Upon where the Red Cedar meets the Grand: Lansing and Views of Rooted Americana

Lansing Station at Dusk
Swallows chant creation songs above the old train station. Photo by D.A. Lockhart

At the heart of Michigan, along the water course of the Grand and Red Cedar rivers, in the territory of the Anishinabek nation I come to the settler home built by Cadillacs, car parts, and politicians. Long fallow factories, the quiet of a place when workers return totheir distance homes, and sleepy possibility that lies ahead in lazy seasons fills the air between buildings and classic wood homes. In it, there rests an American heart that I have not seen since Indianapolis and that I have not felt since Dan Wakefield’s city novel Going All the Way. Cool late spring nights still find an emptying of spectators from amateur baseball and the electric light on mid-rise office buildings and fresh pre-fabricated condos sing triumphant beneath the scaffolding of the nearby capital dome. This is the Americana that one finds in the determined literature of the region. Yet from Pere Marquette street this is a place that hums with a different energy than anything felt in more middling places like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. I’ve come here to speak about writing at a symposium.
Here, the opposite side of the Medicine Line and the gentile aspects of French ancestors and British Colonial rule find a home that we don’t often feel elsewhere. Detroit a mere hour and a half by automobile away is a different beast now. Transformed by waves of southern migrations, that city is a grand northern dirty industrial city with a collard green and ham hock heart. While the French is there in name, like roadside markers to what has past, history and a powerful sense of self has changed for Detroit. It is the transformative monster of culture and people in this state. It carved an identity through its will from the production line to Motown to Techno, Detroit has come to sing Michigan to the world. Yet, as is often the case with a place the size of Michigan, the song is not all inclusive. It sings for itself and for the present, if not the future. It is proudly alive and ever-moving forward. For that, more than three centuries in, it is worth singing about. Detroit is its own entity. Lansing something else.

Elevator at Blue Coyote Lofts
Even the elevator knows where it is. Photo by author.

The experience of the peoples beyond the cone of life in its southwestern corner is relatively different. There is a rooted organic aspect to it where the rich past pours through, spills its banks, and fills the roadways, alleyways, neighbourhoods, and parks with every moment of what passed before it. In Lansing, one can still feel the traditional peoples upon the land. One can feel denim clad and Nike shoe padded feet along the sidewalks of streets like Sparrow, Larch, or Kalamazoo. Cargo trains bray into the night with the same abandon as coyotes in the right light. For purpose, for attention, for the simple reason that their being calls for it. To the end that this inland city lacks a brashness, it falls more to tradition, more to the place that birthed than the place others could dream it to be.
In that organic self, it does feel oddly utopic. There is a surging wave of total modern Americanism that has yet to crash here and in the still before something that might never come, is the idea that homes and living are cheap, and ambitions have little to do with leaving, more to carry on something better than they were left with. Lansing and its place on Anishinabek land speaks in way I haven’t heard or felt since Indy. Although it is an additive speech, one that includes a people not entirely forcibly scraped from their land. It is quieter here, without the traffic it feels by large measure more organic, more at peace with itself. Perhaps I felt this is my younger days when I seemed to idolize this region. The medicine in this country agrees with me in a way that might go beyond what I believed to be my history, beyond my cognitive ability to have read it in my youth. There is something overly recognizably here that I feel I have yet to grasp. Know that in this place the settlers now call Lansing, that is a peace and rootedness that the automotive state often misses with its highway lifestyle. Here is the stillness amongst the change, the steady trickle of inland rivers as they merge and move through a land that rejects the names placed upon it, seeks only to entice the roots of those that walk upon it.

Grand River flows past downtown Lansing




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