Saturday, July 25, 2009


Above is a recent brood of three young osprey who were residing at a rather unlikely, yet hopeful place: on a telephone pole in the former Georgia Pacific Paper Mill sight on Kings Highway in Kalamazoo, right on the Kalamazoo River. The irony rests in the fact that the paper plant was a huge source of the very contaminants that were killing the osprey. It's a sweet, complete circle.

Well, I'm planning on doing some kind of "reporting" or documenting of this auspicious nesting. Mainly because it's a symbol of hope, given the decline of successful breeding by both osprey and eagle on the Kalamazoo river due to concentrations of PCB's in the food chain. The accumulation of toxins through the food chain, beginning with the aquatic link and working up into the big birds, consequently weakens the shell of the Osprey's eggs such that they collapse and never hatch. 

This trend, however, has subsided somewhat(?) with a gradual clean up and settling of contaminants in the Kalamazoo River. To what extent I'm not entirely sure, but the osprey seem to be bouncing back, as well as the eagle. The Georgia Pacific nest is testament to a degree of recovery, and a measure of hope.

There's been a setback though, in the death of two chicks. There's no definitive cause at this point, but speculation includes first time parenting skills (or lack there of), attacks from an aggressive bald eagle, disease, or perhaps contaminant related illness. I'll be following up on this story soon with a more in-depth piece. 

This story also highlights the fragility of life in the animal kingdom, not at all unlike our own susceptibility to illness, disease or death. It also touches upon the intervention of medical care, even for our animal brethren, which happened with the young osprey as well as during the making of ANIMALS AMONG US. 

During production for ANIMALS AMONG US, I got wind of a wounded hawk in our vicinity and successfully located the person who found the wounded bird as well as the facility that housed it. I documented the story and wanted to include it in the film but ultimately the scene never made the cut because we could never verify that the wounded bird was indeed one of our juvenile hawks. 

Here's the deleted scene in rough cut form, without music. It's particularly profound to me because of the interaction of humans in the life and welfare of such a beautiful bird. People really cared about this hawk.

My biggest regret in the filming of this scene was spending the entire time documenting the bird, and never putting the camera down to check the bird out in the flesh. I had a rare opportunity to see, and touch(!) a live hawk right in front of my face. What a thrill that would have been. Instead, I had a giant camera between me and such a magnificent bird. 
The sacrifices we make for our art.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


If you’ve seen ANIMALS AMONG US, you’re aware that Kleinstuck Preserve served as my baptism into the urban wild. Well, I can’t overstate the significance of finding that little apartment at the end of Stearns Avenue. It was literally and metaphorically the end of the road for me - it was where the city, an urban mentality, and really an older self subsided, and an environmental consciousness emerged.

It wasn't like I was living a block away or across the street from Kleinstuck; I was living right next to it. It was literally my backyard.

I could slip out my back door at odd hours, even routine hours, in full camouflage, and sidestep the rest of the city (and avoid the likely misperceptions of poacher or god knows what). I could even stay right at home and wildlife would come to me; deer meandering outside my kitchen window, sometimes grazing no more than 5 feet away - all because I was living in the shadows of the preserve. It was especially hard for me not to become more intrigued with the wild. I guess it’s like living next to Lake Michigan: it’s pretty hard not getting wet.

Well, after renting at 2007 Stearns for nearly 9 years (I told myself I would move in 2007), I was ready to build some equity and become the lord of my own land. The idea of owning my own property was exhilirating. I dreamed of acreage and trees, and fields, and more trees (in a later post I’ll talk about the idea of “owning” a tree). The idea of setting up a treestand in my own tree, without the fears of theft, lawsuits or nosy onlookers was pretty much akin to heaven on earth. The challenge though was to find a place that was as good as, if not better than, my little slice of heaven next to Kleinstuck. I would have to either find a house on it’s own micro preserve, big enough to create the feeling--and if necessary, illusion--that I was out in the wilderness, or find a place, like Stearns Avenue, that was adjacent to some serious and substantial wilderness; wilderness that was not in immediate jeopardy of being developed.

