hear more, and then the topic evaporated, except once when I raised it.
All 3 women are progressives, all 3 disappointed with President Obama, all 3 fairly active on political matters, one of the most recent about using biomass for fuel to generate power. They also told me about a recent case of blatant municipal corruption, building a soon-to-fail septic system.
Courtesy of the internet
Randy thinks Michigan is positioned to be part of a new dispensation—recovery when and if it should come to our nation—because of its water resources. He also told me there is an oil-gas pool under much of the region (evidenced by slowly churning oil pumps) with more resources under Lake Michigan, driving some speculators to attempt to insert slant wells. This he thinks will not succeed because of the presence of wealthy home and landowners surrounding the lake.
Camp Stuart Aquatics Area 1958, courtesy of the internet
Camp Stuart Aquatics Area 2006, courtesy of the internet
One of my primary connections with Michigan is thru Boy Scouts. I attended summer camp in the central western part of the state in the early 1950s, near Twin Lake. I can remember much about Camp Owasippe—particularly the dreaded swimming lessons because I was fat and had little tits. On the train platform preparing for the long ride home to Chicago I lost my family’s prize Kodak folding camera.
A few days ago a dear friend wrote:
Thinking about you. And you and me. About our “mutual inspiration” connection — that you spoke of when we met so briefly on Thursday afternoon. A new element has been added to this connection, hasn’t it, with your being here, in the area where I’m based, and where you are doing what you do. Now we have a new layer of perspective — something for us ourselves to absorb and know. Even our brief encounter on Thursday flashes a light on the two of us and on what we have to give and gain through our link.
I remember meeting you (me with my short hair) in the noisy, jumbled lobby of Cobo Hall in Detroit in Michigan, in the environs of that iconic statue of the fighter. I was numb and tired. You were you. You were doing your seeking, exploring, curiosity-engaging, active, absorbing and alive living in the way that you are alive.
It is striking to me to see you here doing what you do — so alive, seeking, searching, and discovering, with interest and pleasure and engagement and intensity, with pondering and summing things up.
We’ve chosen our paths many long years ago, my friend. Maybe in utero. We are our genes and our childhoods and our energy states,
Such a life you are leading, Skip, giving wherever you go. Receiving. Being active and “on.” And yet with gravitas and that secret sometime sadness that you’ve shared with me, knowing that you carry with you the longing always for a breakthrough to some splendid relationship that will give a great apotheosis of unity and a sense of a true and enduring psychic “home.”
And here I am, not always numb and tired, but these days with low and ebbing energy, having chosen long ago to stay, in this very house, with this very guy, with this very pattern of life, settled, rather predictable, day in and day out.
I am still seeking, yes, in my mind, trying to figure out what is happening in society and the world, but without urgency, without intensity. I have my base, fixed and quite still. I’ve looked for something to do, again and again in my life. I was open. And I found an opening, was seized upon by it, accepted, moved into engagement with some action that could help change something to make lives better for people. And each time I’ve stuck to that very action–these days Palestine-Israel info sharing mainly. So day by day I do a little of that something, and garden, and read the NY Times, and swim a little, and do my Tai Chi and energy work, and nap. And sense the end of my action life creeping ever nearer.
What can we give each other, my friend, good partner in thought and pondering? Well, a bit of occasional sharing. That’s good. I am one of the many touchstones you touch on your journey, your tremendous engagement time in exploration. I celebrate your seeking and finding. I look to find in my commitment and persistence something too to honor.
My heart goes with you to Lake Michigan blue, where I spent long summers camping long ago.
Love to you, Skip.
Join me when you can.
Is this not a deep message from an exceptional person? If there is any doubt of beneficial outcomes from my Israel-Palestine project, this is one example—meeting and loving her, being loved by her.
And I ponder: what if this were a message from the vanished, missing-in-action ME, or M, or X? How would I interpret it? How would I respond?
I plan to contemplate her letter longer and then either in person when we meet in a few days or by email attempt to express my inner self.
TO BE CONTINUED