Tag Archives: rambles

Rambling report

February 27, 2015

The most recent ramble began at Public Pool in Hamtramck, January’s weekend destination of picnic fun curated by Picnic Club Detroit in conjunction with their exhibition “Picnics in the Polar Vortex”. A mix of ramblers, picnic-clubbers, and random gallery-goers down for whatever chatted, looked at the art, and bravely set out into the 35-degree sunshine.

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We strode east on Caniff amid conversations of the neighborhood’s history (allegedly having been called Ducktown when it was populated in the 1920s — nobody knew why). Scenes of tranquil domesticity abounded — the house with its shoe rack kept on the porch; another with a lush, moss-like carpet over the walkway; a sidewalk painted with wild patterns in celebration of the residents’ wedding day.

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At Mt. Elliott, these gave way to a more barren industrial feel that would characterize the heart of this ramble. We boarded the long hidden pedestrian ramp that would take us to the bridge spanning the rail yards, encountering a woolly but passive beast along the way.

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After the noise and grime and scenic views afforded by the bridge, we made the best of the dull stretch of Mt. Elliott before travelling east again into our destination, the I-94 Industrial Renaissance Zone (more info). The character of the ramble shifted to that of a nature walk as we followed a little path cutting between hills full of brush and burrs.

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Yet all around this outpost of wilderness, the land had been bulldozed clean to make room for decades of promised industrial park, now alleged once again to come to fruition, or at least pavement. The large pink diamond that Picnic Clubbers had found so photogenic was covered in snow. We explored the zone independently for a while, investigating its quirks and borders, lighting smoke bombs in tribute to past picnics, and drinking tea. Our time in the zone felt short despite the wind and overcast sun.

Searching for the pink diamond.

Searching for the pink diamond.

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Visiting with an old Picnic Club friend.

Visiting with an old Picnic Club friend.

Leaving the zone, we checked out some small abandoned churches and stopped to right a toppled street sign in front of one. Crossing Mt. Elliott, a mile south of where we’d initially veered onto it at Caniff, the neighborhood again changed drastically. Miller and the surrounding blocks felt much like Hamtramck, with its dense population of neighbors going about their business and some variety of hustle and bustle happening by a school prominently situated at what feels like a town square. We popped into an unpretentious bakery tucked into the corner of a strip mall for some cheap tasty snacks.

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Checking out the remote location of What’s Fowling and admiring a deluge of ice under the train bridge, we hiked north on Conant, tacking randomly across Belmont to return to Gallagher, and to more warm beverages and cookies, art and books, waiting at Public Pool.

Thanks to everyone who came on this special ramble! Much thanks too to the picnic clubbers who sat the gallery and made sure there was enough picnic magic to go around. Please join Picnic Club Detroit on their next adventure — you can keep in touch via their blog, mailing list, or, God forbid you join the twenty-first century without me, Facebook page.

Speaking of the twenty-first century, although Facebook owns everything, Detroit Area Rambling Network is now on Instagram @detroitrambling. Bonus #darnrambles photo documentation and Detroit #walksnaps every day! It’s beautiful. Check it out.

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Rambling alert! Saturday, January 31

January 26, 2015

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Saturday, January 31
Gallery hours 1-6; ramble leaves at 2
Public Pool,
3309 Caniff Hamtramck 48212

In collaboration with Picnic Club Detroit’s Picnics in the Polar Vortex show underway at Public Pool in Hamtramck, we will be taking a hike at 2:00 this Saturday, January 31. (Please note the day! This ramble will take place during gallery hours on Saturday, not on Sunday as most rambles do). Our destination is the I-94 Industrial Renaissance Zone, where Picnic Club held its very first picnic in April of last year. We’ll be returning to see what’s changed on this urban prairie as the seasons have passed. Where we once rustled through brush participating in the “Birdwatching Within the Barricades” picnic, we’ll find a scene rendered unrecognizable by more than a mere layer of snow.

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The zone has recently received considerable attention from people other than birdwatchers and urban explorers. As the city aims to develop the area into the industrial park it was intended to be in the first place, cleanup efforts seem to have overtaken some of its charms. Lear and Penske, Crain’s reported last month, are eyeing the spot with its attractive financial incentives in mind.