My parents kindly joined in the hunt. Particularly my Mom, scouring the home listings in the Gazette and finding some charming little houses with what she thought was the necessary “wilderness”. What that usually meant was a few trees in the yard or perhaps a tiny one acre lot next to the property or down the street. They were charming, and the peace and quiet quotient was higher than the average home, but it didn’t meet my criteria: my house (my backdoor), romantically speaking, had to be like the wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It had to be the gateway to a magical wilderness, much like Kleinstuck Preserve. In more practical terms though, it meant living next to some serious acreage, with some fairly interesting environmental features. It could be some fields, meadows, native praire(!), mature woods, a lake, a marsh, fen - hell, maybe even a cave, but something ecologically interesting, and most importantly, big enough to house a community of wildlife. It would also have to be big enough that I could ditch the rest of the world every time I entered.

A rather tall order. But I had a new standard of living, a new quality of life that had to be fulfilled. I also viewed this new territory as a resource and inspiration for a new body of work, either still or motion pictures. Well, admittedly, I was a challenging client for any realtor, as well as my mom. 

The other "green" challenge in my hunt was money. Not having a lot of it, the idea of buying my own green get-away (a.k.a. acreage) was probably more fantasy than reality. I also had to come to terms with the idea of a small house. But that wasn't really a problem since I didn't desire a lot of space and plus I was planning to spend most of my time either outside or looking out the window anyways. Once again, it came down to proximity; if I could only piggyback on a preserve, I'd be just fine.

Asylum Lake Preserve, McLinden Trails, The Kalamazoo Nature Center, Al Sabo, The Richman Preserve, Gourdneck Game Preserve, or even a house on Kleinstuck; these were my obvious choices. Finding a house for sale adjacent to one of them was another story. Plus, proximity to a preserve is an asset (duh), increasing the value of a home. Nature ain't exactly cheap.

Timing is everything and with real estate you often have to seize the day. You quickly realize you're not the only house hunter out there. There was a little bungalow situated right on Kleinstuck Preserve (in the only neighborhood I could afford) that later emerged as a missed opportunity. The guy was asking too much, but now I know the he knew that sometimes you have to pay more for that magical wardrobe. He wouldn't budge on his price and held out, and eventually, someone paid the price.

After searching incessantly for practically a year (virtually on my own since no realtor could figure me out), I was starting to burn out on the process and my internal desire to stop renting, and save money, was growing exponentially. Like a river winding it's way towards it's final destintaion, I was twisting and turning with constant compromise. The biggest compromise to emerge was the quality of habitat. Perhaps a slightly degraded piece of land, or perhaps an adjacent piece of property that wasn't exactly a designated preserve could satisfy my wilderness fix while keeping the price of a house sufficiently down. This is the bend in the river when the nuclear power plant starts to become kind of charming and picturesque.

Then a house came to my attention that was directly adjacent to a fairly large piece of property owned by the City of Kalamazoo. It wasn't exactly a preserve (although open to the public) but was substantial: 240 acres(?) with large wooded portions, a spring fed lake, some marshland that evolved out of old celery flats, and tons of wildlife.

I had heard about it from an artist friend, Brent Spink, a masterful painter who's work was generated from his outings into this little piece of urban wild. It's called Schipper's Crossing, and it's been his artistic muse for years. 

Before I could close on any house that rests on Schippers Crossing, I'd have to take a tour, and Brent kindly obliged. On an overcast day in November 2008, Brent introduced me to what not only has become my home, but to a classic american wilderness; not the awe inspiring parks that command preservation--and get it--but the environmentally challenged places that are constantly compromised by the human footprint and yet still manage to survive, 
adjust, rebound, and continue to support themselves and somehow thrive, ultimately offering up some, if not a lot, of that life sustaining natural essence human beings seek when they venture off into the wild. Certainly enough for me to sign a deed and call this place home.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 19, 2009


At the heart of ANIMALS AMONG US was Kleinstuck Preserve, and finding that "little apartment" at the end of Stearns Avenue, right next to Kleinstuck, was the beginning of a great journey for me. As they say: "location, location, location".

I've since moved from 2007 Stearns into a little house on the Eastside of Kalamazoo, a neighborhood known specifically as Eastwood. That's my new hood; and it's proving to be equally rich in wildlife, in ways I never expected. There's no doubt you'll be hearing more about it. In the meantime, these are a few of my new neighbors.

A rose breasted grosbeak feasting on some black oilers in my backyard

A mother coyote stopping to figure out what was making that peculiar, foreign sound. 
It was the shutter of my camera.

A father osprey bringing home a fish for a brood of three.


In order to conform to the confines of a TV "hour", I had to cut ANIMALS AMONG US down from it's original 70 minutes. That was no easy feat and required some sacrifices, although I believe I've kept the heart and soul of the film. One section I had to seriously truncate was the ending credits. Not only that, I even compressed them in order to sneak in one last animal discovery, the gray fox, which I believe ends the film on a more positive note.

