In Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, there is a man-made canal that drains water from Lake Superior, runs it through town at a brisk flow, and pours it through the generators of the Edison Sault Hydroelectric plant. After spinning the turbines, the water runs into the Saint Marys River, which flows south and southeast 40 miles to Lake Huron. If the Edison Sault power canal were a river, which is what some people call it, though they shouldn't, it would be the ugliest one in the world. The canal is lined with broken blocks of concrete and is fenced along its course. It has opaque water and flows with a uniform lack of character; there are none of the riffles and eddies and rapids and holes that make creeks and rivers the pleasurable things that they are.
If you're walking through town, or driving, the canal is a constant inconvenience because you always have to go over a block this way or that in order to find a bridge to cross. When I lived on Pine Street, I had to cross the canal to get to the laundromat, the good restaurants, the happening bars, and my friends' houses. What's more, the canal can't even be thanked for providing all of the electricity for the city, because much of the wattage it generates gets fused into a power grid formed by a conglomerate of electricity production facilities downstate. And on top of that the 97-year-old canal carries on its currents a constant reminder that the Saint Marys River, which was once the unmolested travelway and fishery of the Chippewa Indians, is now a docile stretch of water stocked full of exotic pests, tapped by industries, and divided by dikes and canals like a giant rope unbraided into a tangle of weak threads.
One would think that the canal is a contemptible beast, unfit for a town as lovely as Sault Sainte Marie. But I must admit that my hatred for it is tainted by a deep love, for the canal is an inauspicious yet excellent place to catch native Great Lakes whitefish, one of the finest-tasting creatures in the world.