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Out of ten picnics in ten months, two picnic locations have been lost to development. Since only three picnic spots have been places with no official designation or concordant protections, like other places we’ve visted — Rouge Park, the Belle Isle aquarium, the course of the Peoplemover, two Picnic Club members’ residences — the extinction rate of these places is much higher than the numbers seem to say. The other development casualty is the amply forested site we enjoyed during “A Human Geology” picnic. The trees and grasses and ecosystems that intervened after the former Piquette plant burned in 2005 have been bulldozed.

Cataloging and chronicling these changes is an essential reflection that establishes history and informs our future use of land and other resources. We document these spaces in our photos, artifacts, memories, so that when they vanish they leave some trace. Moving between, through, and around these spaces, we document them in the tactile muscle memory of our bodies. This is the importance of our picnicking and rambling, examining and experiencing these places before they shift into their next stage of being.

The forecast is chilly, so please come prepared for weather! Your thermos should be full of some kind of hot beverage, and your hands should be full of mittens, or whatever keeps the frostbite at bay. Expect a 5-6 mile ramble — we’ll be returning to the gallery before it closes at 6:00. As always, walking is free and open to the public. Hope to see you this weekend.

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See also:
Picnic Club Detroit’s synopsis of “Birdwatching within the Barricades”
Scott Hocking’s decade of photo documentation
Crain’s “Lear, Penske eye move to city industrial park”

Rambling report

October 24, 2014

The new $24 million segment of the Dequindre Cut, from Gratiot to Mack, is about as short as you’d expect if you’ve ever wandered Eastern Market end-to-end without even noticing. This 0.45 mile stretch is due to open next spring after some delays, following the initial 1.35-mile trail conversion which was completed in 2009. The railroad itself was constructed in the 1830s by the Detroit Pontiac Railroad Company, predecessor of Canadian National and Grand Trunk. Trains ran along the tracks from 1838 until the mid-1980s; passenger rail service to the riverfront terminated in 1982. A subsidiary of the MGM Casino purchased the parcels between 1998 and 2000 and handed them off to the city shortly after.

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Aside from just wandering and having fun, our intent was to examine the benefits and losses of greenway rails-trails conversion projects, particularly the impact on wild plants commonly referred to with the generic term “weeds.” Focusing on the greenery when the Dequindre Cut has been so well-known for its colorful graffiti was a shift that felt natural at the time, and almost certainly foretells the theme of many future walks there. Wildflowers were everywhere bland new embankment walls weren’t. How the pale blocks had been kept free of graffiti for their weeks in place baffles the imagination. Especially as the grade changes to join street level closer to Mack, the balance tips in a pastoral direction. Birds were chirping and flocking around grassy clumps unjostled by the heavy machinery lining the Cut. Behind the Detroit Edison Public School Academy, a birdhouse perched atop a tall pole.

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At Mack we waited a while for the roar of Lions’ game traffic to quiet before setting foot on the rails. This stretch of the Cut splices two different worlds — the vastness of bleak industry to the west where the Pepsi bottling plant sits, and a line of trees and some grassy lands to the east. It’s a dynamic that feels very Detroit. “These would be lovely to keep as parks,” I said. “They already are,” a rambler replied. The disused tracks themselves were littered with surprises — we examined pottery, the railways’ signature shards of metal, bones, shoes, trash, and treasure in the form of a fully intact shovel sitting in a bush.

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The tracks are fenced off with shiny chainlink at Farnsworth where they keep the trains. At this point we turned east, doubling back on St. Aubin for a glimpse of what life might have been like before the railroad. Cobblestone streets still push determinedly westward before petering out into high grasses next to dead-ending sidewalks. Rust inexplicably coats sections of pavement. At Forest, a naked flagpole sits lonesome in the grassy lot that was the Dabrowski Playground, in memory of the reverend who once founded a Polish Seminary there. There aren’t many houses these days. Outside of Eastern Market again, we stopped to check on the little cinderblock wonder at 2126 Pierce St., then followed the alley south to Wilkins. An eastbound detour gave us better viewing of the sculpture garden outside C.A.N. Art Handworks.

