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...