Thursday, April 12, 2012

Farewell to the Gnar-gnar

Sunday, April 8, and Monday, April 9, 2012
We got to sleep in a bit on this Easter Sunday and enjoy a breakfast of farm fresh bacon and eggs.  We then headed out to church at Trinity United Methodist in downtown Madison.  Many members of their congregation prepared meals for us during the week or baked cookies or other goodies before we arrived.  In addition, the church contributed money to our recent efforts in Tanzania and Haiti, helping us complete the water work we did in those two places. 

We arrived just as the opening music began and got to march right down front to sit with Shelly.  We met many of our cooks from the week and all of us got lots of hugs, especially Shawny.  When we left church, we checked out the historic fountain outside the front door then headed home to gather up all possible lunch food and take it to Joe and Vicky’s house.

Once we got there we warmed up all of the leftovers we had available (including venison steaks!) and shared a big lunch on the porch.   (Shawny said, “You know, we never let people feed us!,” to which Vicky replied, “Well, we never let people help us, so we’re even!”)  From there, we knew that we had about two hours to work so we decided to tackle the last 40 yards or so of the creek.  A few of us waded in the gnar-gnar to rake, shovel, and pitchfork it while the rest fired up the chainsaws and threw logs and limbs in every direction. 

We reached our goal in pretty quick order, gathered up our tools and trudged up the hill out of the ravine for the last time (on this trip, anyway).  Preparing to say goodbye to Joe and Vicky was harder than we expected and actually driving away was even harder.  We know that whoever goes to Indiana next (most likely Shawny) will definitely visit the Germanos but we have no idea when that might be. 

We headed back to the Anderson house and stuffed all of our tools and muddy boots away for their return to California.  We hurried as fast as we could to connect with Shawny’s dear friends Bob and Becky in Indianapolis and once we got there, everyone realized right away what the rush was all about. 

Bob and Becky’s house is on a lovely wooded plot with lots of fun built in.  We arrived and helped to wipe out the remains of their Easter dinner and then we got a tour of the place to get a feel for the range of options available to us.  We made plans for a Monday morning trip to the airport (to drop off Gabe, Dennis and Amelia) and then for the rest of us to fish, ride ATVs and hunt morel mushrooms.   We also made time to clean out the truck that Bob had loaned us, which he agreed not to look at until we had taken it through a carwash. 

Our Monday in Indy was a restful blast. 

It gave us some time to think about our accomplishments while in Indiana.  They include: 1) helping to restore a protected forest area, 2) helping to prepare a cow pasture to once again host cows, 3) helping to get some farm fields cleared for planting, 4) clearing a foundation area for the excavation of a new house, 5) opening up creeks to help them flow freely again, and 6) clearing debris from a number of different properties. 

Whatever we accomplished was highly dependent on the impressive network of friends and community members that supported us while we were there, including Shawny’s two sisters (Sherry and Shelly), family friend Karen Modisett, members of Trinity United Methodist Church, friends and food suppliers Todd Thorne and John Heitz, John Jones and the Hanover College Athletic Department, friends and hosts Bob and Becky Kevoian, friends who loaned us chainsaws (Tyler, Blake, and Andy)  and other big tools (Yale Martin) and all of the partners with whom we worked as we cleared debris. 

We have sore muscles and lots of scrapes, but more than those we have huge piles of fond memories of our time spent in Indiana.  We will shake off our accents pretty quickly we’re sure, but we will long remember our time in the hills, trees, and creeks of Jefferson, Scott, and Clark (plus Marion!) counties.  Thanks for reading and for supporting what we do.  See you next trip!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bootful of Gnar-gnar

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ouch.  Wow.  Pain.   We are all sore and exhausted tonight but that doesn’t mean we had a bad day.  We had a great day with lots of big achievements.  Of course, to have a day like that means to come home very dirty and – in this case – smelly, but we will get to that later. 

We went to Joe’s this morning after a French toast breakfast.   We got right to work clearing the same stream from yesterday, which was noticeably larger in the places we had cleared but also still stopped up in places we hadn’t yet reached.  We went to those un-cleared areas and decided to start farther down and work our way back to the debris “wall” where we stopped on Thursday. 

We fired up all four of our borrowed chainsaws and started heaving whole fallen trees into burn piles.  We watched dammed up places in the stream open up and start to flow.  The only thing that convinced us to stop even for a few moments was the arrival of a photographer from the local paper, the Madison Courier, who did a quick interview and then got out of the way as our systems started back up.