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The ramble paused on Gratiot to share generous rambler-made brownies with a belated contingent of tired tweed riders. After this ramblers disbanded to their vehicles and I trekked south alone. At Antietam a red-tailed hawk dove to scoop up a squirrel, dangling it from the power lines. I followed the Lafayette Parks to the river, broad green spaces paralleling the Cut. After the Greening of Detroit Park, I crossed Jefferson and ventured down Riopelle, looking at the Ren Cen looming past the wreckage of a torched building. It felt out of place. In Milliken State Park, the recent sidewalk led me over the hill, next to the canal, and back into the Dequindre Cut.

This is the familiar Dequindre Cut, where in an otherwordly composition graffiti is backdrop for the occasional sly storybook red fox straight out of Le Petit Prince. It’s also a greenway beloved by Detroiters who wouldn’t or couldn’t explore the wilder sections we’d seen earlier in the day. As I strode north, a family passed, pushing their stroller and talking about how safe it was there. Their hip-height young daughter smiled a few paces behind them. It was getting dark but a group of people still had a tripod set up in the pedestrian lane, filming skateboard tricks. This is something you might not try a few miles north along the rails.

If something is lost in this conversion from rails to trails, it isn’t the greater good. As one who lived for the spaciousness and unruliness of parts of this city, I can’t wholly mind that it isn’t here, right here, anymore. But will there always be somewhere else to go? As perambulists in other cities thoughtfully elegize their vanishing wildernesses, I wish they could ramble with us and see the before and the after simultaneously, two sides of a story, two ends of the same trail.

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Rambling alert! Sunday, October 19

October 13, 2014

Plans to extend the Dequindre Cut from its present terminus at Gratiot north to Mack have been in progress for a year. The trail was expected to be open at the end of November, but completion will be delayed until late next spring. Rails-to-trails paths are a popular option among planners — across the country, old railways are being repurposed as green jogging, bicycling, and walking havens.

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We will ramble the Dequindre Cut, observing what is lost and what is gained as humans force various phases of development on the land. What was there before the railroad? What will be there after? What is the future of greenspace in cities?

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Walking is free and open to the public. We will meet at 4:00 at the current northernmost point of the Cut. Ramblers are encouraged to bring beverages, snacks, sweaters, senses, questions, and answers. Ramblers should take care to outfit themselves with good shoes or else. In case of severe rain, we’ll ramble the following Sunday.

Highly recommended reading on the effects of rails-to-trails greenway projects in other cities:
Two poignant articles on rails-to-trails greenway projects in other cities:

Also, London is apparently the world’s largest urban forest. Should the entire city become a national park? The Independent reports.

Other fun happenings:
Tweed Ride Detroit, an “annual celebration of fall, tweed, bicycling, & Detroit!” will also take place Sunday, October 19, starting at 1:00 at the corner of Warren and Trumbull. This whimsical event will be marking its fifth anniversary. Ramblers, you have lots of leg muscles — why not make them all sore?

Rambling report

June 23, 2014

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We started the ramble on the narrow brick paths of the Zen Center garden, winding toward the gate. In accordance with the beautiful day promised by meteorologists, iced beverages were first on the agenda, so we stopped into Delite on Caniff before turning north again. We peered into Popp’s Packing, revisiting the origin of one rambler’s dissipating hangover. Looking at fields striped with rows of red clover, one rambler shared with us the secret to extracting nectar from the blossoms.

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We crossed the freeway at Carpenter, Hamtramck’s northern border, where the Colonel Hamtramck Homes are situated west of Dequindre. The first federally-funded public housing in Michigan outside of Detroit, the tight community of old buildings has an otherworldly feel. It’s also the only place where I’ve noticed street signs posted directly on buildings.

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We passed by the long blocks of the scantily-forested Grand Haven-Dyer revitalization project, a strip of Hamtramck that feels decidedly Detroit, with the vacant lots dotted with uncomfortably new brick and vinyl infill homes. We crossed the freeway again.

We marvelled at the phenomenon of multiple homes housed on single lots and smaller residences set back from their larger neighbors, lending an uncanny sense of suburban privacy. North of Caniff the streets are lined with the monotonous two-story flats I associate with the city, but venture south and everything changes.

