This is a follow up post on something that I wrote a few years ago. I’ve been thinking about the space of Lincoln Park especially after reading Shannon Lee Dawdy’s Patina (2016) and thinking about David Haeselin’s edited volume Haunted by Waters (2017). It’s also a chapter in my fictional book of essays on life in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
I run in a place called Lincoln Park in Grand Forks, North Dakota. My usual run loops down through the frisbee golf course and follows a path that runs along the Red River of the North, and then does a loop on some of the park roads before returning to the riverside path. The scenery is pleasant and the route is uncrowded.
This route also takes me by the dog park at the end of the universe. It is a fenced-off acre of the park where dogs can run and be free and do dog stuff. It is also at the end of time.
Lincoln Park is built atop what used to be the thriving Lincoln Drive neighborhood in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The flood of 1997 destroyed the houses of Lincoln Drive and the Army Corp raised whatever was left to install a new series of more substantial flood walls on the land side of the neighborhood. Today the area is Lincoln Park. Most of the roads of the neighborhood are covered with grass today, but even the most casual stroll through the park makes their routes obvious. Depressions marking the backfilled basements of the destroyed homes flank these routes. Some of the curbs and surface of Omega Avenue remain visible, though.
As an archaeologists, I’m intently aware that time is a particularly useful linear construct for ordering events. It is part of what makes us human, I suspect. As with any linear construct, it has a beginning and an end. Time is also a distinctly local phenomenon. In some places, time appears to move very slowly (say, during a boring lecture on campus) and in other places it races along with reckless abandon (say, during my runs when the more I try to go fast, the faster time slips away). The dog park marks the end of the Lincoln Park universe.
In fact, the very presence of dogs amid the ruins of this neighborhood gives the space a funerary cast. As Homer tells us in Book 1 of the Iliad, Achilles’ anger left the bodies of heroes to be consumed by dogs and birds and consigned their souls to Hades in the underworld.
The underworld is set off from the world of the living by the river Styx. On the one side of the river is the space of time and on the other, the timeless afterlife. I’ve never followed the Red River of the North but I suspect it goes to somewhere timeless (maybe Canada, but no one knows for sure). The flood walls keep the timeless river at bay, but also opens a gash along its banks where time erodes so slowly that it stops.
Lincoln Park evokes the J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World where rising sea levels drag humanity back to primordial time. Jeff VanderMeer’s overgrown and abandoned world from the Southern Reach Trilogy likewise frustrates human time by allowing nature to assert its dominance over a marshy, riverine coast.
There are some signs, of course, that time refused to let go without a struggle in Lincoln Park. Every now and then a chunk of concrete pushes up through the grass and filled foundations draw surface into their hollows. When storms fell trees planted along the now-buried roads, the other trees appear to stand just a bit taller and more defiant in response. They seem to challenge nature in the same way that the neatly ordered grid of homes standing on streets just on the other side of the wall does. Cherry Street, Oak Street, Reeves Drive, Belmont Drive do their best to remind us of the past, of time, and of the future, but the now buried and once-inundated Maple Street, Omega Street, and Lincoln Drive present a powerful counter argument.
Lincoln Park and the dog park at the end of the universe are useful to have nearby (even through my dogs can’t go to the dog park any more. The little Greek dog can’t stop starting arguments that my larger yellow dog feels compelled to finish). It reminds us that the river doesn’t care about our notions of time and that soon enough our entire world will be food for dogs and birds.