To Make a Prairie
With the gut job of the interior mostly complete, we were happy to trade the dust and dim of demolition for the fresh air and sunshine of some outside work. The weathered wood siding was in dire need of attention after what appeared to be a half century of neglect, and though we knew a full paint job was a tall order, the prospect seemed downright pleasant compared to the purgatorial tearing of endless wood and plaster.
In Northern Michigan’s snow-belt, October often brings the year’s first snowfall. Knowing this, we set to work with purpose. How far we’d get before the weather turned was anyone’s guess, so we made hay while the sun shined.
The timing was also right for a bit of fall planting, (onions, garlic, flower bulbs), which gave us a much needed opportunity to disconnect from the physical demands of our work and reflect on our failures and successes thus far.
Setting goals and meeting them – that is indeed difficult work. But forgiving ourselves for failing, and failing again (and we did) – that is no small job either.
It’s been especially tough these past 6 months to have one foot always some 230 miles from the other: one in Excelsior Township, chipping away at every available opportunity, the other downstate in Highland Park putting in 40 hour work weeks. Returning home after work trips, we often felt like we needed a full day of rest to recover and acclimate back to the daily grind. It was as much a matter of endurance as of mental grace and agility, as though we were dancing endlessly between two separate lives.
When we began the process of purchasing the Lewis School in February 2020, we had dreams of incorporating the community in its restoration, through something akin to a traditional barn raising. That’s how the school was reconstructed after burning at the turn of the century. As with most 2020 plans, however, these dreams were dashed when the pandemic struck. While we didn’t get quite the schoolhouse raising we intended, we were lucky to have family close enough in the area to help out frequently at a safe distance.
Thankfully, our family with both feet in Northern Michigan have been pulling through in our absence. Connor’s folks did the lion’s share of chipping, patching, priming, caulking, and painting in our absence. His father, much closer to the schoolhouse geographically, but himself tied to an office most days, was back and forth enough to suggest that he perhaps actually enjoyed the work of painting when the weather was right. Or maybe he just loves his children dearly. Either way, he’s probably on to something.
It also bears mentioning that none of this work would have been possible were it not for the scaffolding lent to us by Connor’s childhood soccer coach. He also happens to be one of the best builders in the area, and whether lending equipment or renovation wisdom, he has been both generous and indispensable from the outset. We’re lucky to have him and the other best builder in the area, my brother Kevin, on our crew.
It may not have been a community barn-raising exactly, but in a time of unprecedented isolation, the outpouring of support we received was heartening.
With the extra hands and heads, we made swifter progress than we had dreamed of. We certainly did not think we’d have plants in the ground before spring, for example, but wonders never cease. Come spring, we will have garlic, crocuses, daffodils, marigolds, trout lilies, trilliums, and irises. And the Lewis School, enjoying its own springtime, ought to have a fresh set of wires, pipes, and insulation. New life, little by little.