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Here we found the old Hamtramck, as resident historian Greg Kowalski put it, of “tidy homes on tiny lots.” Ramblers were very relieved to not be “in the middle of nowhere” touring block after block of tedious “nothingness” like last time — not sure how well this bodes for future walks in Detroit. Hamtramck offered plenty to keep us distracted — quirky signage, milk crates sprouting from trees in makeshift basketball hoops, flowerpots filled with onions, a lonely sand-colored military vehicle, ice cream trucks, and huts carved out of garages to cozily house garbage cans, reminding me of shelters at the end of long driveways in rural areas for kids awaiting the school bus.

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After emerging from the alley paralleling Joseph Campau, we walked along Florian, selected for its high probability of being the most tree-lined street in the city. Mass was in session at the enormous church, and we lurked in the garden for a moment listening to trills of organ spill from the cathedral’s open windows.

Making our way to the southwest corner of Hamtramck, we stopped to rest next to Hamtown Farms, not exactly an oasis with its picnic tables and benches out in full sun. Further down Lumpkin, stopping to use a conveniently located portapotty at the site of some new construction, we watched a field of soccer players in the foreground of an odd clear view of the Fisher building. Now that the American Axle plant no longer fully spans between Denton and Holbrook, the sight was a reminder of how close seemingly isolated landmarks are in the city, despite perceived long distances.

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Where there had been gritty, dusty lots in the past, scars of recent change, nature had reclaimed the south end of town and was coexisting nicely with residents. Instead of seeming blighted, the accumulated verdure was well-kept and reassuring. The neighborhood had a certain healthy lushness I didn’t remember before. An exception was Holbrook Garden, a tribute to master gardener and activist Gerald Hairston, where the lovely pergola was overrun with brush and the wayward memorial sign had sprouted many tags, ironically enough many of them pledging, “I love”.

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We passed the funny red Holbrook School, whose tiny playground I used to cut through, admiring its economy. I was surprised to find out later that the school, built in 1896, is perhaps the oldest continuously operating school in Michigan. Fortunately voters passed a millage to protect the buildings a few months ago. We saw most of Hamtramck’s schools between these two walks, at one rambler’s request passing by the lovely historic Hamtramck High School.

Ramblers rambled in for a sugar fix at Detroit Donut, then went east to Gallagher and north toward the Zen Center garden. As the light began to fade, popular vote took us in the direction of Aladdin, overshooting our starting point. On the fragmented walk back to the Zen Center garden later, the twilight air was redolent with night-blooming jasmine. I hope other ramblers got to smell the flowers, too.

Thanks for rambling! We hope to see you all next time. Sign up for our email list to get the latest rambling reminders.

Rambling report and a little ramb

June 21, 2014

Announcement! We’re at it again. Join us on a little ramb at 5:00 this Sunday, June 22. Read on for details.

This past weekend, ramblers convened beneath scorching sun to participate in nothing more than an ordinary June day. We met in Veterans’ Park on the south end of town to set off in celebration of Bloomsday and Dalloway Day, midsummer literary holidays inspired by real and fictional walks on ordinary days in June.

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Ramblers took the ‘holiday’ aspect of this ramble more seriously than its origins might demand. The fictional walks in both books start out with the intent of accomplishing an errand. Most ramblers had no errands to do on a weekend afternoon, except one who adopted the classic Mrs. Dalloway task of picking flowers. Without a purpose, the ramble slumped shapelessly northward, strung along by the loose intention to arrive at another park before tacking west and weaving through the center of town.

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Ramblers taking a desire path.

Ramblers taking a desire path.

It didn’t take long before ramblers were bemoaning the deficit of street trees, seeking shade at any opportunity. On subsequent unofficial rambles during the week, one rambler who was unable to come on Sunday offered that, in some parts of town, trees went missing in the tornado that touched down in the ’90s. Either way, areas we rambled could benefit from some greening.

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The alleys on this side of town — some of it actually Detroit — had a character all their own. The tidy paved alleys of other blocks, overrun with skipping children and neatly lined with trash bins, were not to be found here. These were often pastoral, though some had strange amenities like carpet. Saying hello to a family hanging out in their backyard and complimenting their garden, they asked what we were doing there. “Be careful,” they warned, “you could get mugged back there.” A few more feet up the alley I came across a comic plastic squirt gun.

