Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Which Several Exciting Discoveries Are Made

In the acclaimed 2008 Pixar film WALL-E, there is a scene where one of the residents of the starship Axiom notices, for the first time in his life, that they've got a pool! He's lived there for his whole life; in fact, several generations of his family have lived there for their entire lives, and he never even suspected that they had a pool. No one bothered to tell him, and he never bothered to find out.

I thought that this was meant as a warning from Pixar. "If you don't do something different, your descendants might wind up like this." But now I realize that the warning was actually directed at us.

Case in point: the walk I took today.

After living in Ypsilanti on-and-off for six years, I tend to think of myself as an old hand. I might not know as much about the city as a native townie, but I certainly know a lot more than an incoming freshman, and maybe more than your average graduate. I felt like I knew this city pretty well.

But I've realized how little I truly know. This afternoon I took a walk from my apartment to Michigan Avenue, intending to walk through Riverside Park, and maybe Frog Island Park as well. But once there, I happened to glance across Michigan Avenue, and I realized that although I had walked and driven by this area many times, I had never bothered to see what lay south of Michigan Avenue. I decided on a whim to change my plan; I wanted to see how far south I could walk along the Huron River.

Turns out that's quite a ways, thanks to the B2B (Border-to-Border) Trail, a non-motorized trail that runs along the length of the Huron River, passing completely through almost half a dozen counties in Southeast Michigan. I never even knew that such a long biking and walking trail was even in the works, let alone actually being built!

I can't say for sure how long or how far I walked, but I was gone for quite a while. I saw many strange and secluded places that filled me with a sense of what the Germans call ruinenlust - a love of ruins and abandoned places. I saw broken lamp-posts that had been converted into birds' nests, like some postmodern spin on The Chronicles of Narnia. I discovered a vast desert of gravelly sand; a ring of stumpy, broken stone squares; a rickety, moss-covered old footbridge; an entire park that I'd never even heard about; a disc-golf course; the warren of what appeared to either be a woodchuck or a groundhog; the overgrown remains of a baseball diamond and batting cage, the broken lights watching over all like blind giants; and a swingless swing-set that had been abandoned for so long that trees were growing right up through the structure itself.

I wish I had taken pictures. If I had known what I would be seeing, I would certainly have brought my camera. Maybe I'll make another trip sometime soon, and post the pictures here. Or on Facebook. Who knows? It's an adventure!

My point is: go for a walk. Like, today. Right now. Just put your hands in your pockets, pick a direction, and walk as far as you can. You might be surprised at the things you've never noticed from the window of your car. You might have been living in your neighborhood for years, but have you ever really explored it?

Now seems like as good a time as any to find out.


  1. See, it SOUNDS like a good idea, but then I stop and think and realize that about 50% of the possible directions I could walk in would likely end with me getting shot. Or mugged. Or some combination of the two.

  2. I didn't say you should keep walking into a bad neighborhood. Just go somewhere you haven't been before.