Okay, so I know that my last couple of posts have been (painfully) lengthy, and I will try to remedy that from here on out. (lord knows how many more disclaimers like this i'll write in the next year)
We just returned from a national forest in the Ozarks, near Ava, Missouri. We spent the week doing lots of manual labor in a national forest-- mostly to repair the ATV trails to make them safer and sturdier. The forest we went to is one of the few in the country that allows ATVs, and as a result, the trails get quite a lot of traffic over the years; but the problem is that the ATVers aren't just driving all over the trails, but the forest floor as well.
Most of the people that go to this forest have been going for many years and know the trails better than some of the rangers do. The ATVers come not only for the pleasure of driving their vehicles all over the beautiful forest, but also for the thrill of going as fast as they can, wherever they can. Consequently, the trails that the park service has tried to improve by installing con-lock blocks, interlocking concrete blocks which help reduce erosion and discourage speed, have only encouraged more erosion where the ATVers zip around the blocks.
On the first day of service, we were split up into 3 teams: one for each work site on a particular trail that needed to be patched up and protected from further damage. Fresh, clean con-lock blocks were delivered to us and all we had to do was dig up the rocky soil and install the blocks. The areas that had been damaged by ATVers driving around the blocks were subsequently covered up with large dead trees and sticks which I helped weave together so that they wouldn't just roll away if someone stubborn enough decided to try driving over them.
While the work was hard and the sweat was plentiful, it was a good day's work and we walked back to our campsite famished and fulfilled. We cooked 16 pounds of spaghetti, with venison sausage in the sauce, and had plenty for everyone to have seconds and more. We also had salad, and a surprise from the team that had gone grocery shopping: fancy cheesecake. Some slices had caramel and some were marbled and some had chocolate chips on top. We reveled in our new motto: work hard, eat hard.
After chatting around the campfire and showers and a very encouraging debriefing from our group leader, Evan, we finally settled down and went to bed in our massive tents under the gorgeous stars. The next morning, we got up at 7:15 to make our lunches and eat our oatmeal, and were at the new work sites by 8. There was a new team in charge of sawing and swamping. Swampers have a very important task: they pull limbs and brush away from the sawyer after having been felled, so that the sawyer doesn't trip while operating his chainsaw. The sawyers and swampers mostly cut down dead trees that ran the risk of falling on the trails, or cutting down live trees so as to block off dangerous or eroded trails.
The first time I watched a tree fall, I was speechless. There is so much power and energy in a tree that you never encounter by just walking by it; but the sounds and movement and vibrations you experience as this massive, solemn thing bends and creaks and slams into the ground are phenomenal. The death of a tree by the hand of man is sad, but the tree's last words are awe-inspiring.
_to be continued_