Sunday, August 31, 2008

Permanence and impermanence

I've lived in my current house for quite a few years now. Soon after coming here, I found that, almost exactly a mile and a half from my front door, there was a large rock in front of a car dealership. It was sitting right on the corner at the end of a relatively nice route, fairly shady, and, since my minimum run for the day is just about three miles, became something of a landmark for me. I would run there less than once a week (and if my minimum for a period became more than three miles, even less); nonetheless, it became a touchstone, something familiar.

When I was a kid, my family moved from the Chicago area to Grand Rapids, Michigan. As will happen when you leave other family behind, we made the trip back and forth quite a few times in and around the four years we lived there. On the way was the exit for Coloma, Michigan, and there was at least one billboard for Deer Forest. My brother, not very old, became fascinated by the name, and, since it was far enough along that my mother could use a driving break, we stopped there a couple of times. And it was quite horrible, this petting zoo with scrawny little animals and very little else. My memories are dim, but I just remember this narrow road leading back to this decrepit facility, and the little captive creatures looked unhappy, and it was all pretty miserable.

The car dealership moved out about a year ago, and a large office supply chain has razed the lot for a brand new facility. And, though I knew it was probably coming, as a big rock doesn't fit the corporate image, I ran down that shady street a week ago, came around the corner, and "The Rock" was no more. Gone. In a community with teardowns and turnover and constant growth, that one thing that I thought was as solid as, well, a rock is now no more, reduced to gravel or sitting decoratively in a construction foreman's back yard.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had to make a quick trip across Michigan and back on Thursday. And I saw something that flabbergasted me: a billboard for Deer Forest in Coloma, Michigan. So little did I believe my eyes that I looked for it on the way back, and the billboard was set up westward as well. It's still there, after all these decades, and the billboard has a picture of a Ferris wheel and other attractions, and their web site (not a particularly attractive one, in my opinion) shows a bunch of rides for the kids, along with the usual assortment of animals.

So "The Rock" is gone, and another symbol of permanence that marks a community in such a small way has been removed because it doesn't fit the corporate guidebook for pleasing frontage area. And Deer Forest remains, long after a time when it might have skimmed a few tired tourists and their kids off the highway, long after the moment I would have thought it had outlived any possible relevance in its indifference.

I'm seeing significance here, but I'm not quite putting my finger on "le mot juste" (or, more likely, "les mots justes") to express it. Perhaps it's just that, in some way, I cared more for "The Rock" than I ever did for Deer Forest, that a seedy petting zoo in backwater Michigan just fails to have the resonance for me that an seemingly unchanging hunk of stone does. And I guess I hope that "The Rock" is giving someone somewhere some kind of pleasure, and that Deer Forest is thriving and creating enjoyment for a new generation of zoo-goers.

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