Tag Archives: summer


July 18, 2014

Sweaty weather replaces sweater weather again. Summer is back and the wandering body gravitates toward water. Making the usual pilgrimages has felt out of place this season. Visiting Detroit’s fountains and pools is still appealing, but what’s happening with water in the rest of the city is appalling, and as the rest of the country also suffers, it’s put a damper on my appreciation of some of our most luxurious civic amenities.

A perennial favorite is the stately arrangement of fountains in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, cooed over by babies in strollers during the day and spouting dramatically-lit mist through the night. None were operating on earlier occasions this summer when I’ve rambled by, contributing to a pervasive feeling of dryness and austerity.


The DIA’s engineering manager Cedric Alexander said that the north and south fountains went on in mid-June as they do every year, but the main fountain, in need of repairs, has not yet been filled. “We know those fountains are important to our visitors. They’re part of what happens around here in the summertime.” Alexander himself was particularly dismayed by the outage. “They’re kinda my pet,” he admitted. It should be another week or week and a half before the fountain is on again, awaiting a special order of parts, but they will be back. Why are these easy reassurances of the return of water not available to everyone?

Even the Thinker is troubled.

Even the Thinker is troubled.

As more fountains in prioritized parks happily burble, and more parks feature water attractions and pools, others still remain dry. With this reinvestment in uplifting but ultimately frivolous displays, it seems all the more ironic that such ample water will be provided for some while any access to this necessity is removed from others. No matter our income or our location, we’re still all about 55-60% water.



This afternoon, over a thousand protesters fighting against months’ worth of unjustly-handled residential water shutoffs marched from Cobo to Hart Plaza, where the arid Dodge Memorial Fountain sits. Last year had a series of fits and spurts for the immense fountain, as scrappers’ efforts left the hardware too damaged to run for most of the summer, but was repaired in August. The shutoffs, which have targeted Detroiters who may only owe a few hundred dollars but who live in areas that the city would rather see vacated in accordance with long-term plans, were condemned as a potential human rights violation by the United Nations. Let’s hope today’s uprising will persuade the water department to make real amends, chasing down the few delinquent commercial accounts that owe more than half of the city’s overdue bills, and offering humane payment alternatives to those who need them so these fountains won’t have to double as bathtubs.



July 15, 2014

This week, grab a sweater before you head out — apparently the polar vortex doesn’t yield to pedestrians, either. A piece of this arctic wind system seems to have broken off (by whatever mechanism wind “breaks” into “pieces”) and barrelled through Canada again, just like in January. While some insist this midsummer breath of fresh air is the vortex’s fault, the National Weather Service has retracted its previous observation. Meteorologists are tweeting their discord over what kind of air event this is, from polar vortex to “polar air invasion” to a mere “trough in the jet stream.” As one meteorologist said in a nicely graphic-assisted defense of the term, “Some critics are being too literal about its definition and/or burying their heads in the sand, blinding themselves from a fascinating weather reality.” Sounds a lot like the debate over climate change, actually.

The Free Press supports the National Weather Service’s new position that the chilly spell has less to do with polar air than with the usual jet stream breezes disrupted by a typoon — if not one sensational thing, then grapple for another. Mlive also denies heavy polar vortex involvement in this week’s weather, which, in a temperate summer overall, doesn’t even feel that weird, but advises to keep a lookout for waterspouts forming as the cold air glides over warm water. If you see any of these bumming around on the river with the freighters, let me know and I’ll ramble over extra-fast.

Whatever your beliefs about arctic air patterns, it’s luxurious waking up to a piece of Christmas in July. To acknowledge this meteorological gift of walking around being less sticky, I present some items from my ongoing collection of red bows found around town. Why are the bows always red? Why is the grass green, the sky blue? Science, of course. Social science.

This early holiday celebration is for longtime rambler Sara, who might love autumnal weather even more than I do and has recently been so kind as to share photos from our Hamtramck ramble in the Detroit Area Rambling Network flickr pool. Thanks!







And last but not least a boa of sorts.

UPDATE: 20:36

And a rainless rainbow emerging from the casino. Merry Christmas!


Warm Walking Months

May 30, 2014

It’s summer already, at least by some definitions. The solstice is a few weeks out yet, but in between Memorial Day and Labor Day, things get lazy, time slows. It’s happening. Hot days and cool nights, the sound of crickets volleying outside the windowscreens, luring us out for a night walk, a morning walk, even a scorching midday walk that reminds the skin what a tan is.

