October is a busy busy time here at Big Laurel. Consequently my school days have been very limited, of which I am not complaining. One two week period where I was expected to go to school eight days turned into about 2.1 after a bomb threat, shortage of hands at Big Laurel, and an absent teacher caused me to either not go, leave early, or sit in a dark classroom by myself for eight hours. It’s definitely frustrating to feel so underutilized and even wasted when I spend so much of my actual school days just sitting in a desk watching kids use their laptops. More and more, my time at Big Laurel is feeling to be my “real job”, and right now that job is just about at peek busyness. Last weekend we had a college group from Wheeling Jesuit University come for their fall break. Wheeling has been coming to Big Laurel for years, and their weekend is an opportunity to chop all the wood needed for heating in the winter. Seeing as Ian and my Knob house is notoriously drafty, I was more than enthusiastic about this. The week before they came was spent with big mountain men and seemingly bigger chainsaws as they felled tree after tree, sectioned them up and hauled them out to the small bunk house at Big Laurel. The pile grew massive in a remarkably short time, and Ian took advantage of his knowledge about the impending bad weather to rig up a giant tarp over the work space. We were ready for the forces.
And come they did. Big, boisterous college kids filled the Big Laurel dining room to its max with both their bodies and booming voices. After weeks of being almost isolated up here, the influx of energy was both overwhelming and intoxicating. As old and mature as Ian and I obviously sound, we only left college in May. The group was heavy with seniors so many people were less than a year younger than us. Peers! Friends from the outside world! People with knowledge on current world events!! (There is a hurricane on the coast of South Carolina?! Trump STILL hasn’t imploded?? Maybe it’s better not to know…) And best of all- as long as we fed them they would chop all our firewood for us.
The workday began in true sufferfest fashion. Driving rain and cold wind encouraged everyone to keep moving, and Ian’s tarp proved to have been a stroke of genius when it provided the only weatherproof place to use the heavy log splitters. With plenty of college studs more than willing to show off their prowess at swinging an ax (often with minimal clothing on) our pile began to shrink down. In fact, it only took a day and a half to cut through the wood, so Ian and I got to bring a crew over to our house for a few hours to help us set up the garden terracing and sink in the posts for the chicken yard.
It’s very strange to be on the receiving end of service projects. How many short term mission trips have I been on? How many “exposurer” projects have I heard about? My education has made me naturally skeptical of them. It always seemed that the work accomplished could be done better with local labor and that it creates a “savior” complex between the workers and the workees. Imagine my surprise when my first experience being served was simple, powerful and honestly delightful. There are a few reasons why I think this was. 1. I, an outsider to the community of central Appalachia, was being helped by other outsiders. Not saying this is great or should be replicated by other organizations, but it did make everyone feel immediately comfortable. 2. The work was the sort that the local community could absolutely have done itself, but the cost in both money and time was unrealistic for Big Laurel. Having twenty some extra people was an almost unmeasurable benefit and will allow Ian and I to do other things with our fall than chop wood. 3. The work was straightforward and allowed everyone to instantly be involved in one or more aspects of the process. If you weren’t comfortable with an ax, you could use the log splitter, stack the wood, or haul it to a neighbors. This created a sense of community and camaraderie, especially as the weather deteriorated farther. In all, Big Laurel absolutely lived up to its mission of being a place of community and a retreat from the chaos of the rest of the world. I was very proud of the team that I work with here, and I’m incredibly grateful for everything that Wheeling Jesuit did for all of us. Thank you!