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We were momentarily cheered by a sprinkler set up on somebody’s lawn. After trooping through two parks, ramblers ignored an ice cream truck and suggestions to go north just another block to pass by the Power House Project’s art houses, and made a saggy beeline for Hamtramck Disneyland. As most ramblers had never been there, this was definitely a bright spot. We signed the guestbook and sampled nearby mulberries, the first ripe ones of the season.

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Next was coffee and samosas at Bengali food favorite Aladdin. Despite the heat that drove a fraction of our group to wait outside, deeming it cooler, ramblers eschewed the adorable Burk’s Igloo ice cream stand. At one rambler’s suggestion, we continued south on Conant to see the “business district,” witnessing a party and literal signs of globalization. Realizing that we might have rather been on Joseph Campau the whole time, we veered over there for a few final blocks near Holbrook, admiring odd hats in the windows and discussing dreams for operating storefronts of our own.

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As the sun blared unkindly at us, ramblers voted to call it quits. We checked out Keyworth Stadium and took a shortcut through an empty lot to look at the old Hamtramck Stadium at the rear of Veterans’ Park, a historic site one rambler pointed out is one of just twelve remaining Negro League baseball stadiums.

This ramble and follow-up walks during the week, accompanied and solo, made me wistful for the time I lived in Hamtramck years ago, first discovering what a “walkable” place might mean. Our Bloomsday ramble missed much of what makes Hamtramck Hamtramck to me. The busy streets, revealing alleys, bustling commerce, many languages, the people, families, kids, the little houses set far back from the street, the ornate churches, the converted homes that once were corner bars or stores.

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In setting out to cover a geographic distance, which is not a bad strategy in exploring Detroit where interesting parts are farther flung, we missed our whole reason for meeting in Hamtramck — the density of the tiny 2.09 square mile city, the diversity in such a small area that makes it so engaging despite covering far shorter stretches of latitudinal or longitudinal terrain.

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It’s tough to imagine a ramble being “complete,” since there is always more to explore, and more perspectives to bring to the same area. In the case of last week’s Hamtramck Bloomsday ramble, so much was left unexamined that a little re-ramb is in order.

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Join us this Sunday, June 22, for a solstice visit to Hamtramck’s more populous parts. Meet at 5:00 at the Zen Center garden on Mitchell just south of Casmere. At the height of the season, we’ll see what’s growing where, from mulberries in the alleys to the impressive variety of roses, the carefully curated cactus gardens to the trellised gardens rarely seen elsewhere. Hamtramck City Council recently passed a noxious weed ordinance banning vegetable gardens from front yards. Although the mayor pledges to fight it, code violations are reportedly being collected by the Hamtramck Community Inititive and handed over to the police. What will this mean for residents and the landscape, especially gardeners on lots that are all front yard?

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Miscellaneous goods:
Hamtramck Geography blog’s look at the alleys
ModelD article from 2009 on Hamtramck’s “barroom legacy”
Curbed’s tour of Hamtramck’s hidden bar houses — some good contentious comments on this one. (Also, Curbed Detroit has a ‘ghost bars’ section? Really?)

Rambling alert! Sunday, June 15

June 10, 2014

Let’s ramble this Sunday! Meet at Veterans Park in Hamtramck at 3:00, and plan on returning around sunset.

Inspired by the celebrated midsummer perambulations in James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this walk is all about an ordinary day in June. Monday, June 16, marks the 110th Bloomsday, when Joyce set out on a walk in Dublin with his future wife, later translating into the experiences of protagonist Leopold Bloom. For the past sixty years, modernist literati have devoted the day to tracing these fictional footsteps, usually amid much recitation of passages from the book and a fair bit of drinking.

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For this ramble, we’ll convene in the city of Hamtramck to simulate the population density that makes these two books and their entangled urban walks compelling (sort of, since it’s been years and I still can’t manage to actually finish reading Mrs. Dalloway). Since we’re unable to set out from Virginia Woolf’s London residence or from Leopold Bloom’s since-demolished Dublin address, we’ll start in Veterans Park (for convenience, but also a nod to Woolf’s character Septimus Smith, a veteran who spends the day in the park, suffering bewildering PTSD episodes).

In keeping with the make-your-own-ordinary-June-day theme, please consider bringing an errand that you wish to do over the course of the ramble. Buying (or just picking) flowers, visiting the post office (or mailbox), getting a pork kidney (or other fixing) for tomorrow’s breakfast, picking up some soap at the pharmacy, stopping by the bar, preparing for a party, or just seeing what’s going on in the world while toting a lucky potato in your pocket. Feel free to bring a book in the event of a reading break.

