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 . . .

1 comment:

  1. Hola everyone! You guys sound like you're working super hard down there and I wish I could be there to help! That's awesome that you got to go talk to more kids....too bad there was no pop, lock, and dropping it this time ;) haha. Well I hope Shawny is not too frazzled working with all of her close friends and family in the disaster zone but it sounds like you've all been able to make a lot of improvements while you're there. Good luck guys and I will see you back in Moraga soon!