On my penultimate morning in Ann Arbor, I visited my favorite spot, the Green Slime Pond.
The emerald algae-covered watery depression in Eberwhite Woods was my Thinking Place during my first dozen or so years here, a contemplative spot that fit either a mood of Pooh-like wonderment or an Eeyore-ish gloom. And it offered astounding natural cacophony during the annual spring peeper concerts on the first warm evenings of each year.
I first discovered those woods on a February day in 1993. My two children slid about on the thin ice that covered the nearby vernal pool. I was thrilled to soon find a house to buy nearby.
On the summer solstice this year, on my leave-taking visit to the woods, that black-water pond was overflowing from torrential rains. It’s supposed to dry up during the summer, not expand. But then, every year is a new unknown.
A lot can change in twenty-two of them. Those kids are now in Chicago and Australia, living their own adult lives. When we lived nearby on Soule, and later on Eberwhite Blvd., I used to jog these paths and cross-country ski them in winter. Now I hobbled down them with a cane, picking my way around fallen oaks, having experienced strokes, divorce, a new partner, books to write and edit, many friendships, new gigs, new digs–and many other things as unexpected as summer monsoons yet somehow as inevitable as all those new luxury high-rises downtown.
As an alumnus of Michigan State, I’d never expected to spend this much of my life in Wolverine territory, and though I settled in nicely to the easy privilege of life in this town, I never felt like I completely belonged. Except in the Eberwhite Woods, where I always felt at home. Every fall for years I helped lead the schoolchildren pulling their sleds of wood chips to re-carpet the trails. I vividly recall the horrible July buzz of the gypsy moth invasion that led to the controversial felling of many of the decimated old oaks–as a member of the school’s woods committee that made the fateful call, it was the closest I ever dared venture into local politics.
Tall trees fall heavily, as do the years. Change seems so slow as to be imperceptible–until it isn’t. Ann Arbor is the same town that it was when I arrived in 1993, and yet it is vastly different. Even my old path to the pond is barely discernible. A huge swale has taken half the old field behind Zion Lutheran, usurping the community garden where I once toiled mightily to scratch out a few virtuous vegetables. As I entered the woods, I could no longer see the pieces of the old church foundation; they’ve apparently either been removed or covered over. The “monkey vines” my kids used to swing on are gone too. But the main paths endure, and people still walk dogs, though I did not recognize their faces.
They didn’t recognize mine either. My last summer solstice in Ann Arbor came and went quietly, like those who walk the woods. Other parents and their children hear the frogs screech now. Though the pond looks much the same, those are different turtles sunning themselves on the logs. This dude has moved back to Detroit, the city he left twenty-two years ago. But the Green Slime Pond abides.
Calls & letters, October 2015:
Duckweed, not algae
“Very nice poignant article about Eberwhite Woods,” Carol Mousigian emailed after reading Michael Betzold’s September My Town. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who shares his sentiment. But I have to point out that the algae the author spoke of is actually duckweed. Think thousands of micro lily pads all pushed together to form a solid bright green mat. Not so much slimy as weedy.”