Thursday, July 11, 2013

Many Hands

When you are a high school kid growing up in rural Illinois, your summer job prospects are rather limited and usually involve some sort of paid-off-the-books manual labor. In any given summer, I found what could be loosely termed as gainful employment through a combination of detasseling corn, mowing the church cemetery, landscaping, roofing and painting. I had just returned from one of those jobs when my mother told me that one of my uncles had called and needed help moving a deck in about an hour. I hail from one of those large families whose multiple generations had deep roots in our small local community. In my case that meant that about ½ of my German/Roman Catholic, family (which consisted of 9 aunts and uncles and north of 20 first cousins) all lived within 2 miles. All of these and a few additional neighbors had gotten a similar call about the deck that needed moving. When I arrived at the appointed time, I found a small group of family and friends that happened to be available that evening. The task was to move a rather large wooden deck that partially surrounded an above-ground pool from the side yard to the back yard. Now to be certain, there was no shortage of tractors, hoists, winches and cables among the assembled group. Something surely could have been rigged up to move the deck, but it would have taken a good deal of time, some extensive bracing and probably would have torn up the yard to boot. Instead, each person just got underneath the deck, lifted and walked it to the backyard. Total time elapsed after everyone was in place was probably 5 minutes.

I’ve never participated in a barn-raising, but the principle here was the same: many hands really do make for light work. What strikes me now about the deck move is not so much the ease in which it was accomplished, but rather the community that made it possible. In this case it was a community built largely on family ties, but also on neighborly ties. The whole thing was not planned in advance; the open call for help came just a few hours before the move.

Personally I’ve bounced around various university towns in Illinois for around a decade. 4 years ago we moved our family of 3 (and now 4) to the small town of Lexington, Illinois (pop. 2060). We have a 100 year old house in need of a lot of attention and a spare lot to somewhat pacify my farming instincts. Coincidentally, our new home is within 1 mile of the Mackinaw River and our house probably sits on the very edge of the Mackinaw Valley proper. With this move we were seeking reintegration into a community and real, visceral ties to a place. Thus, it was a happy discovery that some of my life goals align closely with the goals of the Mackinaw Valley Institute. I hope to contribute my occasional personal musings regarding sustainability, rural communities, local farms and the importance of place. My day job as a librarian who works with the Environmental Studies Program at Illinois Wesleyan University should also provide fodder for the Institute’s goals of sharing academic research that pertains to the Institute’s Mission. 

This post was submitted by Chris Sweet.