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Monday, June 29, 2009
Armed with a Weed Wacker
A couple summers ago, my daughter Lauren received an invitation to be a student ambassador for People to People, an organization started by President Dwight Eisenhower for the purpose of inflicting American teens on the rest of the world.
Of course, texting, IPod, MTV, Reality shows and all that didn't exist back then, but that wouldn't stop our teens from invading the rest of the world and serving notice why the US shouldn't be messed with, now, or when our teens grew up... mostly because we'd have a new crop of teens by then.
Before Lauren's particular group of ambassadors jetted off to England, Spain, France and Italy to commit mayhem not seen since the Huns, they decided to do a group building volunteer expedition at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Lauren, of course, immediately volunteered her father to come along ... mostly because she knew, a) I'd do it, and b) no way Mom would go if there was a chance of ticks, mosquitoes or deer flies.
I figured, no sweat. Tall grass, right? I'm pretty handy with a Weed Wacker.
Ha, little did I realize.
Midewin is the first natural tall grass prairie in the country (rumor has it there are a few short grass prairies). It's located on the former Joliet Arsenal Plant, and is crisscrossed with rail tracks connecting a series of huge concrete bunkers. The concrete bunkers are still there, great mounded buildings buried under earth and grasses with heavy doors that would likely withstand a two year old's tantrum.
They needed volunteers to move old dynamite off the grounds. And since teens are disposible, who better?
Just kidding, we were going there to move railroad ties.
Now if you know anything about railroad ties, it's this. They're heavy. Even more than normal wood because they inject chemicals to make them weather resistant. Some of them were under water in ditches, so they were waterlogged to shoe, er, to boot.
We had a tractor and a dump truck, and we weren't allowed to drive either of them. Silly them. But we could wrap chains around the railroad ties, and maneuver them into position. So that's what we did all day.
Did it build character? I dunno. I know it built a hurt spot in my back. And it was particularly thrilling when I discovered a tick climbing the bathroom wall during my shower afterwards.
But Lauren learned something about the world, some history of nearby Joliet, and spent time with strangers who would later become friends during three weeks in Europe.
And I learned you can't pick up a railroad tie with a weed wacker.