I am currently sitting in the Detroit airport, on my way to New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), where I will be presenting a paper on collective bargaining and institutional culture in the Canadian foreign service, co-written with a former research assistant. It has been a hectic few weeks, and so I have not written anything on this blog for almost a month. I have never liked the “I wrote this paper on the plane ride to the conference” approach, so aside from working up this paper the last several weeks, I have performed an inter-city move with an infant and a disgruntled cat in tow, and closed off the teaching semester. It has been a lot and writing here has taken a back seat to everything else. But more is to come, as the move is complete, the infant is well, the cat remains disgruntled, and the daily grind of teaching is almost done, save grading final exams and projects.
I did want to provide three quick observations though, all about the local area in which I now find myself but in which I was already deeply if only partially embedded, which is the Windsor-Detroit metro border region. So quickly:
(1) Windsor is now my full-time home. No more commuting across southern Ontario every week, as per my last post here in March. It is amazing how quickly the rhythms of constant motion between cities have receded into the background. I used to ensure my train tickets were purchased far in advance to get the super saver discount, I would stack my work schedule on as few days as possible to maximize time at home in Toronto, I would flit into the orbits of friends and colleagues who saw me one or two days a week at most, and I would have enough down time at home to breathe (sometimes) a sigh of relaxation at the end of the week before starting it again. That is done, and as soon as our kitchen was unpacked and Netflix set up again, the tension of having everything set up for a four hour train ride several days away started to evaporate, and rapidly. It may still take some time to fully get it out of my system, but the time-space of daily life and work are both much more concentrated, all in one city, and unfurling, as my time and attention are no longer bound so tightly to train schedules.
(2) I have more to write on Windsor, including some reflections on the graduate course I taught with a History Department colleague this past term, on the spatial history of the Windsor-Detroit borderlands. I feel I have learned a lot about the local area, and a mid-March field trip along the Windsor riverfront, though cut short by biting cold wind, was instructive. Look for a post soon on two small monuments on the riverfront that indicate the imperial ties of Windsor and Canada over 150 years. That one will probably even have photos.
(3) A friend and colleague drove me across the border from Windsor to the Detroit airport this morning. Because we left very early, several hours before my flight, we eschewed the quick interstate route and took the scenic route through Detroit instead. I will not opine here about the contradictory state of Detroit’s urban center, where an influx of money and white people promises to make the city “livable” again, even as the rest of the city suffers continued cuts to services, attempts at planned shrinkage, and racial gaps in income, housing, and opportunity. That is a post (or several) for another time. But a strange sight greeted us in the downtown core as we prepared to turn onto Michigan Avenue and head west toward the airport in suburban Romulus. I happened to look out across the driver’s seat and saw a pheasant pecking around in an empty corner lot. About 18 to 24 inches long perhaps, bright green and gold, it was most certainly a pheasant. I had heard many years back from some folks working in a local community garden downtown that a by-product of the increasingly large number of empty lots around the city, grown over with weeds and shrubs, is the return of animals like coyotes and pheasants to the metro Detroit ecosystem, working their way in along medians and brownfields from the far suburbs and beyond. It was an astonishing sight to look out the car window going 40 mph and see a bird I generally associate with the rural areas of the upper midwest hanging out on a downtown corner. Yet even in this part of Michigan, the birds are an introduced species, brought to western portions of the lower peninsula in the late 19th century and spreading from there, finding a suitable environment across Detroit’s landscape of medians, railroad track sidings, and interspersed green- and brownfields. WDET 101.9 has provided some useful info on the birds’ presence in Detroit today here.