We broke for lunch with Vicky and Joe, sharing one of the great dishes left for us by Karen: pulled pork from a local butcher who specializes in helping hunters process their deer, turkeys, etc.  Vicky added in some hotdogs, potato salad and more and we had quite a feast.  As we finished lunch a few of us had to jump into the showers to get ready to leave for the airport.  Matt, Emily, Claire and Justin all headed off to the Louisville airport to head home for Easter and the rest of us pulled our soggy boots back on and got back to work.

This time, though, we relocated to a completely different streambed on another side of the property.  It eventually flows down and connects with the one we’ve been clearing and is one of Joe’s favorite hunting spots during deer season.  This stream was flowing better than the other one already, but there were still some big crazy blockages that took everything we had to clear.  As we were now a smaller group, we had to put in just a little bit more effort individually to match the progress that we were making when we had everyone. 

Another difference in this streambed was that we elected not to create burn piles but to throw the wood into piles that would settle so that they can become animal habitats instead of clearings.  (The forestry expert that visited a few days ago made this recommendation for this section of the property.)

A couple of people made the commitment right from the start to tromp down through the middle of the stream and manage the cutting.  Others started out on the edges, pulling severed branches and loosely arranging them away from the stream.  Before much time passed, though, everyone was in the creek, slogging along and making it wider than it has probably been for years. 

And then we got laughing.  Still working, but laughing.  In some places on this stream, the water was backed up and starting to stagnate in slimy little pools.  Gabe casually tossed off the evaluation that the water was “kind of gnar-gnar” (a shortened from of “gnarly,” meaning “nasty.”)  That flip little reference served as a source of entertainment for the rest of the day as we messed with that word, taking it from an adjective to a noun to a base syllable in tons of already-existing words. 

In some places we ran into large patches of mossy algae that was REALLY gnar-gnar and really smelly.  We used a shovel, a rake, a pitchfork, our boots, a stick, and several other creative tools to break up the fields of gnar-gnar to send them downstream.  We would loosen big patches of the green slime, scoop it up in a variety of ways, and fling it onto the banks of the stream.  Sometimes it would cling in the bushes or tree limbs, danglin’, drippin’, and stankin’.  It was disgusting but satisfying to walk into these slippery and smelly fields and then walk away from them with clear water flowing. 

The gnar-gnar puns continued relentlessly and as daylight started to wane, we did a search for all of the random tools that we had left behind as we moved down the creek bed.  We were shocked to see how much territory we had covered this afternoon.  We went up to the house and pooled our food with Vicky and Joe again.  We brought hamburgers and beans and buns and they pitched in chicken, hash brown casserole, green bean casserole, salad, German chocolate cake, and the hit of the night: venison steaks. 

We ate more than we ever should eat and admired each other’s farmer tans.  Some of us had wader tans, achieved by getting sun above your big rubber boots but below your shorts or capri pants.  We made plans to return to Joe and Vicky’s house on Easter to do a few hours of work after church and before leaving for Indianapolis, where we will stay until the first bunch leaves for the airport tomorrow and the second bunch leaves on Tuesday morning. 

We thought about going out and checking out the Madtown nightlife but chose to stay home instead.  Amelia wanted to stay up late, because she had given up chocolate for Lent, meaning that at midnight she could gorge on the chocolate stash she has been sitting on this whole week.  (Chris is convinced that Amelia only came to Indiana so that midnight would come three hours earlier to allow her to break her chocolate fast.). 

We will head to church with Shelly for Easter Sunday and then back for our last few hours of work at Vicky and Joe’s.  We hope your Easter is lovely wherever you are!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Friday, April 6, 2012

We ventured farther south today than we usually work, returning to help Shawny’s cousin Sara in Henryville, Sara’s daughter Jennifer, Jennifer’s husband Brian, and Jennifer and Brian’s sons Tyler and Conner.  We had visited the property they all share last Sunday and promised to return today.  As you read in our blog entry from that day, Sara’s house was badly hit (but not totally destroyed) by the storm and Jennifer and Brian’s house was largely untouched.  The 200 acres of trees and farmland that surround them are a total mess, so we knew that our main task would be to tackle as many as possible of those trees and debris piles.  

When we arrived we found another volunteer group already there.  They were all high school students and staff from St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky, where Jenny teaches.  They mostly took on the lower field and we concentrated on the slopes immediately off the lane that leads to both houses on the property.  Our magnet men scanned the property for sheet metal in trees, found a lot of pieces and brought them down.  The rest of us gathered around the humming chainsaws and got to work making burn piles. 

