A few weeks ago, I posted an exit interview with Chris Legz Pierce, who, like many others before him, decided to pull up stakes and head west, to the promised land of Portland, Oregon. Well, as luck would have it, the universe intervened, and gave us someone in return. Following is my interview with a young woman who, to my knowledge, is the first person ever to move from Portland to Michigan. Her name is Bird.
MARK: Let’s start with your name. I know you as Bird, but I imagine that’s not the name you grew up with. As I suspect that you may have given up the name of your youth, at least in part, in order to make a clean break with the past, I won’t ask what your name was. I am, however, curious as to why you chose Bird.
BIRD: I have always felt a kinship with birds, as a child I was fascinated by them and continue to be. I would often dream of flying and I am pretty sure I thought I could when I was young. Thankfully, I never jumped off of anything too high.
MARK: Before moving to Michigan, if I’m not mistaken, you lived in Portland. I’m curious as to why someone would leave Portland for here. I mean, I see people making the move in the other direction all the time, but you’re the first person I’ve seen do it this way. What was it about Michigan that you found so compelling? Or was it something about Portland that you didn’t like?
BIRD: I first left the Portland area in 2003 to take an internship at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA. One internship lead to another and I just started traveling that way. I traveled from 2003-2008, living in communes, organic farms, yoga ashrams, an artist temple, and a feminist pagan community. I spent some time again in Portland in 2005 and that was the last time that I lived there. Before coming to Michigan I was living and working in Rivas, Costa Rica on a fair trade coffee farm. My partner at the time was from Michigan and wanted to come home to be with family. I decided to follow a month later. Originally I was not keen on traveling to Michigan and only wanted to stay a short while before returning to California. Why did I stay? The people. I have met many kind, down to earth folks. I made friends that became like family to me and Michigan has become home. I have met lots of people in my travels but none like the people in Michigan. I like that Michiganders have so much pride in their state, that there is a focus on local food, art, and business. Michigan welcomed me with open arms and I found a home even though I didn’t know I was looking for one.
MARK: The last time I was in Portland, I ducked into a bar to get out of the rain. And, as I was sitting there, eating a bowl of chili, and having a beer, I overheard the bartender telling someone, “No one who’s actually from Portland lives downtown.” He went one to say, “Everyone who lives in the City is from Detroit or Chicago.” I’m just curious if that was your experience as well. Were you meeting a lot of Michiganders when you lived there?
BIRD: When I lived there I did not meet a lot of Michiganders. It’s a transient place – you never really know who’s living there and who’s just passing through. I have lived in the city, and I have lived outside of the city. I am not sure if there is truth to that statement or not.
MARK: As you’ve lived and worked on a number of farms, I’m curious if that’s a vocation you see yourself pursuing in Michigan? Would you ever like to have a farm of your own? If so, what kind of farm would it be?
BIRD: There was a time and a place for farm work in my life. I really enjoyed working outdoors. I liked the muscles I gained from the work, the fresh air and sunshine. However I feel like I was better suited for that work in my early twenties.
MARK: Linette tells me that, while you were at Farm Sanctuary, you became the go-to person when dying animals needed comforting. I’m curious to know what you took away from that experience.
BIRD: I am not sure that I was the go-to person, but I did help a few animals pass on. It was a strange summer where a few animals died of natural causes and one of cancer, who was euthanized. I wanted to help, so I put myself in the right place at the right time to be a support person. It was an intense experience to sit and hold an animal as it dies. I am not sure if I can put that experience into words. A few months before I came to the sanctuary a good friend of mine was shot. I suppose her death is part of what inspired me to leave everything behind and stop daydreaming about things I wanted to do and just do them. So that summer for me really seemed to revolve around death in a way that I had not previously imagined that it would. I was 21, I had not had much experience with death and here I was, really seeing the impermanence of life. I took away from that summer a deep respect for the animals I cared for. I gained a connection with farm animals that I would not have had otherwise, being raised in the city. I gained a different understanding of death and the process of dying. Here I was, holding animals while they passed, singing to them, and comforting them. I learned that there could be much more intention, kindness and care given to those that pass on. I think my time on the farm was healing for me in a way and helped me to access a part of myself that I did not even know was there.
MARK: How many different places have you lived in your life?
BIRD: My rough estimate is 19 different towns or cities. I have lived in some of those places more than once.
MARK: Upon moving to Michigan, you first lived in Ann Arbor. You later made a decision to move to Ypsilanti. Why, if you don’t mind my asking, did you decide to make the move?
BIRD: My partner, Leah. wanted to be close to EMU. She had lived in Ypsi before and loved it. I fell in love with Ypsi right away.
Things I love about Ypsi:
Living by the river
Everything I need is within walking or biking distance
A focus on local businesses
The artists and activists
The Thrift Shop
Hanging with Arlo, Clementine and Juna
MARK: Is there anything about Ypsilanti that you’d like to ask my readers? Are there local customs, for instance, that you find confusing? Do you need a recommendation for bike mechanic? Is there, perhaps, a tree that gives you the willies, and you don’t know why? (In an Ypsi Exit Interview not too long ago, someone told me that there is an “evil tree” in Ypsilanti.)
BIRD: Recommendations for restaurants with good vegetarian food – the spicier the better! I have not seen any creepy trees.
MARK: They say that it takes about three years in a place before someone really feels like a place is their home. Given your age, and the number of places that you’ve lived, I’m wondering if you’ve ever really gotten to experience that feeling.
BIRD: I lived in Ann Arbor the longest and my time living at the Heiwa House Co-op (3 1/2 years) gave me that feeling of home. It still feels like home to me, and I adore that people there.
MARK: How will you know when it’s time to stop traveling and invest in a place for the long term? Is there something specific that you’re looking for?
BIRD: I feel like the time has come for me to stop traveling, I think that time came when I landed in Michigan. I am not sure if Michigan will be my forever home, but I have been living a more stationary life for some time now. I plan to be in Ypsi for a few years. I am not sure if I will ultimately go back to the west coast to settle, or if I will stay in Michigan. But my days of taking off every month or two and living out of a pack are over. I wouldn’t mind taking a trip every now and then, but it’s nice to have a home to come back to.
MARK: I know it’s difficult to be objective, but I’m curious to know what you perceive as your strengths. What do you bring to the community?
BIRD: Well, I bring with me my skills as a childcare provider and that is something that is needed in any community. I also bring with me my knowledge of the domestic arts – cooking, sewing, cleaning, minor home repairs, making your own eco friendly cleaners.
MARK: Is it easy to make friends in Ypsilanti?
BIRD: I feel like people have been welcoming and friendly. I am rather nervous and shy in social situations, so it takes me some time to make friends.
MARK: If there were an Ypsi Welcome Wagon, what would it look like? As a new person in our community, what would have been useful to you that first week? If you got a knock on your door, and there were two people on your front step, what would have liked for them to have said to you? What would have made you feel welcomed?
BIRD: I imagine friendly folks with flowers. Bearing gifts of useful things like a handmade item for my kitchen, a small map with important places and local businesses marked on it, and a list of upcoming events.
MARK: Do you have any desire to be our Mayor? I don’t get the sense that our current Mayor is going to run again, and I’m trying to find a candidate?
BIRD: Oh no, I prefer to spend my days caring for children and sewing.
MARK: What’s surprised you the most about Ypsilanti… good and bad.
BIRD: I suppose I haven’t really felt surprised by anything so far.
[note: The second image is not a photo. It's a drawing done by Clementine, who happens to be a friend of Bird's. If you'd like to see the whole drawing, you can find it here.]