Well, websites and blogs are the perfect rest stops for television super-highways (we've all seen the movies or TV shows where the ending credits roll by like race cars). I'd like to take this time to recognize every person and every animal who contributed to the making of the film:

in order of appearance:

Red Fox
Whitetail Deer
Red Tail Hawk
Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Red Squirrel
Black Bear
Water Spider
Turkey Vulture
White Breasted Nuthatch
Widow Skimmer Dragonfly
12 Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly
Hermit Thrush
Golden Crowned Kinglet
Short-Tailed Weasel
Eastern Screech Owl
Southern Flying Squirrel
American Robin
Sora Rail
Wood Duck
Cedar Waxwing
Brown Thrasher
Eastern Box Turtle
Green Heron
Eastern Phoebe
Great Blue Heron
Fox Squirrel
Mourning Dove
Striped Skunk
Carolina Wren
Black Capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-winged Blackbird
Baltimore Oriole
Eastern Hognose Snake
Red Bellied Woodpecker
American Goldfinch
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Eastern Coyote
American Redstart

Matt Clysdale

Anthony Arent
Larry Dorfenbach
John Paul Lohrstorfer
Alix Duggins

Matt Clysdale

Jeff Walls
Jonathon Morgan
Colleen Huckendubler 
Earl Hall

Anthony Arent
Larry Dorfenbach
Emily Searles
Michele McWilliams
John Paul Lohrstorfer
Earl Hall

Michele McWilliams
Jodi Meyers
Dan Dewitt
Nate Fuller
Ned Clysdale

Matthew Clysdale

Brown & Brown Recording Studios

Paul McNellis - Western Michigan University 
Melody Lindsey - Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center
Shari Glaser - Western Michigan University
David Anderson - Kalamazoo Community Mental Health
George Jarvis - Western Michigan University Power Plant
Alexander Lee - Kalamazoo Public Schools
Ron Wiser
Wayne and Jill Flipse
H.G. Piatkowski
Jose Campos
Bonnie Brown
Jane and Ken Schroder 
Heather and Jim Ratliff
Steve and Tera Robison 
Shane and Robert Plemmons 
Derek Strine
Michael Lopresto
Janice Russo
Geoffrey Clapp
Patricia Harter
Robert Brown 
Jeff Krueger 
Dan Scott
Steinagle Apartments

Ray Adams
Gene Clysdale
Ned Clysdale
Christena Smith
Nate & Erin Fuller
Sarah Kingery & Lee Doezema
Richard Saroni
Joe Johnson
Karen Charleston
Donna & Thomas Lambert 
Chris and Lynwood Bartley
Dick Leenihan
Deborah Ann Percy - Maple Street Magnet School
Kalamazoo County Sheriff
Van Buren County Sherriff's Department
The Whole Art Theater
Kara Haas
Kalamazoo Nature Center

Ed Ihling
Dorothy Blankenburg
Mary Coon
Donna & Thomas Lambert
Sharon Carlson - 
Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History

Hazel Rood - Kleinstuck Footage by Paul Rood 
Barbara and Gene Clysdale 

Eric Boersma
Mary Brodbeck & John Schmit
Barb & Gene Clysdale
Patrick D. & Krista K. Crocker
Nate & Erin Fuller
Brett & Kristen Gronwis
Larry Hubbard
Lad Hanka
Keith & Janet Jones
Kathlene LaCour & Jeff Brazda
Pamela & Lee Larson
Jim & Anita McNamara
Ian Nielsen
Bob & Nancy Peterson
Heather & Jim Ratliff
Steve & Michele Roberts
Hazel Rood
Joan Rood
Josephine A. Rood
Kathy Schuch
Tom & Nancy Small
Ward H. Squires
Rick Stahlhut
Brian Suppes

Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

Irving S. Gilmore Foundation Emerging Artist Grant Program 
through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

Education for the Arts Artistic Development Grant

©2009 HorsePower Pictures

Thursday, July 16, 2009


My stream of consciousness in under construction. I'm planning to officially launch the blog the night of the premiere on WGVU this Sunday. Check back Sunday night for my first entry about my move from Kleinstuck Preserve to Schippers Crossing. Everything starts in our backyard.
Coming to a TV near you! ANIMALS AMONG US makes it's television premiere on WGVU-TV. Check it out.