With Chris, Justin, Scott and Josh sharing the majority of the chainsaw duties, we can really make wood fly.  We used every strategy in the book, including cut-and-carry (grab the cut wood and deliver it to the burn pile individually), bucket brigades (line up and pass the wood along as it falls), front loader (put the wood in the bucket of a big tractor and drive it to the burn pile, and burn in place (establish a burn pile right where you are cutting). 

Happily, Sara was not around for most of the work today, as she left for a long-planned cruise with some friends soon after our arrival this morning.  Jenny was gone in the morning, as was Conner.  So our main hosts were Brian and Tyler.   Lucky us!  Brian is HILARIOUS, with a strangely devious-looking way of doing the everyday tasks that life requires.  He is always chuckling (unless he is shooting a professional level bow and arrow or lifting a several hundred pound piece of debris) and he is always warm and friendly (except maybe when he needs a stern look to reprimand Tyler for speeding in the ATV that is pulling a cart loaded with his friends from Saint X).

We made a big push on the hillside nearest Brian and Jenny’s house in the morning and a similar push on the slope by Sara’s house in the afternoon.  We wrestled debris out of literal briar patches and removed severed timbers that were intertwined all over the place. 

Our lunch was provided by the local relief coordinating team, who use the food that was already purchased for the now-destroyed high school and convert it to meals for relief workers and victims.  Sara and her family had pre-ordered meals for their Friday team (including us) so we had some chicken noodle casserole, some peach cobbler, some granola bars and other snacks and plenty of water.  We also got to taste some venison sausage that was the product of deer hunting by both Brian and Tyler. 

The afternoon job was particularly ferocious, as the slope by Sara’s house leads to a creek that was mostly clogged (much like Joe’s), meaning that once we cleared our way to the water’s edge, we wanted to clear the waterway itself as well.  Like all of the jobs we have done this week, we made exceptional progress but we also know that there is MUCH work still to be done. 

We went out for some renowned burgers (and fried pickles!) in Madison tonight and walked a bit on (sleepy) Main Street to see what/where the action was.  As it turns out, “action” was not the name of the game on this particular Friday night. 

We are excited about our workday tomorrow as we are eager to see how much farther we can take the cleanup in Joe’s woods.   When we all share the same unified goal, we can be a pretty formidable team.  Be ready for a big progress report.  We are!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

“Watch your face!”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What a day!  We opened the day with a mad scramble to get to Career Day at Southwestern Elementary School with Shelly’s third graders and the other third grade classes at the school.  We were supposed to speak at 8:30 (ugh!) and hoped to arrive by 8:15.  We got there at about 8:20, which meant we weren’t actually late but we didn’t meet our own planned schedule.  Oh well. 

The kids had all followed the Tanzania group while we were there this January, so they knew some of us well and knew what we had been up to recently.  We told them more about our exploits over the years and showed them some short video clips, including our demolition of a house in New Orleans in January 2007 (, our making of concrete blocks in Haiti in the summer of 2010 ( and our water work in Tanzania in January 2012 ( 

We also talked about all of the skills that we probably learned in third grade that helped us along the way, like math, reading, writing, and art.  We talked about our majors and what they mean and we talked about some of the things that we learned on our trips, including how lucky we are to live the lives we live in the United States, how great it is to meet people who are very different from us, and how confident we are that we can do more than we ever thought we could. 

We talked to the kids in four waves, with Shelly’s class as our first bunch.   Her students had millions of questions and wanted to talk a lot about the tornado, which meant we didn’t quite cover all of our material.  In the other sessions, though, we got it pretty well organized so that everyone spoke (even our newcomer, Megan!) and we flowed pretty well together.  We learned that several of us are really good at speaking to this age group. 

When we arrived at the school it was pouring down rain, but when we left it was sunny.  We called Joe and told him to watch for our arrival in an hour or so, then hightailed it to the local state park, Clifty Falls, for a picnic lunch and short walk to the vista points for both “Big Clifty Falls” and “Little Clifty Falls.”  The recent rains meant that both were flowing really hard, which made for a cool (if muddy) sight. 

We then headed for Joe’s house to tackle more of the ravine.  We have developed deep affection for Joe and Vicky’s property and now we are totally driven to take their woods as far as we can to help them recover. 

Our two magnet fishing cowboys got to work on some large pieces of sheet metal high in the trees and conquered several of them with the strongest weapon of all: patience.  Though a few people predicted they would give up, they stuck with the jobs until the metal came crashing down.  Big cheers echoed through the ravine whenever we heard the sound of banging sheet metal.

