When I was younger, I would often go on tiny trips to small isolated pockets of woods. They were rarely actually far from civilization at all, but to my childish imagination they were the deepest wilderness I’d ever experienced. One of these was a tiny ‘river’ behind the Cleveland Heights recreation center. In retrospect it’s hardly a stream at all, but at the time it was a joy to visit the small stand of trees and listen to the babble of flowing water, stomp in the mud, and fill my pockets with pieces of sandstone and leaves. But one day when I went I realized the air was different; a strangely sweet scent lingered among the trees, masking the usual heavy scent of decaying leaves. It was almost sickly, yet familiar. I followed it to its source–to my horror, the ‘river’ itself.
I hadn’t realized it at the time, but the source of the river was some kind of run-off from a massive pipe embedded in the hill which had previously been hidden by a fallen branch. As its leaves fell off, the illusion had fallen to reveal an echoing pipe from which thick, sickly sweet-smelling bubbles flowed from. Astringent cleaning supplies and detergent–the source of the bubbles, leftovers from a nearby car wash– had found their way into this tiny trickle of a stream, which I now realized had never really been a stream at all. It was just a valley to fill with run-off and waste. If nature benefitted in any way from the water, it was only out of coincidence and quickly nullified by the astringent chemicals the car-washing companies felt free to dump wherever they pleased. I’d wondered, had this place ever really been nature at all?