What happened? How did it come to pass that one place so attracts me? So engages me? So calls to me? And I’m not talking about The Land, though she, too, fits the description. For her, the question is so much easier to answer, especially here, under the lean-to, as I gaze out upon the red hem of her dawn while her crickets and morning birds literally call to me: “Yes! Yes! Yes to life!” I’m talking about The Corridor. OK, I said it, The Corridor. I know it might sound strange, perhaps mystical, or just plain crazy to feel so consumed by such. But there it is. I’m outed: The Corridor has compelled me to enter her, walk her pathway---or at least peer down between her Fences, and wonder--- for the last 7 years, and even now as Tom Fort the Builder aligns the first wood walls of new home.
It began at the Gunflint Pines Lodge. Mugs of hot chocolate steaming upon her rustic log table, Sherry and Sheryl, our northwoods friends, pried me for details about the novel I’d been writing for half a year. “OK, so there’s this Fence,” I finally offered reluctantly; perhaps she’d slipped something other than chocolate into my milk. “Two Fences actually, ten feet high topped with razor wire, enclosing a narrow land, a mile wide perhaps, winding from present day Beaver Creek State Park to Pickerel Lake outside Albert Lea and beyond. The people within live there by choice, and by a covenant, seven rules and only seven rules.” For some reason, they stared at me, mesmerized; maybe it was the ice melting, dripping, off my beard into my mug. “It’s just a story,” I shrugged. “You know, adventure, murder, teenage love. But now I get to discover, by following these characters, how truly different---and perhaps remarkably more engaging---life could be.
“What’s the title?” asked Sherry, leaping as many do to the hopeful day of publication. I mumbled something about a working title and that publication is far, far off and who knows what the publishers will want it to be.
“The Corridor!” Sherry announced, with far greater certainty than any I’d ever felt about the title. And I must say, I resisted a bit. It’s my story isn’t it? But she was right, damn it. And though the working title has changed, each year, each rev, Sherry’s title, The Corridor, mythical though it be, has carried me and my characters (Emo, Amelan, Skye) forward, between her Fences, always toward Dego’s Village upon Pickerel Lake, each morning for the last seven years.
While The Corridor may have began as story, when Linda and I began seeking a chunk of land, some power greater than me breathed down the windpipe of The Corridor, started her heart beating. We’d looked at some nice parcels, beautiful actually, but they were all surrounded by farms: an island of wood and grass within a sea of corn, silos and soybeans. Then came The Land.
“It’s way too expensive!” I told Linda, trying to dim the thrill in her eyes. Of course, she’d fallen in love even as we drove up the winding and wooded Calico Hill Rd and finally out, her heart free to roam, gallop even, like some wild horse upon the snowy fields of The Land.
“How’s it different than the others?” I countered, my fear of financial failure rising to choke me. I needed something a little more solid than ghost riders.
“Look what this land borders,” she said, masterfully playing the get-what-you-want-game. “The WWMA.” Indeed the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area: 20 plus contiguous miles---grassy ridge tops, steep wooded hillsides, creek carved valleys----shouldering the Whitewater River from Whitewater State Park north until emptying into the wide Mississippi. And The Land’s 62 acres, bordered by this refuge on the north and east, could become part of it, enhance it, become the quintessential prairie.
“The Corridor!” Linda announced, sealing the deal. “We’d have so much more impact here than on one of those islands.” Here the wildlife could roam nearly forever. So, too, our hearts and imagination. The rest is history. Now two Corridors drew me in, pulled me forward, engaged my entire being. How many more Corridors could one man walk?
At least one. And the third Corridor, if not the most powerful, is undoubtedly the strangest.
Two years ago, Paul---the Locus Architecture principle that we’d hired to design our dream home on The Land---flashed his first tentative concepts up on his big screen. To date, we’d told him nothing about what the house should actually look like. No square footage. No style. No budget even. We’d ask him to design a home not only upon the Land but upon our land-based values: a home that breathes life into our values. Through metaphor and Mary Oliver poems, we’d bared our souls to Paul. “Enable the Connection,” we essentially told him. “Design a house which enables the connection to our neighbors, our friends, The Land, and the divine, if you can. That’s all.” Not only did it seem impossible, but what greater risk than sharing what really, really matters? But, in one short and defining moment, Paul made all my fears vanish.
“See here, where you enter the house,” he pointed by wiggling his Mac’s mouse. “The west entry flows right down a hallway where your guest’s attention is immediately drawn to, and out, the all glass east door, to the porch and The Land.”
“OK,” we nodded. We’d seen a few things like this already. But Paul’s hallway wasn’t just another design element.
“It’s the Corridor,” he announced.
It might have been a year later when we finally told Paul what he’d accomplished with those two words. But that day, that moment, as my eyes met Linda’s, expressing our shared joy and wonder better than any words, The Corridor jumped off the screen and into our lives. Again.
So last week, when the concrete guys finished pouring the floor of new home, Linda expressed her dismay to Tom the Builder. “Only half The Corridor is concrete. What’s the other half?”
“Marmoleum?” he shrugged, meaning the earth-fiber laminate we’d chosen for the kitchen floor.
While Linda’s reply was gentle and appropriate, I could see her mind sorting out the big nails prior to delivery. “The Corridor has to be all one material,” she said, as if proclaiming an obvious life principle. Changing from Marmoleum to concrete half-way down would halt the flow, veer your attention, disable the Connection. I took Tom aside, and we brainstormed a way to pour concrete over the first half of the Corridor, what is now the gaping hole of basement. “Beams, different trusses, we can do it.” Tom assured me, even if he wasn’t delighted.
So compelling is our new home’s Corridor that I sweated for three days this week---cutting, hacking, sawing, burning---creating a path through the Land’s far east hedgerow, strangled with buckthorn.
So on the day that you first enter our new home and are pulled down the Corridor and out into the Land, you will then see that the Corridor does not end there. A quarter-mile away, where the prairie rolls up to the forest, you will see a little gap, a sunny opening onto a meadow beyond. Then perhaps your feet---and heart and soul and imagination---can roam, gallop even, like wild horses down The Corridor, with me, if you please.
And together we can wonder at the glorious mystery of Fences---real as steel or mere lines on a map---and the space between, The Corridor, compelling us toward our better selves.