Perhaps inspired by the success of our scrap rustlers, three of the women ventured deep into the thicket to retrieve lower-hanging (but still VERY challenging) pieces of metal.  They succeeded in getting the metal that they sought and they simultaneously succeeded in having a total blast and a ton of laughs along the way.   As they made their way through the tangle, they got to advise each other on possible pathways with unusual instructions like: “Turn at the green tank top in the brush” or “Go under the big curved tree but don’t poke your eye out when you stand back up.”  They also got reminded that finding the “easiest” way to get where you are going doesn’t necessarily mean that the way is “easy.” 

Most of us also shared in a big push on the tree that we had partially segmented two days ago, throwing all of our energy at it until we had cleared a HUGE space that has been entirely impassable since we arrived.  Then Joe told us that a forestry guy had come to consult with him about how to revive his “protected” forest that is largely decimated.  One priority he identified was to get the creek flowing properly again.

We knew that there was some kind of stream out there in the bottom of the ravine, but we didn’t really know what its flow could or should be.  So Joe picked a spot and got us started clearing the fallen timbers that were damming up the stream.  Even within a ten-foot span, it was clear that we could make quite a difference.  Of course, several of us had to wade knee deep in muddy water to get the effect we wanted, but we all knew that it was totally worth it. 

Joe and Justin served as the front line wielding chainsaws and the rest of us followed along behind dragging limbs out of the water and tossing them as far as we could throw them from the creek.  Some of them were really long, as it was tough to tell what was connected to what in the thick tangle of the fallen trees.  Suddenly we found ourselves calling out “Watch your face!” more times than we have ever needed to do in prior trips. 

Despite all of the warnings, we each have at least one scratch or abrasion; some of us have several.  One of us fell backwards into the creek in the most perfect spot possible to get totally soaked but still remain completely uninjured.  In the end, we had cleared about 120 feet of the creek, with a clear sense that we can make our way to the place where this stream meets another one before we leave Indiana. 

We are pretty convinced that Joe is really happy to have us here, as the work will be very slow going when we are not.  We are by no means arborists (maybe low level arsonists, at least when trees actually NEED to be burned) and we cannot work as hard as Joe can (not all of us, anyway).  But still, having a crew of 13 extra people makes a huge difference in the expenditure of time it takes to accomplish anything in the tangle that used to be his woods.  He thought that the stream restoration would take two months or more and now . . . it won’t. 

We would love to work with Joe tomorrow, but we are committed already to do similar work in Henryville, on the property of Shawny’s cousin Sara.  We look forward to seeing Sara and the other family members that live in Henryville, so we will have no regrets, but we will be eager to return to Paynesville on Saturday and do a full-on push in Joe’s ravine. 

Tune in tomorrow for the news from Henryville . . .

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rustlin’ Scrap

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
This morning was the first where almost everyone was awakening after a full eight hours of sleep.  That made us all well rested and at the same time a bit more tired.  We are so spoiled here that we actually ate shoofly pie for breakfast, along with au gratin potatoes and made-to-order eggs.  We made three stops on the way to our new worksite, including the chainsaw repair shop (for chain sharpening), the mini-mart (for ice for our water coolers) and the hardware store (in search of machetes, which we didn’t find).  Our new site was another one of the totally destroyed houses in Nabb, where much clearing has been done, but much more still awaits. 

We drove past the open goat pen and parked in the driveway between two foundations, probably from a house and a barn or garage.  The goat came out to greet us, as did a very friendly orange cat.  We found that the homeowners (whom we had contacted by phone) were not at home so we went ahead and got to work.  We noticed that there were several items stuck high up in the trees, including twisted pieces of metal roofing, trim of several varieties and even a twin size (?) box spring. 

Of course, there was also small debris scattered everywhere across the property, mainly composed of construction materials like drywall, insulation, guttering and shingles, but also things like paper, broken plastic and lots of glass.  Some of us concentrated on very small areas of the yard and picked up small debris piece by piece.  We loaded it into bags then transferred it either into burn piles or a dumpster, depending upon the feasibility of it burning.  Any metal pieces went into a separate pile with the expectation that it could be recycled.

As for the pieces in the trees, though, they became today’s special challenge.  We knew before we came that people were concerned about debris high in living trees and that no one had a great idea yet about how to get it down.  So we came up with the hare-brained scheme of bringing some small handle magnets, tying them to ropes, swinging them onto metal pieces and pulling them down.  We brought magnets and ropes with us to give it a try.

