“Wildest Dreams” from the urban wilderness along the Menomonee River
March 7, 2023 | Topics: Stories
By Eddee Daniel
Like few other places in its watershed, here in a wedge between highways, between the suburb and the city, the Menomonee River twists and turns like a snake writhing to elude a predator’s grasp. One of the meanings of wild is free of constraints, as in “one’s wildest dreams,” which involves allowing the imagination free reign. Then it can “run wild,” unencumbered by the reservations of civility, logic, or reason. This stretch of river has a wild character that surpasses my wildest dreams.
It isn’t an easy place to be.
There are no trails. One cannot go for a relaxing stroll. I plow through chest-deep grass, climb over or duck under fallen trees, scramble around eroded gullies, crawl through brush, all the while pushing aside nettles and burdock, stumbling in hidden holes, and sinking in mud.
Luminist painters notwithstanding, wilderness is not inherently scenic in classical aesthetic terms. Here, a venerable cluster of giant trees is upended—thrown with unimaginable violence across the river. Its base still knotted together, a great mass of soil rears high overhead. Torn roots intertwine like a fistful of worms, simultaneously clutching and surrendering with convoluted gestures. Backed up behind the broken trunks, an incoherent mass of driftwood and debris demolishes all sense of the placid river flowing beneath.
And yet it can be seen as beautiful. There is a kind of purity to the ugliness of nature that makes it palatable in contrast to human-made ugliness, which possesses a conceptual repellence that goes beyond visual aesthetics.
An old dump lies partially hidden in a ravine behind a fallow field above the river bluff. Among the more typical rubbish is the wreckage of gasoline pumps, their inner workings exposed like the uneaten entrails of a butchered animal. Numerals stare from small square slots, like unclosed eyes on a corpse, registering a price fixed for eternity. Is it a symbol of the debt we owe the Earth by extracting its precious oil to burn?
Wilderness in its purest sense refers to a place untouched by humankind. An urban wilderness may be a place that has been neglected long enough to have acquired its wanton temperament and donned its disheveled attire. A place, it’s possible, of peace and beauty. In your wildest dreams.
Note: “Wildest Dreams” is an excerpt from Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, published in 2008, which is a compilation of similar anecdotal narratives based on my journeys in the Menomonee River watershed. The two images embedded in that text also appeared in the book. The photo essay that follows are more recent photos from some of the wilder sections of the Menomonee River corridor.
Eddee Daniel is currently a board member of Preserve Our Parks. Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed was published while he served on the board of Friends of the Menomonee River, precursor to Milwaukee Riverkeeper. This and many other books can be found on the books page of his website.
4 thoughts on "“Wildest Dreams” from the urban wilderness along the Menomonee River"
Beautiful as always!
Eddie,your photos are incredible….especially the one in Sarasota. Lots of info about the Menomonee River,but how sad to see discarded metal and junk
The Sarasota picture is amazing. What is the location?
Your Menominee River blog was wonderful. I have always wanted to explore this area, but I now know it would be too difficult for me, so it was a treat to read about it and enjoy the photos.
Hi Barbara, Thanks. The Sarasota shot was from Culverhouse Nature Park.
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