By less apparent measures, we’re now in between the two National Walking Months, as the UK’s version taking place in May wraps up. This will hopefully leave us with several good walking months instead of a quick retreat to the air conditioning as June barges in, melting the ice cubes in our water bottles. The US isn’t due for a National Walking Month until October, a kind of pleasingly improbable time to hold such an event.


To start off the month, the BBC ran an article charmingly titled “The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking.” Seeing as this is hardly news, one might suppose it dies slowly every year around this time, or at least molts. Leaving alone the usual bevy of sad statistics, the writer instead turns to favorite literary greats whose cultural fortunes may have been made on walking. Dickens, Thoreau, Woolf, Wordsworth; name-dropping Nietzsche and Nabokov.

“But you don’t have to be an author to see the value of walking,” he wrote. “A particular kind of walking. Not the distance between porch and corner shop. But a more aimless pursuit.” Regular walking isn’t good enough? Next they’ll be telling us we have to go forest bathe or something. The article itself seemed to lose aim at this point, and seemingly not looking where it was going, veered into a tangent on walking while texting. The writer consulted veteran walking spokespeople Rebecca Solnit and Geoff Nicholson for their advice on paying attention while moving around, leaving the reader with a handful of rules:

Boil down the books on walking and you’re left with some key tips:

Walk further and with no fixed route
Stop texting and mapping
Don’t soundtrack your walks
Go alone
Find walkable places
Walk mindfully

Go alone? Well, sometimes, but depending on where you live in Detroit, don’t test this one out too extensively at home. Advice better suited for the UK’s lovely coastal and cross-country trail systems. As one British walker and blogger snarked, “Don’t laugh. Oh OK, laugh. What is this ‘walk mindfully’ shit? New age Gladwellian self-improvement crap, I’d bet.” He continued, “Best thing about walking is anyone can do it, at any time, in any place, and find things they never expected even where they live. It doesn’t need ‘selling’ in that way. It doesn’t desperately need an ‘angle’.” What if it does? If people were getting around on foot enough, advocacy organizations wouldn’t be hosting walking months, and I wouldn’t be writing this.

How will the US’s committee for walking month brand their special formulation of foot-body coordination this fall? We can hope it might be without excoriating the “daftest temptation” of lunching “al desko” (as opposed to al fresco — but isn’t walking while you eat the antithesis of doing either action mindfully?). Same goes for the FEZ, or “food exclusion zones,” where one must walk outside a certain area before being rewarded with the ability to purchase some lunch. (Incidentally, Living Streets uses “muffins burned” as a metric for walking success, having torched 10,151 of them during Walk to Work Week alone, about 5.5 million calories worth; this is the number of muffins above basal metabolic rate that it takes to power a human 2.27 times around the Equator). The FEZ is a great idea to encourage exploration, but perhaps Americans fare better with less dogmatic advice. Just being told to walk more, however you want to do it, is more than enough for some people.

Living Streets, the group that puts together the UK’s National Walking Month, has a couple of tip sheets (pdf), which include American favorites such as power walking, counting calories, and saving money — but also learning the history of buildings and names of trees along your route, carrying an “emergency” picnic blanket, extinguishing negative thoughts, and having your “jotter at the ready” in case you encounter any especially creative thoughts.

So, however you decide to regard these appeals to movement, happy warm walking months. In addition to the British-bequeathed literary celebration Bloomsday on the 16th, June is full of pedestrian affairs. It’s Great Outdoors Month, with National Trails Day on the 7th, and National Get Outdoors Day brought to you by Off! brand inspect repellent on the 14th. If by then you’re too tired by all the outdoor and hopefully ambulatory fun to make it back into your house, the month ends with a Disney-sponsored Great American Backyard Campout on the 28th, which you can do mindfully if you like, but perhaps best not alone.

Have any tips for thriving over these kinds of holidays? Making your walk whatever you need it to be seems soundest, from a jubiliant game of thing-finding to a funeral procession. The British might also tell you to make sure to take along plenty of sun cream.


June 24, 2013

In summer, every outing stretches into a pilgrimage to water. A pilgrimage: any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage. In the heat, time distorts, and a perceived long journey shortens, culminating in mirage. Thoughts turn north to cabins, campsites, rivers; to cold Lake Superior and its rocky beaches. In the city, what can quench this thirst?


Emerging into the sticky, still air, a homing device left over from some other evolutionary phase goes off in the brain, echoing, roving insistently toward the nearest body of water. Walks have been simple — a tour of fountains, the Yamasaki Reflecting Pools, the riverfront. It’s the kind of motion that is simultaneously idle. At the Yamasaki Reflecting Pools, the comfort of water is so palpable I swear I can smell the salt breeze of the ocean. I sweat a little and go home to drink another glass of water until it’s neither half empty nor half full.