From time to time we will share articles found out and about on the internet. Articles that have special interest to our lives.
This is one of those posts.
My wife and I found land to build a home in our pursuit of the American Dream.
In a little rural town near family and good public schools: the priority.
The commute to the workplace and larger cities is made short by highways and roads in good order: a bonus.
The town’s locally owned grocery store and a lumber yard were holding their own amongst the onslaught of big box stores: convenience and Hell Yeah!
Though many things had changed since I lived here in my younger days, the all grown up “City” still, a great place to set roots and raise a family. And with a newly signed mortgage, house plans, and a trusted contractor, we were ready to get out of hectic urban shenanigans and prepared to get started.
I pulled up to a for sale by owner sign posted on about 60 feet of road frontage framed by some elderly maple and boxelder on the west property line and a catalpa matriarch surrounded by scotch pine to the east. A dense growth of some vine on both sides, climbing the hurricane fence to the west making a fine privacy feature, and the low trees and pines to the east, in a battle for survival.
I pulled into the sandy two-track path between two existing homes and motored slowly down the trail. A patch without trees, where brambles heavy with fruit, past a small junk pile just a way in, and from there, the path encased in a canopy of higher trees flanked with some elderly oaks on the property line. The neighbor’s plots have been untouched over the years and are in a new late succession phase. Wildlife flittering and my mind, with the feeling of beauty and privacy, imagined.
The two-track meandered down a gradual slope to a lower elevation, slightly damp here, and almost immediately began climbing upward again to an open area where someone had fallen a bunch of Ash trees.
The clearing was full of “hell bushes” (The evilest spikey things I have ever encountered) and the fallen timbers of ash, but the view in the more undisturbed areas of the land was parklike. The southern wood line featured giant shagbark hickory and a few youngsters with feet in a carpet of violets, reaching into the clearing and guarding the entrance to the stand of mixed hardwood that was the rest of the property. The ground underneath them is clear and covered with leaf litter out to the far south property line. A line of larger oaks and maple divides this property from a farm field in fallow. I was anxious to make my claim! My head was again filled with dreams of privacy and nature—an image of a lavender-colored lawn, watching the wildlife with my morning coffee.
That day I fell in love with this property. It was a lovely early summer day.
Fast forward to the day, our contractor was out to lay out stakes for the building. This day was a delightful spring day!
The long two-track easement that would send electricity and cars to the central portion of the land and build site is impassable for two-wheel drive vehicles. A swampy finger along the building sites, high and dry, hooked around into the driving access and created a bottomless obstacle for machinery, men, and tools to the west. To the south, a Michigan silver maple version of a cypress swamp crept into the farm field past the massive trees on the property line and wetted our boots as we supposed the house’s location. To the east, I swear I saw my neighbor watching through his window with a knowing look and shaking his head.
We stood scratching our heads about how in the world we would get into the building site. We had to dry this out! We had a building permit from the township but not from Mother.
My family, friends and I set to work! Good old-fashioned American determination, we set out with a backhoe, bobcat, and chainsaw to drain the spring rain and winter runoff, created by the area topography that drains to my backyard from every direction. Over 900 feet of ditch winding along the easement property lines doing everything I could to save as much of the nature that existed along the way. (Unknowing that the power company was to require that nearly everything in that easement was to be clear-cut.) In a couple of working weekends, we had a hell of a flow billowing out into the roadside ditch, running straight to the Flint River. Mission accomplished!
Hindsight can give you black eyes… and this is one of those times.
At the time, I was a green-minded, tree-hugger, treading lightly on this planet kind of guy. Then, I was doing the best I knew how. But then… I did things I wouldn’t do now. This Permaculture thing is, as my comrade in arms Mike Hoag says, is a “A Transformative Adventure” and its insights have done at least one thing for me, developed a deeper understanding of nature and the impact I have in it. I was a spectator.
Through my study, I have discovered patterns in nature’s big ole swirl. I learned to step back and attempt to look at the whole patterns in that swirl. This bit is the bit that was missing in my tree-hugging youth. Looking and seeing a “Whole” and attempting to understand my place in it.
As It turns out, our flooded backyard was a critical microclimate struggling to reestablish itself in the big swirl! A little turbulent in the eddies of the river of life, affecting the diversity of life on this planet.
I did not know a thing about Vernal Pools, but I did know about crawlspaces, the difficulty of excess water inside the home, and through my construction labor experience, how horrible it was to work in it. And today… I would never have built what or how I did. But I did… and as per the Prime Directive of Permaculture, I am moving forward.
For all the extra effort we went through in our attempt to preserve the natural beauty of this place, we still had to make compromises for the utilities, make essential changes in the landscape to achieve building codes, and keep the house footings out of water. Even in our effort to be gentile carving out a place for ourselves in tranquil nature… we still carved out the flesh of mother earth, Life itself. She will need time to heal again… and that is why I will never stop yammering about this stuff. Permaculture gives us a pretty good set of tools to find our place on this planet, a place that is more cooperative with her, and I feel like there is a reward for doing so. She has been working these things out much longer than we have, and in one fell swoop, I have nearly undone the healing in progress from previous doings here on this land.
So get to walk about with a shiner. Especially these days as I declarer myself as an activist for what might be Permanent Culture.
Moving forward with the Prime Directive I will have to study this little swirl. My impact on it already pretty dramatic. How will I encourage it to “Be what it wants to be” and still have a place for myself in it and for others in the future? That is the question to all of us as we look at our impact on life on this planet.
Enjoy this article at Michigan Nature Monday featuring Vernal Pools in the link below as I set out to understand this whirl of life and engage it beneficially to both myself and mother earth.
This week’s Michigan Nature Monday features the amazing natural habitat of vernal pools. The Michigan Nature Association has been a lead partner in the Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership for several years, and we are proud to have added to that commitment this year with a dedicated staff member – our Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership Coordinator–and the production of the Ephemeral video, produced in partnership with the award-winning videography team of […]Michigan Nature Monday: Vernal Pools