Please wear more sensible footwear than Clarissa Dalloway probably would’ve been sporting, and don’t forget, as the British call it, your sun cream.

Miscellaneous goods:
Interactive map of Joyce’s Dublin
Article on Dalloway Day: “Why Doesn’t Mrs. Dalloway Get a Day of Her Own?”
Facebook event for last year’s inaugural Clarissa Dalloway Day

Walking in the news

April 5, 2014

Announcement! Very important. Unfortunately, the Sunday, April 6 ramble must be cancelled. We apologize for the inconvenience and trust that you’ll find other ways to enjoy the wonderful weather. Check back soon or join our mailing list to be advised of a rescheduled ramble.

“Why do you walk?” asked the guy helpfully navigating me through the intimidating realm of athletic shoes. I can’t even remember the last time I had shoes with laces, but, after a couple hundred miles on crappy shoes from the internet, it’s time to reconsider.
“Are you walking for exercise, or…?”
“No,” I said, hemming, “I don’t really believe much in walking as exercise. I just like it. For all sorts of reasons,” was the only lukewarm, inaccurate response I could come up with.

Every time I go out for a walk, I’m reminded of better answers to his question, but external affirmations are welcome, too. Reviewing a book about the daily routines of geniuses, Sarah Green came up with a list of the most common traits. Like every list about the attributes that make writers and artists writers and artists, a daily walk was prominent. Green wrote,

Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon — and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Tchaikovsky made do with a two-hour walk, but wouldn’t return a moment early, convinced that cheating himself of the full 120 minutes would make him ill. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck. Erik Satie did the same on his long strolls from Paris to the working class suburb where he lived, stopping under streetlamps to jot down notions that arose on his journey; it’s rumored that when those lamps were turned off during the war years, his productivity declined too.

She forgot to mention one of the more endearing parts of Satie’s walks — that, on this potentially dangerous twelve mile trip, he carried a hammer for protection.

Green’s summary of the great walks of the greats reminded me of a 1988 Sports Illustrated article titled “Frisky as the Dickens.” It’s a lengthy look at Charles Dickens’ lengthy walks.

Dickens’s walks served him in two ways. On one level, they were fact-finding missions during which he recorded with his keen eye the teeming urban landscapes whose descriptions were his stock-in-trade. A letter from Paris to a family friend, the Reverend Edward Tagart, begins innocently enough, “I have been seeing Paris.” But what follows is a foot tour of the city that is characteristically Dickensian: “Wandering into Hospitals, Prisons, Dead-houses, Operas, Theatres, Concert-rooms, Burial-grounds, Palaces and Wine Shops. In my unoccupied fortnight of each month, every description of gaudy and ghastly sight has been passing before me in rapid Panorama.”

But Dickens’s walks played another, more important role in his life. They were, in a sense, acts of self-preservation. “If I could not walk far and fast,” he once confessed, “I think I should just explode and perish.” Unlike his contemporary, Anthony Trollope, who claimed he reeled off 3,000 words each morning before breakfast, Dickens found composition to be hard, painful work. The hours he spent at his desk agitated him tremendously, and walking served as a kind of safety valve.

Then again, walking was, in Dickens’ time, pretty pedestrian. Everybody walked. Why did they walk? Who knows. All sorts of reasons. They didn’t have the attentive staff of a specialty shoe store asking these sorts of questions. They didn’t even have specialty shoes. The bicycle hadn’t really been invented yet. People moved to cities and wandered around. Apparently having little else to do with their leisure time, they became keenly fixated on competitive walking matches, which now, in the days of motorcycle racing, demolition derbies, and monster truck rallies, seems ineffably quaint. During these races, walkers would circle a track for six days, clocking as many as 600 miles, by some measures more tame than the outdoor treks in freezing weather that Dickens put his trainees through, on bad roads and through snowbanks. They make the perfectly admirable customers of the running store, doing 70 mile weeks in exquisite footwear and moisture-wicking tights, look like wimps.

