Where I live used to be a turkey farm. I can’t remember who told me that, but the trivia made it to long-term memory because the name of the turkey homestead was Elwell Farm. Coincidentally, I grew up in a country village (too small to be a suburb) in Michigan called Elwell. My parents still live there. My mother’s home sits on ten acres between corn fields, a creek and a dirt road. I remember as a child pretending my friend and I were Mary and Laura Ingalls from, Little House on the Prairie as we lay awake listening to the wind howl outside my small upstairs bedroom. My father’s home is also nestled within fields and the same creek. Dad’s home has the added features of: a quarter-mile driveway, a fish pond and a concealing forest. I say concealing because my dad never wanted his neighbors to be able to see his house. If I want to walk around naked in my yard, I will! Although my husband and I chose to live in a developed subdivision where each home can be seen clearly from the other, I can’t help but feel a kinship with my dad as more and more homes converge upon us.
I was filled with pride when we first moved into our new home in the Minneapolis suburb. The home is larger than our previous house and much newer, a 2002 build. When we moved into the community in 2005, the area was still considered rural and known for its horse farms. It promised the best of both worlds; a neighborhood and country living. The neighborhood includes a land trust which guarantees a certain percentage of green space forever (I hesitate to type that word). Each home backs up to open land, therefore no neighbors on at least one side of your house and a clear view of nature. The themes of the subdivision are natural and prairie. Homes of various hues of brown, green, and tan sprawl along the earth and reflect its colors. Carefully groomed wild lands advocate for prairie animals and indigenous plants.
Every once in a while, I see a wild turkey walking along a nearby field or county road. I wonder if it is a descendent of the old Elwell Farm. On one memorable occasion I was driving home on Highway 55. Up ahead I could see a full-grown turkey standing proudly outside the white line of the shoulder. I noted his regal stature. I remembered Ben Franklin’s recommendation to make the turkey our national bird. As I gauged the potential for the turkey to start a pilgrimage across the highway, he did. He took three steps onto the pavement into the left lane. I was in the right, but slowed down because I could. Over my left shoulder came a rush of wind. A boat-sized silver car zoomed past me and took out the turkey with a whump! and a cartoonish spray of feathers. The driver never even tapped the brake. The phone call he was on must have been very important.
Friend or Foe?
Not long after we arrived in Minnesota a Target store was built within walking distance of our house. To be honest, I was thrilled. I spend a good portion of my week buying kid presents and shampoo. I love the convenience, but I know when new stop-lights go up, the rural-ness of an area goes down. Target sends out runners enabling Walgreens and SuperCuts to burst from the ground like satellite dandelions. People stream in like ants to ice cream on a summer sidewalk.
Another big draw to the area is the school system. Half of the elementary schools in the district have received the prestigious Blue Ribbon award for best schools in the state based on high academic achievement or improved academic achievement to high levels. Because of the notable schools, new homes sprout up like toad stools after a spring rain, and sport the same mushroom color. Resembling an Andrew Wyeth palette, new builds choose exterior paints that bring to mind potatoes. Sure there is the occasional bold barn red or ballsy moss green but for the most part tans and browns rule. The blue ribbon schools stand as beacon blue cornflowers in a meadow of wheat and rye.
Thank God for Eccentrics
As a kid, I remember a pink stucco house built between black and white colonials and brick Georgians on a well-to-do street near my elementary school. The unusual color was the talk of the town. Why would anyone build a pink house? The eccentricity was excused because the owners were from California.
Speaking of eccentricity, there is a jewel of a structure on the back road leading to our weekly music lessons. The road curves and bends between horse ranches and open fields. There’s a pasture with a gentle hill that I have pointed out so many times to my kids they now cut me off mid-sentence with, We know, we know, you love that space!, but that’s not the eccentricity. Halfway along the drive a colorful farm exists. The farmer of this place grows vibrant works of art that I can only describe as unique tiki poles. A vivid circle of these red, green, blue, and yellow posts surrounds the house and barn like tribesman doing a ritual dance. I believe the art is for sale. Our neighbor has a couple of them stuck in the lawn around her pool. Rising above the rainbow chain of tiki poles is a weathered red barn. On the vast surface of the barn front the thoughtful owner has affixed a Buddhist message in orange letters: May happiness and well -being arise in all sentient beings, equal to the sky.
Over the last three years the open space along the winding back road to music has been eaten up by unnaturally natural-colored developments. Backhoes and hearty plank are closing in on the bejeweled Buddhist farm. Moles taking over a tulip field. When a For Sale sign appears next to the mail box of a multi-acre ranch I know more duplexes and dream homes are close behind. Front loaders and bulldozers are already tracking mud through kitchens of nearby old farm houses; leveling them to put in ten houses where one stood before.
I realize I sound like a crotchety old lady shaking her fist at kids on her lawn, but I’m not sure my happiness and well-being will arise equal to the sky if I have to look to new stop lights for color and my childhood home for space. I am conflicted about convenient retail and urban sprawl. I wish for turkeys to roam freely and pastures to remain open and quaint. At the same time, I love my newer home, my neighbors and the ability to ride my bike to Target for a slushee.
I could be a real turkey and say I want space and convenience for my family, and the rest of the world should consider building their dream home in the city, but I know that is selfish and naïve. Inevitably, space fills up and becomes neither naturally beautiful nor convenient. In less than five years you’ll probably find me roaming (clinging to) the protected grasslands in our neighborhood, admiring the black-eyed susans and picking up Subway wrappers. I’ll be able to walk to a dozen dry cleaners but I’ll have to be very careful when crossing the road.
Do you welcome new neighborhoods or prefer wide open space?
Mood music:) Big Yellow Taxi.
You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…
**Update: The pasture with the hill has been leveled and graded for a few dozen new homes. I cried a little inside when I saw the first swath of overturned soil.
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