Several of us took turns strategizing with the magnets and even trying to make them do what we planned.  But when Scott and Matt got on the job, things professionalized.  Before long they discovered that the magnets were rarely helpful because they were magnetic; instead, they were helpful because of their weight.  Scott and Matt took our new favorite form of rope – parachute cord (thanks, Matt H.!) – and tied it to the magnets.  Then they would scope out the scene in the tree, strategically swing the magnets in the air, and land the rope (usually) really close to the limb that supported the piece of debris or the one above it.  From there they would take both ends of the rope and shake things all around until the piece came down or else they would use the magnet as a striker to get the thing to let go of the limb.  Sometimes it was slow going but when a big piece came down (like the mattress!) it was awesome. 

Watching them do the magnet work was like attending some kind of weird combination of a rodeo event and fishing.  When they would swing the magnets to get up the momentum for a throw, they looked like they were working lassoes.  But when they were working the lines to bring the piece down, they seemed like they were fly-fishing.  Some of our other worksites have treetop pieces of debris (actually, they are scattered over several counties) so we might have to go test their skills in some other venues.  We’ll let you know about their next performance. 

When we started to talk about eating lunch (excellent sandwiches and sides from a local deli called Red Pepper – compliments of Red Pepper owner John Heitz and Shawny’s high school friend Todd Thorne) we also noticed that it looked like it was about to rain.  Shawny warned us that once the first drops fell, a downpour was likely to follow.  It did. 

We all made a break for the cars as the rain poured down.  Once in place, we lined the cars up with each other so we could pass food across from window to window, as some food was in our rented van while other stuff was in our borrowed truck.  We had a lovely cross-vehicle picnic (including honey shots) and were surprised when the rain just didn’t really seem like it was going to let up. 

We decided to spend the rainy period driving into downtown Madison, as our newest arrivals had not yet seen it.  It’s a quaint little historic river town, so it’s worth a look.  We even decided to drive across the Ohio River and set foot in Kentucky, stopping by the aptly named Candy and Tobacco Shop at the base of the bridge.  No one ended up being interested in tobacco but several people partook of the candy offerings, even if they were a bit odd (like gingerbread flavored candy corn – yuck). 

When we realized that the rain still wasn’t quitting, we decided to head home and take care of some odd jobs both in the house itself and for our group.  Some people also got busy napping.  We all rallied in the evening, as we were invited out to the lovely home of Karen’s brother Mike, who made us sandwiches that included homemade bread (made by him) and lots of lovely sides. 

We couldn’t stay long at Mike’s, as we have a public speaking gig in the morning at the elementary school where Shelly teaches.  It is Career Day at Southwestern Elementary in Hanover, Indiana, and even though most of us don’t exactly have “careers” yet, someone seems to think that we might have something inspirational to say to third graders.  We hope they are right. 

We have an early morning tomorrow so wish us luck.  Getting away at the time we intended is not our strong suit so far . . .

Honey Shots and Humidity

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our morning took us back to Nabb, this time to work with the neighbor of the folks for whom we moved blocks yesterday.  They had told us that the man next door, Greg, had broken his arm while trying to work on his property.  We called him last night and asked him if he wanted help and he eagerly said that he would welcome as much help as he could get. 

We started by using movable fence to corral Greg’s two cows to help us access the pasture they usually occupy.  Greg is worried about the debris in the pasture (including glass and metal shards) hurting the cows, so we needed to spend a bit of time trying to locate the most dangerous pieces.  The cows were afraid of us, though, so even though we had access to their feed to lure them into the corral, we had to get out of sight and send Greg and his broken arm down into the corral to convince them to go in. 

While in the front yard, we started a field walk to clear the debris from the yard, starting at the road and continuing to the camper in which Greg is now living.  People in Indiana set their homes (even if temporary) far off the road, so a front yard around here is a pretty substantial space.  Others had walked that particular field before us, so the job wasn’t as daunting as it might have been. 

We then moved to the back yard and took on one of the main jobs that Greg wanted done: moving three already-existing burn piles out of the pasture to the garden area between the camper and the pasture.  The work was tedious, but it helped us get some perspective on priorities.  That is, Greg wants to get some more cows, so he wants as much living grass in the pasture as he can get.  Thus, even though the group wouldn’t at first see the “lawn” as a priority, when there are livestock involved, things are different. 

We moved one of the big burn piles out of the pasture then broke for sandwiches, gathering in the shade of the camper because it had gotten VERY hot.  We guzzled water out of our coolers (with ice!) and then discovered our new favorite thing: honey shots.  Karen got us some fabulous local honey and once we gave it a try, we decided to just take it straight out of the squeeze bottle.  We would tip our heads back, put a tablespoon or so of honey in our mouths then hand it off to someone else to do the same.  We decided it was giving us energy and helping us fight off our allergies.  It probably was helping on neither of those fronts, but we didn’t care because we loved it. 

