Sunday, August 21, 2005

On Both Sides

I was on the river today- a new canoe, a solo rig, only 12' long and weighing in at a mere 33 lbs. Somehow, as one gets older, portaging is not quite the delirious fun it was when one was younger, hence the welcome reduction in weight. I live in a town named "Anoka", legend has it that it is an old Indian word meaning "on both sides"- because a river, the Rum, runs neatly through town- from the north to the south, exiting at the Mississippi at a spot where Father Hennepin once stayed on his 17th century wanderings. In a solo canoe one's attention is always on the banks ahead; are there places sheltered from the sun or wind, are there sunken hazards or speedboats to contend with? When you are out on your own, you have no one else to help you (and no one else to blame) if you end up in trouble.

On the east bank is the River Trail, visible at times, running roughly parallel to the river. On a fine day like this, the trail is full of people, you can clearly hear the conversations of the cyclists and hikers as you paddle past. There are geese, and ducks, and songbirds, and, hidden from view but there nonetheless- are raccoon, groundhog, fox, opossum, feral cats, deer and even an occasional coyote. An egret or blue heron has been known to drop in from time to time. Swamps and prairies alternate with stands of oak and pine. A dozen or more micro-habitats are on display in the two miles that I traversed.

The west bank is "private". There are many nice homes on well tended lots, some with docks, The vegetation is grass, with a variety of shade and ornamental trees and shrubs. I have been going up and down this river for twenty years and I can't recall seeing anybody or any critter on those properties. They have nearly a "twilight zone" aura of emptiness about them. I know people live there, these are premium sites, much in demand.

There is currently interest in the trail lands by real estate and construction interests, who see this land as "undeveloped". Their plans include building expensive homes, even bigger than the ones that already exist on the west bank, for "best use", meaning most short-term profit for them. The trails and natural parkland are already "best use", the city couldn't build or buy anything to replace it. There will soon be a large complex of mixed housing built nearby (on reclaimed industrial property) and the trail property will be used more than ever. Or it will be divided, denuded, developed and destroyed.

By Professor Batty



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