Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Glenn Allen Island Rookery

If you're a word-lover like myself, you can fully appreciate the bevy of nomenclature to describe birds and other wildlife: a gathering of crows is a "murder"; a group of geese not in flight is a "gaggle" - in flight is a "skein"; a male fox is known as a "dog-fox", or "renard"; and lastly, a colony of breeding animals is known as a "rookery". Unbeknownst to many people, great blue herons breed in groups, making their breeding site a heron rookery (The term Rookery has also been used as a name for dense slum housing in nineteenth-century cities, especially London).

A heron rookery is a sight to behold.

One great jewel on the city stretch of the Kalamazoo River, and virtually around the corner from my house, is the heron rookery on Glenn Allen Island, a property now in the care of the South West Michigan Land Conservancy.

My neighbor and painter friend, Brent Spink, recently sprung an invitation on me to join him on an outing to make art of the rookery. He painted the scene and I rattled off hundreds of photos.

After the logistics of planting cars, we journeyed by canoe to a shore opposite the island. That brief jaunt on the river is always a step back in time, and a quick remedy for city-speed anxieties.

The rookery and the heron themselves are always a prehistoric image, the great blue evoking the distant and extinct pterodactyl and the rookery being perhaps the closest living example of Lothlorien, or the home of the Na’vi. The scattering of huge nests sit atop a holy looking sycamore, standing out in stark contrast against the gray bark of the other trees in early spring bloom.

If you get a chance, while paddling down the River, just past the bridge at Mosel, about where Allen St. “T”s into North Pitcher, take a right at the fork in the river and you’ll go around the east side of the island. At the north-east end of the island you’ll see a “scattering”, a “sedge” or “seige” of herons taking to the sky as your presence spooks them off their roost.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

OMG - My First Tom!!!

A picture is worth a 1,000 words - but believe me, there is a lot more to say about this absolutely bizarre but totally ubiquitous creature. 

More to come...

Incidentally, this guy was at none other than the Colony Farm Orchard.

Friday, April 9, 2010


NOTE: The following post is the follow up to "In Search of Home" , an earlier post about my search for a new home with it's own "little piece of the wild".

In my long standing tradition to time significant life changes with significant dates, I moved into my new home one year ago, on April 15th, Tax Day. In my mind, owning a new home and Tax Day go together, in a fiscal kind of way. It's about owning something significant and the government wanting you to pay for owning it. I could digress...

More importantly though, I've not only been in my own, new home, I've been romping around in my new "ecos", or home outside my home. I got what I wanted with an entirely new wild space to explore and study, and inspire a new body of work. Since day one, when I dove into this crazy little frontier on the outskirts of town, I've been so wrapped up in trying to photograph the local fauna of this little Ark, that I haven't taken the time to surface and reflect on my move. 

Welcome to what we'll call Schipper's Crossing. 

How did I get here?

To quote myself:

"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."

Before I moved in, I had a fairly serious "compromise" to weigh: the little manufactured home I was considering was adjacent to a wild space the city of Kalamazoo owns but also used portions of it two decades ago as a dumping ground, raising serious questions about contamination. What they were dumping was a medley of waste no one really wanted--for good reason--including dredgings from the Kalamazoo River and sludge from the city's waste processing facility. Yes, human waste.

The very thought could drive down housing prices. Well, this was twenty years ago and the Earth's capacity for remediation has composted the smell entirely away; quick growing trees and shrub have taken root and aside from the "un-natural" mound shape underneath these patches of habitat, one might not even recognize the human footprint. 

This is all true today because of a massive eruption of protest that emerged out of the Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods demanding the city to stop dumping. The stink was SO bad, residents (some otherwise a-political) took to the streets and marched on Kalamazoo City Hall in the thousands, successfully bringin the whole operation to a halt - not without the added pressure of a lawsuit against the city.  This apparent loss for the city actually qualified Kalamazoo for new federal funds that paid for the present day sewage treatment facility on the Kalamazoo River between Patterson and Mosel. Things have since been relatively quiet, and, how do you say: un-stinky?

