When I was just a wee kid, my parents had this cd of classic summertime Oldies tunes collated by a local radio station, and my brother and friends and I loved them, dancing around the dining and living rooms singing them loud, standing on the couches. Right now, I’ve got Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful playing in my head: “Hot town, summer in the city – back of my neck gettin burnt and gritty…but at night, it’s a different world – go out and find a girl – come on, come on, let’s dance all night, despite the heat it’ll be all right…” This is the first summer since 2007 that I’ll have spent fully in an American urban area. The last four I lived in national parks; the one before that was traveling through Europe and then starting my season in a wilderness area of northern California; before that I spent all summer living in a tiny cabin at U of M’s biostation in the woods. And here I find myself now in this bustling blob of two cities affixed to one another, and it is hot (highs of nineties already) and it is gritty and yet there is still a surprising amount of green here. And the street fairs, the sidewalk tables, the rooftop bars, the light rail blowing by.
If I have to spend an entire summer in a house on a paved street with a 20-mile commute to my job at a Zoo where people sell cotton candy and rainbow-colored lollipops, then this does not seem like a bad city to be in. It’s luxuriantly green right now, aided by days of afternoon thunderstorms. There are the lakes and I can hear the chickens clucking in my neighbor’s backyard. Last night I met some new people at a house atop a towering narrow staircase, who played guitars and drums and sang songs about cats and koala bears. I had some great visitors from Detroit a couple days ago and they made me nostalgic for that big complicated city I love, but I am excited too to see what happens to this place when you add heat and water.
Still, you have to get out sometimes. Or maybe you don’t, but I certainly do. Last weekend was a long one, for Memorial Day, and my friend Luke and I headed north for a three-day backpacking trip in the Boundary Waters. The days were long and warm, the nights were strung with long looping loon calls, and there were flat blue lakes settled deeply in the rich old forest. We saw a snapping turtle who opened his mouth at as threateningly, looking exactly like a small dinosaur in his ancient home, and a bald eagle soaring just off the ridgeline, and a beaver making his way home. Bypassed piles of moose droppings and wolf scat on the trail. We had smoky fires to keep the mosquitos at bay, but found literally dozens of wood ticks on ourselves to the point where it just about lost its charm. Tiny stove made us hot food, the water filter held out, we left the fly off the tent and used the stars as cover. The trail we took was green and mossy, and since maybe about fifty people hike this Border Route Trail in a year, it was strewn with fallen trees and encroached upon by dogwoods. We set humanity behind ourselves, for a few days, and for awhile it was just us and a spilling complexity of verdancy and buzzing other-life. I slipped into some ice cold lakes, bare feet scrabbling on the slippery rocks below the surface, watched loons approach me as I felt little ripples of waves hitting my ribs.
Back in the city, now, off to a street fair soon with my friend Greg for some day beers and thunderstorm and people watching, but all of that is still out there. That old turtle lumbers on. The brown toads hop through the moss. The little gray vole we saw by Pine Lake is still running from hole to hole. The dogwoods spread their leaves. I’m glad they carry on, or at the very least their offspring do. Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy some hot sidewalks and the music that spills out onto them. There’s time in this world for all of it.
(Also, you – I think of you and am thankful whenever I build a fire outdoors. So much new knowledge!)