The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The most impressive act of human hubris visible from the top of the Sky Factory is the Shipping & Sanitary canal. What a piece of art. You can see how it works: A 28-mile-long ditch on the surface of a sphere changes the drainage of 44000 square miles. Frankly I'm surprised it hasn't happened naturally. We never really think about the fact that we're sitting on top of a continental ridge, and if the Grand Calumet hadn't flooded and diverted in 1804 then Chicago would be just the second-shortest portage from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Mississippi and would probably be no bigger than Green Bay WI today (where you can enter the Fox and then portage from the Lower Fox to the Wisconsin River).

The day they opened that channel the river flowed blue, the only time in history. "Look at the river, it's as blue as the sky!" someone said. It must have been great to flush all our poo to St. Louis until we got sued by the other cities that sit on Lake Michigan for stealing their shoreline. Now we can only drain as much as the U.S. Supreme Court lets us.

Chicago is actually a hotbed of hydrological engineering. There's the I&M canal, the reversing of Stoney Creek, the Calumet Feeder Canal, the Cal-Sag channel, the reversing of the Little Calumet, not to mention the Deep Tunnel. And yet not an island in sight. Oh, there's Goose Island, that election-bid gimmick made by the first mayor; there's the intake cribs that are guarded by the Coast Guard. But what we sorely lack is a place that can only be reached by boat.

..and so we content ourselves with places on the mainland that can only be reached by boat. Some places on the river (like in slips) are incredibly quiet and natural- you look around, you see herons and trees, you don't see buildings. It's like a secret park. I find myself drawn to rail corridors and the river, because there lie the places that cannot be easily reached. Once you train yourself to look for the right convergence of street and impassable geographic feature, you find these places all over the place. Sure, they attract coyotes, but that's not too much of a problem. I'd like to spend this summer exploring the north branch up to where it goes back into the lake, and then turn my attention to the south side. Now I just need to perfect my amphibious bikeboat...


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