When I was a student at Michigan State University, I sustained an injury to my left hip that left me unable to walk more than a block before my back would begin to spasm. I went to a physical medicine specialist on campus who treated me on the condition that I allow his pre med students to participate in my treatment. That worked out until he put on his professor cap and refused to understand that my physical state was interfering with my studies. We parted company. I found a chiropractor on the west side of Lansing. He began “treating” me by giving me an adjustment and taking x-rays of my spine with a silent x-ray machine. When he showed me the picture of my spine, at my second visit, I wanted to collar him up. I knew immediately that the film he showed me was not of my spine. The picture of the spine looked like it belonged to someone with kypho rotoscoliosis but I wasn’t supposed to know that. I was desperate for help and my conventional source of treatment at the University had let me down.
I went to the chiropractor faithfully for weeks. He would adjust my hips, spine and shoulders, followed by a lecture on the virtue of walking. At the end of the 7th session, he announced that he was moving out-of-state! Judging by his demeanor, leaving the state did not seem to be a choice of his making. His quackery had caught up with him. I never saw him again nor did I receive a final bill for his services. He left Lansing like a thief in the night.
My cynical physiatrist and my quack chiropractor had let me down but the experiences served as motivation for me. It’s my body and I won’t get another one! I had to come up with plan C.
I lived on Harrison Road, on the western border of campus, right across from an intra mural practice field. At night the field was just several acres of plush green grass. I began walking around the field at night. When my muscles in the lower back betrayed me and began to spasm, I would lay down in the grass and look at the sky. After a few weeks, I was able to walk without my muscles conspiring against me.
Like many of the lessons learned, during my time in East Lansing, the value of walking became one of the most import. In 2000, I moved out of my home on the eastside and found an apartment one block from my place of employment behind the historic Fisher building, in an effort to once again preserve my health and well being.
When I turned in my leased Lincoln Town Car, in the fall of 2005, I decided to forgo the expense of a vehicle altogether. I walked or caught the city bus for almost 2 years.
By the fall of 2007, I grew weary of fighting with cab drivers and having to leave 2 hours in advance of appointments to ride SMART busses. I bought a car. In order to continue my regimen that had increased my lung capacity and caused me to lose about 30 pounds, I began going out to Belle Isle and walking a 2 mile route that I created for myself.
I now go to the island year round but I have developed a fondness for walking about in the winter. There is virtually no traffic and only the hardiest people are on the island walking or riding bikes. I usually wait until it’s dry and at least 30 degrees farenheit before I go out there. I wear 4 or sometimes 5 layers of windproof clothing. I almost always encounter an older white gentleman – who has to be over 70 – walking around in a winter hat, a scarf around his neck, a jogging suit and a thick pair of gloves! He makes me feel like a real punk all bundled up from head to toe! I do take my 2 pair of gloves off when I take pictures.
There are on the island swans that seem to be more visible in the winter than during the summer months. Today, I tried to sneak up on what I thought was a stork but as soon as I got within 30 yards of it, it flew out of my cell phone camera’s range! In the spring of 2010, I got within 50 feet of what looked like an eagle but it flew away before I could get a closer look.
Canadian geese were in abundance a few years ago but like the albino deer, they mysteriously disappeared from the island.
There is an abundance of wild life on the island. Black, brown and gray Squirrels frolic seemingly without regard to people or cars; Gulls, Finches, Sparrows and pigeons flock to vehicles that bring them bread and burrowing furry animals the size of fat cats live at the water’s edge but disappear when the island gets too congested.
I went to throw away an empty water container and discovered two baby raccoons snuggled in the bottom of a trash container. Momma stashed them in what seemed to be a safe place but failed to extract them before we space invaders took over the island. My walkabouts allow my urban ass to be one with nature for a few moments in time. I spend as much time as I can afford to on the island. Like the inhabitants, I tend to shy away from the droves of people who come to the island on the weekends and evenings, during the spring and summer. And I stick to open areas. I used to go into the interior of the island to feed the deer but a few years ago the deer vanished without a trace. A confidant informed me that City managers decided to quarantine the deer in the zoo before the last Grand Prix. The confinement led to their untimely demise. Bureaucrats rarely think outside the fiscal box.
I extended my course today and went over to the fish pond between the Conservatory and the Aquarium. The fish heard me coming. When I stepped down to the gates, the fish swam to the edge of the murky pond.
The Friends of Belle Isle have been patiently lobbying the City to reopen the Aquarium. I attended some of the meetings hosted by Kwame Kenyatta, in 2010, but it’s still unclear to me as to the reasons the City refuses to turn over management of the facility to a group that is interested in preserving this historical venue. I know that Belle Isle is relatively low on the list of priorities that the City of Detroit has but it is truly one of the greatest treasures that the city possesses.
There is a movement in urban areas to get back to the earth; to create gardens, to ride bikes and other vehicles that require physical exertion. People here in Detroit are renovating public parks, so that they will have a green space for their children to make use of. Even if you don’t live near a park you can walk during your breaks at work or find a safe place to walk after work or on weekend. You will find that its good for your body and your spirit.