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Love for sale

A tale of finding your place in the world, and then it gets put on the market

| 16 May 2024 | 10:55

As anyone who grew up in 20th century New York City can tell you, we kids had unbridled freedom but a pretty limited scope of entertainment options. There was the stoop, an always popular gathering spot for playing Barbies, epic stoop ball tournaments, or in later years, hanging out to smoke and annoy the residents. For the more daring, there was the street, best for Ringolevio, stickball or chalking out invectives against rival kids from down the block. Lastly there was the vacant lot, which was the place to go for real adventure, a treasure trove of new discoveries. The overgrown, weedy lot held magical things, like discarded magazines (sometimes dirty!), loose change, bits and pieces of broken toys, even entire bicycles.

But if you were really lucky, your excavation might yield some form of wildlife – usually dead, but anything from the natural world was a bonus. Coming across a mummified mouse or the skeletal remains of a pigeon was like finding gold. Every once in a while we’d hit the jackpot and unearth a slithering garter snake or a chattering cicada. Once my friend Linda had an enormous emerald green praying mantis land on her head. Naturally we all screamed, but the overall experience left me with an abiding love of nature, and the yearning for more of it in my life.

Once I reached adulthood, I bumped around a lot, from city to suburb and everything in between, and it took decades for me to settle in a place where those early yearnings could finally be satisfied. Now I have a home on one of the most scenic roads in all of Warwick, where I can enjoy an abundance of nature right at my doorstep. We live within the Warwick Green Belt, meaning the majority of our road is preserved in perpetuity as farmsteads and open pastures, never to be developed. When I walk out my back door I’m treated to a lovely swath of marsh as far as the eye can see, where every spring, there blossoms an ocean of indigo buds attracting scores of returning redwing blackbirds with their familiar oog-la-eee! screeches. The dead trees that line the crumbling rock wall at the marsh’s edge are home to nesting red-bellied and downy woodpeckers that swoop onto our property to cache seeds for the lean months in our two splintery old barns.

To the left of our house, acres of young woods tower and sway and compete for light on what used to be farmed pastures when this old house was first built. Nature has reclaimed the lot, and the woods create a nice buffer between us and the railroad tracks. In early spring, we bundle up and wait silently near the woods’ edge at dusk in anticipation of the oddly electronic peent of woodcocks. On late winter nights, we are serenaded by the basso profundo of male great horned owls looking for lady friends, and sometimes we are treated to the call and response of a newly formed pair, getting ready to make a home and babies together. Through those woods have come hawks of every variety: the sleek, swift sharp-shinned; the muscular red-tailed, searching for favorite snacks on the wing and in the underbrush.

Nights are alive with screaming foxes and yowling coyotes, and once, on a chill autumn afternoon, we were visited by a wayward lynx that fixed me with a baleful glare, a cherished moment to be sure.

Recently, my daughter and I set out to walk the length of our road and watch the acrobatic tree swallows flashing their iridescent blue undersides as they dive-bombed flying insects. As we neared the railroad tracks, a terrible thing caught our attention; a dreaded for sale sign hammered into the ground, advertising commercial development of this parcel of land, our cherished woods and marsh. Like a punch to the gut, it became apparent that everything that lay between our house and the tracks was situated just outside the Green Belt. (Later I would learn that the Green Belt is simply an aspiration, anyway, carrying no legal protection.)

Naturally I was enraged, and my first instinct was to call the listing agent and threaten him with extreme bodily harm. But being a law abiding person, I opted instead to cry a lot, and then complain bitterly to my husband, who shrugged and said there’s nothing we could do about it. I attempted to dispute this notion with fury-induced irrationality, but ultimately I had to admit he wasn’t wrong, so I dropped the diatribe and cried some more.

And so we wait. Every day I pass the sign and say a silent prayer, or maybe it’s an oath, that whoever is selling the property has a change of heart or even, if I’m being honest, meets with some kind of life altering event, the type of which shall remain unsaid. It’s taken me the better part of my lifetime to find a place I love as much as I love this small parcel of the world, a far cry from the garbage strewn vacant lot of my youth where I first discovered a love of nature. While I still can, I will wander and listen and breathe in all the beauty it has to offer, and keep hope in my heart. Or maybe I’ll just take an ax to the cursed sign and burn it to ash. It’s always good to have a backup plan.