As we were finishing lunch, a car pulled into the drive followed by another, another, another, etc.  Suddenly twenty or more people were there, representing a local church that has shown great dedication to tornado relief efforts throughout the area.  They are committed to helping Greg get to the point where he is living on his own property in whatever permanent home ends up there.  We talked to the pastor who serves as their leader for a while then we left the next few jobs at Greg’s house for their group to complete and then headed back to Joe’s ravine. 

We got to Joe’s in the blazing sun (yes, in Indiana, in April) and starting cranking timbers into firewood piles and burn piles faster than ever.  It was hot and we were getting seriously whooped.  Then Joe came home and we cranked things up even faster.  He had cut down a huge beech tree and we were mercilessly heaving it in every direction to clear the space.  Even though each day when we arrive at Joe’s we feel like we are facing almost the same situation we faced on the first day, we also are beginning to notice that huge swaths of walkable space are now cleared.  On the first day, we could barely get one foot in any direction off the path that Joe had cleared.  Now things are different. 

Still, we didn’t have nearly as many hours of work in us as we have had in previous days.  Humidity is harsh. 

We got home early and were soon met by the cooks for tonight’s dinner, both of whom are from Shelly’s church in downtown Madison.  (“Downtown” in Madison is truly “down,” as there are big steep roads that connect the higher elevations of the city – “the hill” – from the lower ones – “downtown.”)  We ate huge amounts of home-cooked food, watched a movie, and crashed out whenever we felt like doing so. 

Another productive day, even if painfully hot at certain points.  Nice.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Full Team, More Fire

Monday, April 2, 2012

We got an early start so that Shawny could connect with the last group’s arrival at the Indianapolis airport.  Matt, Emily, Chris, Justin, and Megan flew in on redeyes from several different directions, jumped in our newly-acquired 15-passenger van and started toward the worksite in Nabb.  (Claire came into the Louisville airport later this evening and met us at the house.  Now we only have one or two more folks who are expected to arrive in the coming days.)

The rest of the group made its way to our new worksite in Nabb, where they labored to move hundreds (?) of concrete blocks that used to somehow underpin a house (or mobile home?) that went away with the storm.  Those blocks were in the way of the upcoming excavation of a basement for  a new house that will be built right at the spot where the former one stood. 

Because the blocks were in a shallow pit, the labor of moving them was a bit more strenuous than it might have been had the blocks just rested on flat ground.  We moved them and stacked them out of the way, but made sure to be careful with them, as they are likely to go back into use for the “mother-in-law” house/trailer that will follow quickly after the construction of the new house.

Along with the need for block relocation, the house also had a large field that was still covered with debris.  We walked the field and categorized the pieces into different piles, so that the best possible use can come of whatever was there.   Even though this sounds like quick and easy work (which it actually was), it is still exhausting because there is so much to do.  The sun was shining and draining us a bit too, so once the new arrivals from the airport joined the working team, we were ready for a change of venue. 

We returned to Joe’s house to continue working away at the woods in his ravine, slowly but surely carving out new clearings, creating new burn piles, and starting huge new bonfires.  We got to do a bit of chainsaw maintenance, overseen by new arrivals Chris and Justin, which slowed our progress just a bit as we tried to locate parts for the two different sizes of saws that we have been using.  Though it took awhile, we finally got things to work.  And, of course, we also made some big fires, mostly using smoldering embers from yesterday’s fires (and the trusty leaf blower) to move things along faster than ever. 

We had to knock off a bit early today due to a special invitation: the president of Hanover College asked to sponsor a meal for us in the college’s dining hall.  We gladly accepted the offer and got to check out the food service offerings at Hanover and compare them to our SMC dining hall.  We found that SMC won the undeclared “contest” in certain areas (overall variety, international offerings, and healthy choices) and Hanover won in others (baked potato bar, hand-dipped ice cream freezer, and “breakfast for dinner” option). 

We actually went to dinner before using the locker room facilities to shower, as the dining hall was set to close earlier than the gym would.  No Hanover students sat near us at our table, which might be due to the fact that we are strangers or it might be explained by the fact that we were smelly and dirty.  Either way, we enjoyed our visit there.

