Posts Tagged ‘nature’

With so much of the city’s population moving away over the years and vacant homes removed, many of Detroit’s neighborhoods have turned into urban prairies. As I’ve written in past blog entries, the city’s prairies spread across blocks and blocks of open land, land that once contained homes packed in so close that only a sidewalk divided them.

 Also gone are the small specialty stores such as bakeries and butcher shops that served the population of those once vibrant neighborhoods. In some cases, small manufacturing facilities shared the same landscape employing those that once lived nearby.

Riding through many of Detroit’s neighborhoods on my bicycle, I occasionally spot small, simple looking community churches out on the urban prairies where the homes and businesses once stood. They are usually quite old, made of clapboard wood painted white and have a simple contrasting colored cross mounted near the entrance. Most look to be former homes and are located off the beaten path, creating a sense of loneliness to them that I find inviting.

A small church on the prairies of Detroit

A small church on the prairies of Detroit

On Sunday mornings and early afternoon the pastoral houses of worship and surrounding streets come alive with church goers. It’s quite a stark contrast to their dormant, lifeless existence during the week when no one is around.

Pedaling by the old weathered structures during those Sunday services, I usually stop and listen to the rhythm and blues flavored gospel music that streams from the open doors and windows. The spiritual music, singing, and chanting coming from within those small unassuming places is a moving and uplifting moment in an otherwise lonesome environment.

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Detroit’s Belle Isle Park is a big place. It spans about 950 acres, and it includes woodlands, canals, and small inland lakes and ponds. It is located in the middle of the Detroit River, one of the busiest waterways in the world. Canada is on the south side of the island and the city of Detroit is on the north. It is the largest island park of its kind in the U.S., and it was designed in the 1880s by Fredrick Law Olmstead, the same landscape architect that designed New York’s famous Central Park.

In addition to the winding streets and pathways that cut through the interior of the park, there is an outer ring road that circles the island. It is a 5-mile loop around the island starting and ending at the foot of the Belle Bridge that connects the island to Detroit’s mainland. It’s a beautiful, leisurely ride on a bicycle, especially in the early morning or late evening.

On the Northeast side of the island is a good-sized inland lake with beautiful blue water. Lining the shore of the lake are big, bushy Weeping Willow trees that stand around 70 feet tall. When I rode by there the other evening on a casual bike ride, the lake was still and calm, without a ripple to be seen.

Looking at the northeast end of the lake as I rounded a corner, I was immediately in awe of what I saw. The gently setting sun had highlighted the water’s deep blue color, and reflecting across the smooth surface was the vibrant green Weeping Willow trees. The reflections were a perfect crystal clear mirror image of what was growing on the banks of the lake. The reflections of the lake-lined trees were dreamlike in their beauty and surreal in their appearance. As the sun drifted lower, the effect slowly faded.

Here is a sampling of what I saw on that little lake on the island as I slowly pedaled by.

Belle Isle #5_7636

Belle Isle #3_7656

Belle Isle #6_7653

Belle Isle #4_7661

Belle Isle #2_7648

Belle Isle#1_7641

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Saturday was a perfect day in Detroit to be on a bicycle. It was breezy, sunny, and the temperature was in the mid-seventies; an unusually warm day for mid-March. So I took advantage of the day’s heat by jumping on my bike and riding the ten or so miles to downtown.  Pedaling along, I was quickly reminded how cautious I needed to be on my spring rides. Not so much because of buses and traffic; that’s a given…but because of the broken glass and trash that seem to accumulate along the curb areas this time of year. I didn’t want to fix a flat tire on my first two-wheeled trip downtown this year.

On my way I passed through the Historic Eastern Market. It was jammed with shoppers pulling carts and carrying bags of fresh goodies. Russell Street, the main through street of the market, was gridlocked with cars, all vying for a place to park. Like most warm days at the market, blue smoke from barbeque pits that lined a section of the street cast a sweet-smelling haze across the area. It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and plenty of shoppers were dressed in green.

The moose on Mack Ave had the Irish spirit

From the market I zigzagged through numerous downtown streets to check-out the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Like Eastern Market there were gobs of people dressed in green wandering the streets. The city’s most famous downtown Irish pub had two circus sized tends set up in parking lots behind the place, and they were jammed with revelers. In fact, there were long lines of motionless people leading into the two tent entrances. The lines, at least four people wide, stretched a block from each opening. I could hear music coming from tents well before I got there, and surprisingly it wasn’t Irish. It was Techno!  So much for a true Irish celebration.

Next, I biked out Michigan Avenue a mile or so, to Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, an early enclave of Irish settlers. The Corktown area of Michigan Ave. is lined with Irish saloons and, like the place downtown, they were crammed with party goers brightly dressed in the color of the day. Many were moving from pub-to-pub taking in the activities. But unlike the place downtown, the music of Ireland was pouring out of the drinking establishments.

Since I haven’t been out on my bike for a few months, checking out some of the city’s graffiti hotspots was in order. Therefore, I headed out Trumbull Street to one of favorite outdoor galleries, an unassuming wall along some railroad tracks. Once I made my way to the wall, I found some fresh, colorful pieces that weren’t there last fall. Checking them out, I was amazed, as always, at the flow and how creative the graffiti artists can be using only paint from spray cans. After poking around the site for a while, I hopped on my bike and headed back to the eastside.

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