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Weekly Report – W.Va. Bridges

May 9, 2017

I love wearing rubber boots and tying wire. Bundled up under five jackets, right foot wrapped in three socks so as not to slip from its boot, and a back pocket stuffed with wire, I spent the last few days rearranging rocks in gabion baskets and tying them together.

This week I had the pleasure and privilege of joining the West Virginia MDS Bridge Project as they began construction on an 88 foot bridge half an hour from our base. Under the leadership of a Canadian, I joined two Amish boys and a few construction workers from Ohio to build rebar abutment cages and pour concrete.

It was a week spent beside a sometimes clear, occasionally raging stream tucked next to a Dan Haggerty worthy meadow. It was a week where my heart swelled with sorrow at the chasm of loss the flood left and with joy as strangers and neighbors became friends. Laughter beat back the cold wind as I expanded my repertoire of West Virginia dialect working alongside the local excavator.

We went on a tour one of the West Virginian donors set up. It began in the Greenbrier Hotel and Resort and I attended directly after a morning at the job site. I felt uncomfortable, to say in the least, as I strolled through the polished lobby in overall shorts, a flannel shirt, and work boots. It wasn’t just that I didn’t fit in that day, it was that I did not want to fit in.

I enjoy the company of Amish boys whose country accents are so thick I have to ask them to repeat every third word. I was delighted working with the excavator who hollered across the river “Go kiss a fat hog!” and made me “happier than a donkey* eating briers” when he called me the Gabion Queen. I feel my place in the church and in the world schlurping borscht and munching on verenika (I made a gluten and dairy free version!!!!!) with strangers who are now another extended family.

Small towns, rolling pastures, and muddy boots are as important to me as blank notebook paper asking for ideas, the sunniest corner in Fools and Horses, and meetings about sustainable food. They are of equal importance because they are the same. The ivory tower begins and ends under the patchwork quilt of survival work. Likewise, lives of manual labor and their dependence on the planet are enhanced with places of learning. I can’t be one without the other. Indeed, I shouldn’t be. And that makes me “happier than a coon in a grapevine” or perhaps “cornfield” since I am, after all, a Kansas country girl.

Elizabeth Schrag

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