We came home to find that Claire had been delivered by Karen, who hung around late after working in Louisville today to pick Claire up.  Claire got full access to all Anderson family photos hanging on the walls without any interruption or interpretation; of course, this opportunity came with at least a few laughs.  We introduced all of the newcomers to the house and started the largest laundry push so far.  (Due to our concern about the poison ivy in the ravine, we gather the laundry every night and wash things to reduce any chance of spread.  It’s a bit of a long process, but if we get started quickly enough, no one has to stay up TOO late to make sure that everyone has what he or she needs for the next day’s work.  We each brought the smallest possible amount of clothing to save on baggage fees so we don’t have much flexibility on this issue.) 

As the new arrivals mingled with the earlier ones, we noticed that people have picked up a slight but noticeable southern accent by being here.  And we learned that people have pretty solid familiarity with the area and with the names of the various people we’ve met so far.  To listen to the folks who have been here for a few days explain things to the ones who just arrived was quite a kick. 

We are on for some fieldwalks tomorrow in Nabb.  Fieldwalks involve fanning out across a property and getting as much debris as possible out of the way either for planting, cattle grazing or just plain aesthetics.  If we get our two fieldwalks done quickly, we will return to Joe’s house for some more clearing.  If not, we will make a day of debris collection. 

We continue to be amazed at how much has already been done here.  Several of us went into post-Katrina New Orleans between four months and three years after the storm, and we are constantly marveling at the comparative progress we see here.  Still, there is much to be done.  And, as usual, a good deal of what needs to be done is rather mundane work that is far from glorious.  Our specialty. 

Check in tomorrow to hear more about the new properties we will visit and the new insights we (hopefully) will get. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Rain, the Drive and the Leaf-Blower

Sunday, April 1, 2012

We woke up to thunder and rain, which meant that most of us just didn’t get up when we had said we would.  That turned out to be okay, as Joe and Vicky said that it was much too slick and messy in the ravine to get anything done.  In search of a job, we made a series of phone calls and found that there was little to accomplish on a Sunday in the rain.  So we called Shawny’s cousin Sara, who lives in Henryville, one of the hardest hit towns in the storms.   She invited us to drive to Henryville and check things out, even though there was no really good way to get any work done there today.   So we went. We knew the basic direction that we needed to go, so we figured we would find our way without much trouble.  

We all have “smart” phones that include navigation systems, but we didn’t realize that our “smart” systems don’t necessarily tell us the best way to travel the country roads of rural Indiana.  Our nav systems all take us where we want to go, but they take the long way.  We are starting to get some real affection for the Indiana landscape, so we don’t mind where we drive, though now we prefer to take the country roads over the wider state roads and freeways (called “highways” here).  

The country roads have their own system of codes, including a strong tendency for the name of the road to tell you exactly what you need to know (like Henryville-Otisco Road, which goes between those two small towns or Marysville-Nabb Road, the route of which you can probably now guess).  In addition, we are learning to “read” the water towers, as you can look across an open space and get a pretty good idea where the next town is by where its water tower stands above the landscape.  Once you get close enough, the water tower will most likely confirm the name of the town you’ve reached because that name will be written in huge letters across the tank.  (And yes, of course, rival high schools climb each other’s water towers and graffiti messages of school pride and rivalry onto them with some regularity.) 

So today we headed from water tower to water tower southwest of Madison to reach the town of Henryville.  Sara was not there, but her warm, friendly and very funny son-in-law Brian was.  His family has taken Sara into their home as they help her get organized on repairing and reclaiming hers (both houses stand on the same 200-acre lot). 

Brian showed us some of the damage and described much more that has already been cleaned up.  He walked us through Sara’s house, the back of which is pretty thoroughly blown out but some of which is still standing as if nothing had ever happened.  Glass is shattered throughout the place, including in little spikes driven into the sheetrock walls and (according to the insurance adjuster) microscopically scattered all over her lovely leather living room furniture. 

Huge amounts of debris had been scattered all over the open spaces immediately adjacent to both houses on the lot, but groups of volunteers have come around over the last two weekends and cleaned up most of that mess.  Of course, in 200 acres of land, there is still MUCH work to be done.  While we were there, the sun started to peek out of the clouds and we stood on Sara’s porch and watched wild turkeys strut around in the woods.  We might not have noticed the turkeys at all, but Brian – an avid hunter – could instinctively detect their movement and spot them from far, far away.  He would be in the middle of a sentence, interrupt himself by exclaiming “a gobbler!,” assess the probable weight of the bird, then get back to what he was saying.  He even did a turkey call that clearly got the attention of the biggest of the birds we saw.

