A Beautiful Resurrection

Last year, I wrote a blog post about the decade-plus that Richard and I have spent restoring our blighted industrial property, including a block of urban creek, into a thriving community of wild and domestic species. That post was excerpted from my memoir, Walking Nature Home, and writing the post inspired me to ask Dan Spurr, editor of Zone 4, a new gardening and sustainable living magazine for the Rockies, if he’d be interested in the story. He was.


So I wrote out the story of how we came to adopt this more than down-at-the-heels property and its creek, and how we restored both the thread of water and the adjacent property into a home for us and the other species we depend on for our nuture and inspiration, from indian paintbrush and the hummingbirds that zip in to pollininate its scarlet flower spikes to homegrown tomatoes and their attendent bumblebees. Dan loved the piece and wanted photos. I pulled out the old snapshots I’d taken when we first bought the place for the “before” shots, and then sifted through the photos I’ve taken over the years since to show the transformation we’ve nurtured.


The result? This gorgeous feature in the Summer 2009 issue of Zone 4. (Thanks, Kira and Dan!) Leafing through the pages, I find myself smiling and falling in love all over again with this once-very-unlovable piece of ground and the accompanying thread of creek. It’s a great feeling!

Here’s how the article begins:

Eleven years ago, my husband, Richard, and I left a financially secure existence in in a Southwestern city to return home to the small town in rural south-central Colorado where he had lived as a child. We purchased a tiny, charming, and totally dilapidated historic dulplex in a run-down neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Our plan included renovating the duplex before the move, but as with all construction projects, this one took longer (and cost more) than we anticipated. So we squeezed our household, including his college-age daughter, Molly, one rambunctious dog, and two home offices in around the litter of power tools and the comings and goings of construction tools. By the time the project was finished, it was clear that we needed more space, including a place for Richard’s rental-storage-unit-full of tools, as well as my garden.

So while Richard traveled on consulting projects and Molly worked her summer job as a barista, I wrote and prowled nearby neighborhoods searching for a chunk of affordable property. When I stopped to peer into a grimy window in the desert brick building right across the alley I had passed regularly but never really noticed before, I found the lace of our dreams. The open inside was bigger than the entire duplex, just right for Richard’s sculpture studio. I called friends in real estate and learned that the building sat on a half-block of abandoned industrial property, offering creek frontage and a fivew of the nearby peaks, plus plenty of space for a house and garden. It was perfect for us.


Despite appearances. the shop was filthy, its brick parapets and chimneys crumbling; its expansive slope of metal roof leaked. Knee-high weeds and rusting debris choked its sprawling yard, enclosed by a 6-fooot-tall chain-link fence topped by three strands of sagging barbed wire. Its bloc of urban creek, channelized a century before by railroad construction, ran ruler-straight between banks that sprouted chunks of waste concrete, asphalt, and more weeds. Undaunted, we scraped together a down payment, and soon became the proud owners of what we only half-jokingly call our “decaying industrial empire.”

We’ve spent the decade-plus since making ourselves a home.

Zone 4 is so new (this is the second issue) that its content isn’t available online. So if you want to read the rest of the article, you’ll have to find a copy of the Summer 2009 issue on a magazine rack, ask for it at your local library, or subscribe.

As I wrote this post, the almost-full moon rose over the Arkansas Hills across the river, round and silver-bright, with silhouette of dry seas that looks to me like a rabbit dancing, ears thrown back and feet tapping. That’s how I feel tonight: happy to be here, now, just as I am. May you all find such joy!