Earth Day kicks my butt up a mountain and back down again

For Earth Day this year, Project POWER teamed up with Project Conserve (an Americorps environmental project) to do some trail maintenance and stuff. There were two options – clean up a riverside area then go on a canoe trip for half the day, or go out into the mountains on Tennessee (an hour or so away, just over the state border) to do a little upkeep on a nature preserve. Neither one sounded like much fun to me, but I figured my shoulder wouldn’t forgive several hours of paddling whereas I could probably work around it doing trail maintenance. It was another example of one of those activities that everyone seems to enjoy but me, leaving me to wonder if they’re insane or I am. After a day of “roughing it” in the midsts of all of nature’s glory, I’m prepared to admit it – it’s them. These people are nuts.

So there I am, at this preserve, and the first activity for the group I’m with is hiking a trail to remove branches and such. A trail that led apparently straight up the side of the mountain. A trail that apparently defines the word “trail” as “somewhere a deer once walked, sometime.” A trail that went up and up and up, and yet never seemed to get any closer to the top. I will never understand the lure of mountain hiking. It’s nothing but excruciatingly painful, hard slogging work for what seems like forever, and the risk of hurting yourself – either by slipping and subsequently falling and rolling down into the next county or by being prevented from falling and rolling down into the next county by crashing into a tree or large boulder – is just one near-vertical step away. At the end of all of this heart-wrenching, lung-abrading, leg-breaking labor, you get…a view of the mountains (at least that’s the theory – we didn’t get a view because we never got to the top). Well, boy howdy! That’s a treasure you can’t get from driving up onto the parkway in the comfort of your own vehicle and pulling into an overlook…oh, wait. Yes you can. Never mind. And now you get to walk back down the mountain and try not to become a ballistic missile all over again, only this time you’re not only fighting gravity, you’re actively battling the momentum of your own burrito-laden arse as it tries to outrun your feet down the hillside. Fun!

At least I managed to do my share of debris removal without unduly abusing my shoulder. So that was okay. And it was nice to see swathes of Fringed phacelia fimbriata covering the mountainside like snow. The bumblebees were out in force and it sounded like a not-to-distant speedway at full throttle. It was reassuring to see the bumblebees and other pollinators out, given the hive collapses going on out there in the commercial bee world.

OTOH, one of the things I had specifically asked about was the presence of bathrooms on the trail maintenance crew, since the answer determines a lot of packing and personal planning issues either way. I was assured there were. There weren’t. Not even porta-potties. Just lots and lots of rather open hillside and a whole crowd of folks for whom the term “shake it dry” came readily and nonchalantly. Ahem. I am NOT a “shake it dry” kind of chick, especially when I’m around a whole lot of people. Luckily, some of my colleagues had decided to camp that night (another option that was listed as available on-site, which was not – they ended up camping at a nearby campground) and had brought paper with them, from which I gratefully borrowed enough to get me by. But let’s just say that squatting behind a not-often-used tool shed while an unruly pack of hunting dogs “cheered” me on with much enthusiasm is not exactly conducive to a relaxed, healthy state of bodily function. Thank goodness for good bladder control.

After lunch (my non-outdoorsiness should be apparent to all by the fact that everyone else brought sandwiches and trail mix, while I brought veggie sushi. With chopsticks. And managed quite well, thank you very much), we got to spend the afternoon pulling rocks out of a field so that the caretaker can attempt to put down grass.

Yep. Picking rocks. Out of a mountain. A mountain that’s made out of…wait for it…rocks. It’s just rocks, all the way down.

But picking rocks was the order of the day, so we picked rocks. Managed to clear a whole 20 feet square between us all in just a few hours. Wohooo. Except, of course, for the really big rocks. And the rocks underneath those that we couldn’t see. And, you know, the rest of the mountain under that. But other than that, in that 20′ area, there was nothing but holes.

I’m not sure that we accomplished much of anything other than to move a few fallen limbs out of the way of the (very) occasional hikers who come to that spot, and clear out a few rocks from an area that will probably just fill back in when the rains come and wash the now unanchored dirt down the mountainside, exposing the next layer. The rest of the crew seemed to be having fun with the whole “hiking up the side of a mountain thing,” but like I said, they’re insane. Personally, I feel like I’ve been run through a commercial front-loading washing machine on the heavy-duty cycle, then set out to dry in an oven. I’m sunburned, sore and ended up going to bed at about 6pm out of sheer exhaustion.

But that’s the way of Americorps. Sometimes you end up spending rather large chunks of time engaged in activities that appear to be pointless for reasons other than maybe the character-building of having done them. I’m not sure how much character I built, though. And besides, I’m rather fond of the character I’ve already built by not doing that sort of thing. But hey, I got hours for it and I bought myself one of those Nutty-Buddy knock-offs afterward as a treat. So it wasn’t all bad.

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