“May this fast vibrating frequency stay on its tune or higher” wrote Yuliya Semenova in our hitch journal on February 2, the halfway point. Reading back through the journal to catch up on what others had felt, especially Yuliya’s quote, signaled to me that we are composing a symphony here. The pluck of crew leader Amber’s ukulele and the twang of member Cassidy’s banjo, the squish and slice of hazel hoes and McCleods in the mud, sawtooth to wood, pick-mattock on rock, cutter to stump, laughter by way of silly jokes and fun pranks, sizzle of fried potatoes in the cast iron, the whine of the spigot as we fill our bottles, a sigh at the end of the day, each tired “good morning” at the beginning.
We cheered and hooted in the van on our way to the trail when we saw the wild pigs running so fast in the pasture, we awed and cooed at the cows and bulls almost every trip, we shouted and booed the raccoon when he so brazenly stole the chips off our picnic table. Our song is metered in feet and drainage dips, hummed in the key of our sweat, and counted off by our tool inventory each morning and afternoon.
This composition is imperfect as of yet, but we are taking the time to write it. Every foot of trail cut and every camp chore done reminds us of our commitment to the song. We stretch in the morning like we’re dancing to our own tune, and we debrief each afternoon like we’re listening to what we’ve written. It’s a peculiar thing to realize, seeing as how we never agreed to write a song at all. But here we are, a team of trail builders and maestros, creating our opus. Wish us luck!
– Samuel Walters – Trails Across Texas Crew Leader
For our first real hitch we were sent to Kisatchie National Forest. When we arrived we met a very enthusiastic man named David. He was happy to see us and learn more about each of us and why we were here. After we finished filling out paper work and talking with David, he showed us the house we would be staying in. Yes that is right, we got to stay in a house for the duration of our time in Kisatchie. The following day we went with David and another botanist named Chris, to the prairies we would be working at for our time there. We were showed what we would be doing, which was girdling and herbiciding sweet gum trees to open up the prairies. We then began the arduous task of identifying and girdling these trees with hatchets and brush knives, or if they were small enough just lopping them with the loppers. It was quite warm during our time there, and more importantly humid, at least for those that were not used to the humidity. However we still managed to get our first prairie done within a couple hours and were ready to begin our next and much larger prairie after our lunch break. As we began this next prairie we realized that it would not be as easy as our first one, this one would take a lot more work and we decided that we would bring out our brush cutter to help get rid of a lot of the smaller stuff because there was just so much of it. During this time it began to rain, most of us ran back to our stuff to grab rain jackets and cover our packs, but some of us were not as afraid of a little rain and just as quick as it came, it had left. This would be our only time actually working when it had rained because we could not herbicide during this time and when it rained next it was not as small. On day 4 of the hitch we started early because rain and storms were in the forecast for the afternoon. When the time and clouds were approaching the silence and change in temperature were noticed. At this moment we left the site and ended up finishing our day cleaning up our house so that we would not have to do this later. Our final day of the hitch we started early as well because we had to leave before noon, and we wanted to finish the final part of the prairie we were working on. Because of the rainstorms it was now much colder out and we were feeling it, we now brought out our chainsaw and were determined to get as much work done as we could before we had to leave. When the time came to leave we were glad with what we were able to accomplish and we couldn’t wait until the next time we would be able to come out there again and work with David.
It was another week of removing invasive species for Silver Crew but that doesn’t mean it was the same as the week prior. This time we were at Barton Creek, a beautiful trail that presented its own unique challenges. This time the terrain was steep, the Ligustrum trees were larger, and the pedestrian presence was much greater. In order to work through new obstacles we learned to work more as a team and with each of us having different backgrounds we were all able to use different talents to complete difficult tasks. We did such a great job that we were approached multiple times throughout the week with offers for work but we couldn’t accept due to our devotion to TXCC and AMERICORPS.
Two of us also had the opportunity to complete training for driving the trailers. We both wanted to complete our driver training to take some of the load off our crew leader and it was well worth it. Neither of us had much trailer experience so we were a little nervous but with help of a great TXCC staff member we learned quickly how to drive safely with a trailer hitched to our van.
While I served in the Navy I had become accustomed to working closely with a team of people I considered family and I’m really glad I’ve found that here.
Joe Sullivan – Conservation & Disaster Crew (Silver)
This week we cut down billions of Ligustrum trees
While using chainsaws, handsaws, and a wrench made for weeds
An invasive named Nandina was our secondary target
We attacked it with loppers before we departed
Silver crew does not only destroy, we also create dreams
And through the planting of native grasses we grew as a team
At this location we collected plenty of trash
Wool underwear, beer bottles, and diapers that smelled like….. roses
We may have a busted-up van and power tools that won’t start
But whatever our crew touches turns into a work of art
Shout-out to our awesome leaders for all of their guidance
And for charging into battle, tools up, right beside us
There is much more that could be said of the first week for this stellar crew
But I have to go because we have much more conservation work to do
I’m sure the staff of TxCC could say that in this short time they have found…
Silver crew is simply the BEST crew around.
Kaitlyn Leist – Conservation & Disaster Crew (Silver)
Our last hitch in Texas has been completed! And it sure was one for the books. By far the toughest hitch we’ve been through this season. But those are always the ones you remember the most. We had a 10 day spike camp hitch, continuing the construction of a 600 ft boardwalk at Turtle Bayou. An area covered in at least a foot of mud. We’ve been closely working with the Texas Conservation Corps with this project but got to take it on with just our crew this hitch. Through the mud, freak storm that ripped tents, and tool malfunctions, we managed to add an additional 95 feet of boardwalk! Doing maintenance of boardwalks is not new to us, but building them from scratch was. There was a steep learning curve for the crew but, by the end of this last hitch I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty close to experts now. We’re sad to leave Texas and say goodbye to our friends at TXCC but are very proud of the work we put in. Back to the SouthWest Refuges!
– LaCC Crew Leader, Courtney Gullo
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service took place on January 21st 2019. Between the two forward operating bases (FOBs), three projects took place over the course of the day. The largest project was a debris clean up project at the Mexico Beach boat ramp, where 92 AmeriCorps members from Laguna Beach and Blountstown, and 5 community volunteers worked to clear debris out of the woods and the area around the boat ramp. By the end of the day, 293 cubic yards of debris, or 24 dump trucks work of material had been removed from the woods and taken to the side of the road. Many of the AmeriCorps members had a chance to talk to the community volunteers, many of whom lived in Mexico Beach about their experiences during and after the hurricane.
In Gulf County, four members from the Laguna Beach FOB installed a handrail on a porch for an elderly homeowner. The homeowner was disabled and had recently had a stroke, so the lack of a handrail meant that she had fallen several times. They finished the project in just over half a day, and joined the crews at the boat ramp towards the end.
The final project took place in Tallahassee at the Multiagency Warehouse where a team of 5 from Blountstown counted cases of water and tarps totaling 380, 370 lbs of items, as well as loading trucks.