We talked about venison and morel mushrooms (if you were a Hoosier you would know about both of these things) and got plans together for some work this Friday on their property.  Brian even offered us the possibility of doing some fishing while we are there.  His two sons, Connor and Tyler, seem like they would be great instructors for those of us who don’t have excellent fishing skills already. 

As the sun got a little braver, we realized that we might be able to make our way back to Joe and Vicky’s and get some work done.  We hoped that the weather there was as good as what was happening in Henryville, though we know the old Midwestern line that says, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes; it’ll change.”

As we started to make our way to Saluda-Paynesville Road (bet you know where that one goes!) we found ourselves pretty much following the “track” of the brutal storms of March 2.  The word we are getting is that this tornado (or set of tornadoes) was a “long-track” tornado, meaning that it hit the ground, stayed there, and plowed forward.  Sometimes tornadoes bounce and hop, touching down from place to place, without necessarily clearing a long path.  As we mentioned yesterday, this storm left a 49-mile track of twisted trees, flattened houses, and downed power lines.  We got a good look at much of it on our drive from Henryville to Paynesville. 

As we were driving through Nabb (you know, at one end of Marysville-Nabb Road) we got a message that we could meet with the homeowner for tomorrow’s job in that town.  We had to switch cell phones three times (reception varies a lot out on these roads) to get arrangements made, but we finally got things together and connected with a family who lost their house, barn, and shop, along with their mother’s neighboring house. On all sides of their property, houses were either torn to pieces but still partially standing or else they were already cleared and burned, leaving only concrete slabs. 

Miraculously, the barn and shop have already been rebuilt by local Mennonites, who will also begin construction on the house very soon.  In preparation for that task, our first job on this property will be to remove the concrete block foundation that used to stand under one of the homes.  Once the old blocks are removed, a basement will be dug (not by us) and a new foundation put in place.  There is also quite a bit of debris in the fields of the property so we are likely to walk those fields to harvest the debris, sorting it into types: metal to be salvaged, personal items to be saved, wood and trash to be burned. 

In addition, we learned that the neighbor across the street was heading up his own tornado recovery process but somehow broke his wrist in just the last couple of days.  If we can find him, we hope to help him keep his plans in motion.  As usual, our plans will evolve and change a great deal in the next few days.  

We hurried away from the house in Nabb so that we could get back over to Joe and Vicky’s, as we had heard from Joe that he managed to restart two of yesterday’s smoldering fires, meaning that things were dry enough to burn.  We hustled over in the late afternoon, expecting to stay an hour or so, but put in three and a half hours of clearing to establish another series of burn piles. 

We systematized the labor by identifying sections using horizontal fallen trees as boundary markers and then dividing the related jobs to clear each new section: some people would clear loose fallen stuff, others would use our battery-powered reciprocating saw to remove small limbs, others would come through with chainsaws to segment the length of the trees and everyone would help carry the remainders to firewood piles (for later use) or burn piles (for immediate ignition).  We learned a lot of techniques by watching Mark’s expert sawmanship yesterday and we employed some of those lessons in our work today. 

As dusk arrived, we decided to stoke up the old fires with new debris added to them and then start two new piles burning.  Out of stubbornness (or maybe stupid-ness) we decided to light these new piles without any accelerant; four of us joined Vicky in trying to get these huge fires going.  Vicky was a pro fire starter so we backed her up on one new fire and put our own plans together on the other.  We won’t belabor the details, but we -- mostly Josh -- made HUGE progress by using a pizza box as a fan.

Then Joe showed up with the secret weapon: a leaf blower.  What happens when you aim a leaf blower into a huge pile of dry wood that already has a healthy fire started is awesome.  The fire grows and changes, shoots high into the air, and – not surprisingly – gets very hot.  Because Joe and Vicky want to watch the fire until it begins to burn out, we wanted to get it as far as we could as fast as we could to help them get some sleep. 

By the time we left it was almost dark, we had not eaten since our late breakfast, and we were tired (and smoky!).  Thus, we were happy to find our friend Karen waiting for us at the house with homemade lasagna from one of her army of donors.  She had also made apple salad (a dish that surprised the Californians, as some had never seen a “salad” that contained marshmallows before).  Soon after our late dinner (or perhaps we should say “supper,” as that is the term of art for the evening meal here) we realized that we were exhausted so we cleaned up quickly and headed for bed. 

Tomorrow our team will gain six new people, so we look forward to seeing how fast we can work when our numbers almost double.  We suggest that you tune in to find out, as we suspect the results will be awesome!  Thanks for reading!  (And thanks for your patience on pictures, which are not yet loading on our current internet setup.)  See you tomorrow.