But, what you can't see or smell can still kill you. Was there contamination in them thar hills? I was on city water, piped in from afar, so I wasn't concerned about a contaminated well; but what about air-borne particulates, floating into my molecular world and giving rise to cancer? What if I were to hike around in that area and expose myself to higher levels of arsenic, PCB's, or whatever. I'm not a chemist or environmental scientist and really didn't know. Friends and family were vigorously waving red flags.

So, I took it upon myself to research the property at the local DEQ on D Avenue and couldn't find any serious warnings in previously classified folders. I also discovered the company that performed an environmental assessment on the property and ended up speaking with a guy who actually did the foot work on the case and he assured me that any of my future children wouldn't have an excess of ten toes. That guy turned out to be a new friend who's also a nature photographer: Steve Kimm.


Friday, April 2, 2010


Well, we must be doing something right. 

At a recent Oakland Drive Winchell Neighborhood Association (ODWNA) Meeting, my crew and I were all set up to tape this highly anticipated public meeting with Bob Miller from WMU and Representative Robert Jones. It was the first public meeting to address the Colony Farm Orchard since the passage of House Bill 5207, legislation that gives WMU the green light to develop the property. It was also my first encounter with both Jones and Miller following the release of our first Orchard video, featuring both. Everyone expected it to be an interesting meeting.

But before the meeting even began, Bob Miller, upon entering the room and seeing our cameras, walked straight up to me and said, bristling, “you cannot tape this. You don’t have permission from Western.” 

It was quite a surprise since I’d received prior permission from Larry Ross, co-president of ODWNA. Turns out Larry never thought it would be an issue for WMU and therefore never ran it by them in advance. 

At that point, I took Miller for his word, assuming WMU had some jurisdiction or authority over the event. I sent half my crew home and was prepared to break down the set but started thinking it over. A few people came up to me and said he can’t do that. I quickly realized Miller didn’t have the authority to prohibit me from filming other people. It was a public meeting hosted by ODWNA. He can deny permission for me to use HIS image and/or voice, but not that of others. 

Realizing this, I decided to let the cameras roll and tape audience reactions and eventually questions, especially since I knew opposition would be very vocal. I explained to Miller that I would honor his request by not using any footage of him, but I would tape everyone else. He didn’t say anything. He did, however, cross the room and discuss the issue with Larry Ross. I later found out that Larry, feeling remiss for failing to check with Bob in advance, promised him that he would stop me from taping.

All this was transpiring unbeknownst to the audience. So, at the beginning of the meeting, when Larry had to tell me across the room to stop taping, ears perked up when I explained my intentions out-loud. Realizing what was going on, Benjamin Ayer, a WMU student and member of Students for a Sustainable Earth spoke up in favor of taping, as well as others. Sensing a slight rumbling in the audience, Larry decided to have the audience vote on the situation, a vote which I bet would have favored taping. But before it could proceed, Raoul Yochim, former attorney and ODWNA co-president, spoke up against the idea, claiming all the discussion and vote would take time away from addressing the matters at hand. His personal authority essentially killed the vote. Larry was persuaded and sided with Miller’s request and asked me to turn off the camera. As the host of the event, I decided it was only appropriate to honor his request.

It was a great loss. Miller’s censorship prevented me from capturing a handful of extremely passionate and articulate opponents to development of the Orchard. There was also one, perhaps two people who spoke in support of Western’s intentions.

Paula Davis of the Kalamazoo Gazette effectively captured the tone and tenor of the event in her Gazette article: Residents voice opposition to potential WMU development of Colony Farm Orchard.

To effectively censor those speakers on video is a strong-arm tactic by WMU, attempting to control the coverage of this highly controversial environmental issue. Inadvertently, this strengthens the case for our documentary, underscoring the importance of an independent media voice critiquing WMU’s land moves. 

So, we must be doing something right. But this makes our job even more challenging. HorsePower Pictures now has to track down each audience member who spoke out that night and conduct personal interviews reflecting back on the event. All this takes more time and money. And although we’re not deterred--in fact we rise to the challenge--we need your help. 

Please make a donation today to help us deliver the truth on the Orchard. Being a local, independent videographer affords me the flexibility and independence to cover these environmental issues, but it also requires the support of the community.