Lake St Clair, between Canada and the United States
Miksang, at its most basic level, is concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting.
—Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Excerpts from my journal while on the road for 3 weeks to the hinterland of the USA, with photos to show and photos to make.
July 4, 2011, Monday, Detroit, K’s house
Cooler, upper 60s, overcast with mostly altocumulus, still.
Today [July 4, 2011] is my last day in Detroit. I will leave tonight around 9:30 by Amtrak bus for Toledo, layover there until the Lakeshore Limited from Chicago rolls in around 3:30 am (if on time which is a big if), and head for Boston arriving there tomorrow evening around 9 pm (if on time which is a big if). Journey completed—at the least the active part, then the follow-up begins, editing, processing and posting.
Yesterday was a combo of relatively short bike ride to Rouge Park for the bike trails and a jaunt with M and K to Windsor Ontario Canada. I’d contemplated visiting Canada via about the only way available to me, bus, but decided it would be too complicated to get to wherever the bus leaves from downtown Detroit, travel to Canada, walk around awhile in what I anticipated might be a scene much like Detroit, and bus back, then bike home. Providence knocked when K offered me a trip to visit a friend’s cottage on the enormous Lake St Clair, connecting with the Detroit River, which in turn connects Lakes Erie and Huron.
First the bike ride: west on Plymouth Road to Rouge Park. A huge swimming pool complex which looked Olympian with a series of high dive boards (not used). Wide sweeping roads. Empty fields. Walkways perfect for cycling. A few picnickers on the day before the Fourth of July. And then the climax: the model airplane field that Johnny told me about. Planes, usually large, with wing spans of about 1 meter, World War 2 fighters, private planes, a 2 prop commercial airliner, a helicopter, most with a toy figure for a pilot sitting in the cockpit (maybe an in-joke). Much advanced over my early days flying model airplanes in the 1950s. Then they were smaller and tethered. Around and around a circle, rather boring.
Now the planes are larger and controlled by radio devices, but they look to me about as boring. Some pilots did stunts with their planes. Some tuned their engines. I imagine they can race their planes. All seems to my jaded mind to be inane, a complete waste of time. When time is so short and demands on it so vast—healing the world—how can someone decide to engage in a mere hobby? Am I missing something vital in life?
I tried to photograph all this with an unprejudiced mind, or with the W. Eugene Smith idea of truth is my prejudice. One goal, probably obvious, was to juxtapose a model with the real thing. Real things were flying regularly overhead on 2 paths so I had ample opportunities to do this. Whether I achieved it or not I’ll see when I examine my photos.
Unsure of K’s plans, as usual, her modus operandi, I had alternatives. While biking the first leg, phone rang, Katy calling: we’re coming around 4, will call when we leave Ann Arbor. She didn’t say who the we was but I guessed. She also perfunctorily explained what we might be doing, the Canada visit, but I discovered later, either thru her truncated information or my not hearing, that we’d be on a lake. I didn’t know which one, I didn’t think of swimming so I brought no swim suit, I didn’t know the cottage owners would not be present.
Eat something before, she said, we’ll eat on the way. Huh? Should I eat before or are we eating out? Eat before. And I believe this is characteristic of K: mixed messages. Tricky to interpret.
This was to be true for the entire Canada trip. River road or main road? Right or left? Stop for dinner or not? Walk up river or down?
We managed. I was anxious as I’m sure they were. Then: we were stopped for nearly 1 hour at the USA border. Long lines of vehicles awaited inspection. Coming into Canada had been relatively swift, little traffic, but brusque security and a complete examination of the car. This for entering a friendly country?! This after decades of loose border control? This after 911 and ongoing trauma? Fear prevails, fear defines the society, fear rules and corrodes the soul, fear punctures the heart.
While waiting we chatted about photography, Canada, K’s old neighborhood—I learned she graduated high school in 1961, 2 years after me, making her about 68. I learned the neighborhood switched color, white to black, in the 1960s, her dad the last white, and, being a realtor, sold homes to incoming blacks, who, K claimed, screened them carefully. I am beholden to his legacy for the warm reception neighbors give me. during the discussion I finally realized I could make a few photos of the line of cars waiting at the border, tried, even in the dark.
Lake St Clair itself rivals some of the smaller Great Lakes in scale. This is big. Can’t really see the opposite shore. Water was very warm. Beach was void of people for the most part, only a few 3 waders who recently finished a jet ski ride. We sat quietly, observed the sky changing. First it melded with the water, only a faint horizon line defined borders. Then billowy clouds lofted, storm clouds formed, streaks of distant rain fell. I photographed all this. I walked, discovered may or dragon flies stuck on a window, flattened there, pairs, one in each pair larger and more elegant, perhaps they were mating, or had. Some insects were dead as well. I photographed this close up.
The cottages were squished together, half American and half Canadian, one was selling for $100,000, people seemed to know each other, it felt like an expanded Turtle Lake Wisconsin where my married family had a shared country place. I imagined my kids growing up here, as they did during numerous Turtle Lake summers. I imagined sitting night after night, utterly bored, but at least slowed down. I imagined partner-swapping for the fun and novelty of it.
I’d not brought a book, I found the only book in the cottage—about Canada. Perfect. I began reading the chapter about social inequalities and protest. Perfect also. M had declared, no politics on this trip. K drives me crazy with politics. And whenever the conversations nudged toward this topic M grew visibly nervous. How can they sustain a relationship when the political awareness and activism gap is so huge?
Canada, at least Windsor and adjacent regions, is, relative to Detroit and much of this United States, healthy economically and socially. It was not hit as hard by the economic crisis as the USA. I saw little abandonment. I saw new construction. I saw large well-groomed parks and bike trails. I saw myriad whiskey manufactories. We drove by the mammoth casino, one of the primary industries now. I also saw only a few stores open late Sunday evening, not a spot for nightlife (maybe all drained off by the casino, which, who knows, runs all night).
Renaissance Center, Detroit
My big thank you to K should mention or at least acknowledge that she is a stand-in for me. She frequents if not actually lives in a black neighborhood that previously was white. I no longer live in my now-black Southside Chicago neighborhood. Visiting her, living here, knowing her, she is an aspect of the person I might wish to be.
Click any map for larger versions
TO BE CONTINUED
Windsor economic condition (2007)