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.  

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