When I first hatched the idea, what would later become the Marquette Climbers’ Co-op, I did not sleep for three days. I was too excited. My mind just would not let it go. In class, distracted, I sketched out crude schematics for a boulder wall, a small indoor climbing gym on which dedicated climbers could train. At night, I pictured a blooming urban homestead, its orchards and gardens pollinated by buzzing bees from a rooftop apiary. Nonstop, I fantasized about a collective of student climbers coming together to take on the responsibilities of sustainable homeownership. I pondered lessons from social psychology, pit theories of community against diffusion of responsibility. I thought too about how this idea might affect my future. Previously, I had planned to move west after graduation to follow through with my interest in wilderness therapy. I was frazzled and more than a little conflicted, but obviously inspired. On the fourth day I admitted defeat, resolved to act, and fell at last into an exhausted slumber.
Even to me, even today (almost five years later), the idea seems odd and far-fetched: a housing cooperative for rock climbers, who would come up with such a thing? Who would bother?
At times, I’ve tried since to work it out logically. It was perfectly logical, for instance, to move the student boulder wall to a permanent location. Over the years, more energy had been spent moving the wall from rental to rental (as leases expired and students graduated) than had been spent actually training on it. A home owned by sustainability-minded climbers, for the health and wellbeing of those members, was a logical solution. Afterall, though new to Marquette, housing cooperatives had been established in many college towns. A successful Climbers’ Co-op might even pave the way for other cooperative efforts in the community. Moreover, the timing could not have been better. In such a depressed market, normal rental dues would easily cover the mortgage and other expenses. It was a perfectly sensible investment.
Logic had its place certainly, but it was not logic that sustained me, months later, through the countless hours I spent redoing electrical, plumbing, plaster and roofing, or pouring over finances and zoning code. Nor was it logic that inspired my peers to join me. Our shared hopes and vision came from a place much deeper and created a culture that superseded that which was merely logical. It was not an easy thing necessarily; faith, inspiration, connection, love, these things exist sometimes as little more than a nagging hunch.
Today, the Marquette Climbers’ Co-op, is over four years old. In that time we transformed an abandoned, ramshackled house into an affordable and integrated home for dozens of young adults. We built an indoor climbing wall, for personal and community use, and a large greenhouse. We planted fruit trees and vegetable gardens, replaced old windows and invested significantly in insulation and energy efficient appliances. The house runs with a healthy surplus, and extra money is routinely reinvested according to well defined goals and objectives. But these are merely the quantifiables. Less tangible, but no less real is the value added to the larger community by challenging the status quo and challenging young people to get involved. Two years removed from living in the house myself, I check in often (but not too often) and am always reaffirmed.
Why did I bother? Why did I devote so many hours to something akin to romantic fantasy, a nagging hunch? The short answer is that young people need a place to experiment, a place to be tested, a place to learn and grow in order to reach their highest selves. A young man myself, I needed the same.
For the past several years, my inspiration in this project has guided my growth as a person and citizen; and in truth, it still does. Recent struggles with an as-of-yet unaccommodating zoning code threaten the future of the the Marquette Climbers’ Co-op. Though smaller in scale, it is a struggle not too dissimilar to that experienced by many environmental and cooperative efforts. It is a challenge thus, moving forward, to be accepted with gusto.
To that end, once again, I am forced to acknowledge my ignorance and submit myself to the next test. For the house, for cooperative and environmental efforts everywhere, I want to learn the language of law. I want to learn how that language can be used to protect our natural world and bring people together in a spirit of cooperation.
Call it a hunch.
- Ian Girard