The Dog Park at the End of the Universe

Over the last few months, I’ve been contributing some short essays on small town life from North Dakota Quarterly’s back yard in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Here’s one, In Praise of Trucks, and another, Alone Together in a Small Town, and another, Bump outs, Logistics, and Citizenship in a Small Town. I pretend that they’re chapters in a fictional book of essays on life in Grand Forks, North Dakota.. 

– Bill Caraher, Editor

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 before looping back along some of the park roads and returning to the riverside path. The scenery is pleasant and the route is uncrowded. 

This route 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. NDQ editorial board member David Haeselin wrote a book about this flood called Haunted by Waters in 2017 and it was publishes by our friends at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota 

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 in the northeastern part of the park.  

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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.

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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. At the end of time, there are dogs.

There is also a river, as anyone who has read Heart of Darkness or watched Apocalypse Now knows. The Styx sets off the underworld from the world of the living. 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, maybe Minnesota, but no one knows for sure). The flood walls keep the timeless river at bay, and keeps those of us committed to time safe from its banks where time erodes so slowly that it stops.

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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. 

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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 offer a vision of a civilized future, but the now buried and once-inundated Maple Street, Omega Street, and Lincoln Drive present a powerful counter argument.

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Lincoln Park and the dog park at the end of the universe haunt me (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 me daily 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.

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