While pulling off this incredible insomniac feat, walkers would wear festive ruffled shirts, deal with crowd control, play the coronet, and occasionally nap on little cots stationed next to the track, according to author Matthew Algeo in an NPR interview about his new book Pedestrianism. What’s more, the sports drink of these guys were guzzling in the 1870s was not Gatorade or other carefully engineered electrolyte-balancing beverage but champagne. Says Algeo,

Champagne was considered a stimulant. And a lot of trainers – these guys had trainers – advised their pedestrians to drink a lot of champagne during the race. They thought that this would give them some kind of advantage. The problem was that a lot of these guys would drink it by the bottle. That definitely was not a stimulant, to say the least.

They might have done better to go with bottomless mimosas. Here’s some very light reading (and/or listening) to go with the equally light weather this weekend.

review of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
“Frisky as the Dickens”
NPR interview and book excerpt from Matthew Algeo’s Pedestrianism

Rambling alert! Sunday, April 6

March 30, 2014

It’s almost April, and time for our spring ramble. Let’s hope it feels like it. Meet in North End at Bennett Playground at 3:30 sharp on Sunday, April 6. The ramble will conclude by sundown at the same location.

As usual, please don’t forget items necessary to support your wellbeing during these hours, such as good shoes, personal snacks, and hydrating beverages. (It would be nice to stop for refreshment at Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe, but they keep a sane schedule and are closed on Sundays). Our next ramble is scheduled for June 15, right next to Bloomsday.

Speaking of ambulatory holidays, April is full of them, with two national walking days and Take Back the Night happening in the next couple weeks. Check the calendar and celebrate them with us, or visit the blog for frequent updates on these and more walks in Detroit.

Coincidentally, the inaugural meeting of the very promising young Picnic Club Detroit is scheduled for the same day. They’ll be birdwatching from 12-3 in the I-94 Industrial Renaissance Zone, just east of Hamtramck. Ramblers are encouraged to venture out early and see what this is all about.

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Rambling report

February 17, 2014

A little cold, a little ramble. We left behind the foggy glass and perennial leafiness of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and moved toward northeast end of Belle Isle as the sun did its damnedest to shine.

Reading, maybe, "A History of Belle Isle" at the front desk.

Reading, maybe, “A History of Belle Isle” at the front desk.

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It didn’t take long before ramblers were speculating about business plans for a cafe on Belle Isle. Trudging between the frozen canals and the old zoo with its marvelous domed structures and paths swooping overhead, we entered the forest. One rambler commented on the paucity of massive trees. “They’re mostly ash,” explained another. Then we met Bert, a viny old soul outfitted with a spigot.

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After trekking single-file through the woods, following the snowy trail divoted with ski tracks, we decided against venturing to the windy point where the William Livingstone memorial lighthouse sits, because what’s so exciting about the only marble lighthouse in the United States, anyway? We ran into some friends out driving with a camera lens enormous enough to be easily mistaken for a tripod. They advised us of nearby bald eagles, having just watched one consume a duck out on the ice.

We curved past the nature zoo, admiring its lavish bird villas, and cut behind Lake Muskoday in search of the lonely covered bridge. We sunk into snow up to our knees, not to speak of the snow still packed underfoot, wondering about the original purpose of a series of small buildings that most recently housed a disc golf center.

Snow in boots.

Snow in boots in snow by the willows.

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The crumbly bridge was filled with curious little graffiti and what we reckoned might be the nests of paper wasps, though they were less numerous than in the past. We sat on the benches that line either side of the bridge, trying to hug some warmth back into a cold dog, before deciding the better strategy might be to keep moving. In a clearing, huge stacks of things better called tree trunks than logs were piled high, probably evidence of Michigan’s DNR at work tidying the trails. We joked about making a nice bonfire.

This is not a slick of ice -- interesting lesson in melting things.

This is not a slick of ice — interesting lesson in melting things.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog -- wear her as a scarf.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog — wear her as a scarf.

We never quite made it to the beach, but it was a lovely ramble nonetheless. A fleet of huge snowflakes settled all around us as we parted ways at the conservatory.

We won’t be rambling again until April, but there are lots of events on the calendar for early spring, like the annual Marche du Nain Rouge on Sunday, March 23. This year’s march will have a special contingent we encourage you to join — the Anti-Funeral Procession for Cass Corridor.