Fallen Tree: A unique project to foster community on Muriel Street
Category: The Big Picture

Fallen Tree: A unique project to foster community on Muriel Street

Fallen Tree: An Overview of Its History and Intentions
By Jane-Marie Law

Fallen Tree is the name given to a ¾ acre tract of land on which sits a 920 square foot pre-fab house built in 1954 located at 128 Muriel Street in the Town of Ithaca. The second owner of this piece of property was a committed conservationist and active early member of the Sierra Club by the name of Constance Thomas (known as Connie). During her lifetime, she had been active in leading tours for Sierra Club to places in Norway, Alaska, the Adirondacks, Iceland and Latin America. As she aged, she turned her attentions closer to home, and was an avid birder, and worked on regional state forest trail systems. She was also a volunteer for the local transportation system for elderly people known as Gadabout, and keeping her fellow aging women friends involved in the community was a passion for her. After a fall in 2013, she was admitted to a nursing home, and in the fall of 2014, she passed away. Her house sat empty for another year, with all its contents from her interesting life still inside of it. In October of 2015, the house was finally purchased by Adam and Jane-Marie Law, who live in the house next door and have privately funded the creation of this center.

The house, as found in October of 2015, was in very bad shape and has had to be completely gutted. It has been converted to an airsource heat pump for heat, and the entire house has been converted to solar energy, making it a property free of fossil fuels. It now has the highest level of insulation possible. Here are the projects being constructed in the year 2016.

  • Behind the house, space has been cleared for community vegetable gardens and the target participants for this project are the many economically challenged people who live in this immediate vicinity who would benefit from the chance to grow their own food and find a community through gardening. The work and design of these gardens is being undertaken by a group of Cornell architecture students whose group is called Building Community. We are focusing on getting women in our community who are older to work with teens and young women in our neighborhoods in having their own kitchen gardens.
  • The front of the property is going to be an educational pollinator garden, to enable people to learn how to plant attractive ornamental gardens that also attract local pollinators, wild bees and even honey bees. We intend to apply for a small grant to fund this part of the project.
  • Renwick Creek, which runs through the property is a good habitat for local amphibians and we will restoring this system in the year ahead with the help of local scientists and hopefully a small grant.
  • In the far back of the garden, we have plans to build a small tea garden, tea house and a tent platform, as well as a fire pit where local gatherings can happen for small recreational fires (as allowed by local fire code).
  • Inside the house, we are restoring Connie’s library into her study, as well as her photo albums from her many travels on nature sites. The library will also include books on bees, birds and plants and gardening. We are also reestablishing her classical music collection with a good stereo on which to listen to the records.
  • In the back of the house, we are converting the old tool shed into a community share tool shed, where people living in the area can borrow tools for their own projects. Water barrels are being installed so we can depend on rainwater for irrigation. There are three meeting sites on the space: one inside, and two outside—on a patio and under a very large and magnificent oak tree.
  • We have three small bedrooms for interns who are interested in working on sustainability projects in the immediate community.
  • We hope to add to this work a task force of people who can help include caring for the elderly in our immediate neighborhood and keeping them in their homes.
  • We will also have morning silent prayer and meditation, completely non-denominational.
  • A teaching kitchen will allow people who know good recipes using local produce to share them with friends. We feel this is a good way to encourage many of the foreign women in our neighborhood to find common ground.
  • The open space inside will be available mornings to people who want to get together and do yoga or exercises, have a book club or just chat.
  • Monthly potluck meals will give us a chance to get to know one another by sharing food together. We are also looking into having some activities for children in the neighborhood.

The name Fallen Tree was given to us by the land itself. In three places on the land, we found trees which had fallen in various storms (an apple tree, a crabapple tree and a redbud tree), but which had all somehow found a way to re-root themselves and grow again in interesting, twisted yet beautiful shapes. The Redbud in the front yard is especially beautiful and will be our banner bearer and logo. We feel this is a wonderful metaphor for the kind of resilience we are looking to foster. Our commodity driven, consumerist, fossil fuel dependent society is drawing to a close. For all the developments it gave us, it is not sustainable. But from the healthy wood that is still in our former world, we can grow a new and vibrant community. We can tap into the incredible resilience that is in the natural world and hitch our wagons to that boundless energy. It can take us into a new relationship with our yards, our land, our food and each other.

We are expecting an opening in the first week of March, 2016. People interested in hearing more about the project can contact Jane Marie Law at jml16@cornell.edu

Image credit: Eastern Redbud Flowers, Photo by Carl Dennis, Auburn University, Bugwood.org 

3 comments:

  1. What a meaningful project! This is what any community should have. I feel very fortunate to live in this neighborhood. I definitely want to be a part of it. I know my future time spent at Fallen Tree will be educational empowering and fun! Thank you, Jane-Marie!

  2. I first met Connie Thomas in 1978 when I was a new “reservationist” at Sierra Club Outings in San Francisco, and she was a new trip leader for the Sierra Club, whose trip I was in charge of keeping track of. We instantly bonded on the phone, and when it turned out that a staff member on her Rangeley Lakes< Maine trip had dropped out, my new boss said to me, well now you have to go be that assistant. So with very little warning, I packed up way too much stuff and flew to Maine, where I was picked up by the then Chairman of the Northeast Sierra Club, Frank Roberts, a kind man who warned me that Connie was "Connie," and soon she and I met for real.

    I went on several trips, both with the Sierra Club, and on our own with Connie after that, and I had a deep loving friendship with her until her death. I visited her home and she knew how much I loved the redbud treealked so often over the years. about kitties, birds, plants, etc. To me, she was the most inspirational person of my life. A conservationist before the word existed, Connie was also proud, self sustaining and ever awesome. I am so amazed and relieved that this place has happened. I miss her so much, and every now and then I would google her address, to see if anything had happened to the house. Wow, how great this is…The day before I found this site, I told a work friend to read a book that Connie had given me, "A handmade Wilderness." His reading it is what inspired me to check her address once again, and I cried like a baby when I saw what you have done, JaneMarie.

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