Julio the Canal Heron.

Since moving back to Phoenix, I’ve fallen in love with life along the many canals that criss-cross The Valley.

That, and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s my destiny to happen upon a corpse while canal-combing.

Just yesterday, I was accosted by a deranged, drunken homeless couple for “passing through their turf” on the Arizona Canal by 20th Ave.

Last week, I met a few transplanted Zacatecan vaqueros out by 70th avenue, where ranchitos line the canal.

Sure, I enjoy the stretches of canal in Scottsdale, Tempe and Glendale, full of bird life, landscaped greenery and families that make you want to puke with how perfect they seem.

But the grit. That’s my first love.

In between the grit, you can catch a majestic gray heron coasting low over the putrid water.

Or you can hang out with Tommy, a retired old Caucasian down by the AZ Canal at Central High School, where he flits between his three fishing lines, pulling in carp or re-setting bait.

“Do you actually eat those fish?” I ask him.

“Damn straight. Season with lemon.”

The canal carp, in fact, are thriving. As are the ducks, swallows and the sandpipers.

Watching the endless quantities of garbage and animal life flush by has the added bonus of curing you of your desire to drink city tap water. I don’t care what water treatment facilities are doing to make that water potable. I’ll be filling up at a WaterMart, thank you very much.

And if the WaterMart is getting its water from the canals, please just don’t tell me, okay?

Which is what I’m driving at when I begin to fall in love with ALL of the canal system. Something about wanting to know the truth. The idea that the overwhelming ugliness and filth of much of the canal system is actually our bedrock.

Yeah, we certainly know how to enjoy the new up-and-coming restaurants, the concerts and museums, or the perfect parks and urban sculptures. We’re good at that part.

But we cannot keep escaping to suburbs.

At some point, we’re going to have to separate the acquisition of money from the right to separate ourselves from all that that money is built upon.

I see this starting to happen as the canal neighborhoods mingle. One neighborhood, fixed-up and cared-for, seeps its magic across the boulevard and, soon, the demented neighborhood next door with a Pit Bull in every yard is sprouting groomed bougainvillea and after-market Canterra.

The canal, a project spearheaded by Phoenix visionaries Winfield Scott and William J. Murphy, built upon the ingenuity of the lost Hohokam, is a gift that makes those rounds of golf possible, those ornamental lakes, those skyscrapers and citrus orchards our blessed inheritance.

So what if my motivation to traverse all the canals in Phoenix has been my own sick desire to happen upon a bloated corpse and perhaps poke it with a stick before calling the authorities?

That’s between me, my shrink, and my love of the movie “Stand By Me.”

You have nothing at stake here. Why not insult me?

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