A large road sign reading I-94 Industrial Zone and the slogan of the Michigan Development Corporation “ Creating Good Jobs for Your Community “ marks the location of our first picnic. The weathered sign and slogan hints at the imagined futures of this place. It was once a small dense neighborhood of modest homes. The derelict Packard plant looms just across the Highway.
I first explored the I-94 Industrial Renaissance Zone with Lauren and Ryan Harroun in October 2013, in search of urban wildflowers. I have always been drawn to places that illustrate the push and pull between human vision and natural factors that shape the landscape. Kevin Anderson, a philosopher and cartographer whom I meet in Austin, Texas categorizes this type of place as “Marginal Nature”. It is not fully managed or manicured, yet it has been deeply impacted by human interaction. Marginal nature sites are incredibly interesting places to study from a biological standpoint, so we decided this would be a wonderful place for our inaugural picnic and bird watching activity.
On April 6th 25 curious people met for a picnic and to collect data for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Celebrate Urban Birds Program“. We also explored, climbed hills, looked through binoculars discovered the worlds largest pink diamond, practiced our bird calls, lit smoke bombs, shared stories, and talked about picnics of the future.
Birds we saw:
- 1 crow
- 25 American robins
- 1 Baltimore oriole
- 1 barn swallow
- 1 European starling
- 1 house sparrow
- 1 killdeer
- 2 peregrine falcons
- 2 pheasants
- 2 red wing black birds.
More random words about the site:
The I-94 Industrial Renaissance zone is a remarkable and textured site… Concrete barricades that appear to have been extricated from a hundred year old shipwreck block each street, giving pedestrians the feeling that this place is not for them although there is not a single “no trespassing” sign to be found. From the perimeter of the barricaded land we see piles of garbage, old furniture, derelict lawn ornaments, tires and sun-bleached plastic toys peaking out from behind weeds. Some of these objects seem intentionally arranged while other areas appear to be the handy work of an epic windstorm. On the corner of Helen and Georgia street, there appears to be an entire living room that was dropped off in the same configuration that it once took in a home… a couch, chair and television set achieve a level of Feng shui in this urban prairie. Piles of rubble from demolished homes form man-made mountains that rise above the bare branches of young trees. Eventually we all set down our belongings and ventured to the brows of the nearby peaks to survey the horizon, dotted by power lines, smoke stacks and roof lines. A grid of crumbling streets crisscross the valley below, hinting at the dense little neighborhood that once occupied this piece of earth. Concord street is completely flooded, and looks like a strangely linear river. The second time I visited this location I was surprised to see a great blue heron stalking prey in this shallow faux river.
The push and pull of disintegration, growth, wildlife, erosion and litter create narratives that unfold piecemeal in my imagination. The image of a lone blue heron gracefully mucking around in a flooded street in search of aquatic insects and a living room set that seem to reside in an invisible house linger together in my mind and create a mental movie that flashes behind my eyelids for the duration of a blink.
I left the picnic feeling full of ideas, inspired, and grateful for new connections. I was lucky to be surrounded by a group of engaged and curious folks, including my parents, who were in town for a visit on their way to Florida. I knew only half of the people attended, if that, so I was pleased to meet new friends, including Jacqui Au, of the Detroit Area Rambling Network (a group I hope to join on their next ramble!!). I was so pleased with the turn-out and enthusiasm of my fellow picnic clubbers, I CAN’T WAIT FOR OUR NEXT PICNIC!
With Great Enthusiasm,