belated thanksgiving on a snow day in the ozarks

hello pals!

It’s me, here again to give you another insight into the life of a liminal-space-living-service-minded-individual-in-the-middle-of-a-global-pandemic. As I joked with a few archaeology pals from Bamburgh, the service coverage is a tad better than Northumbria but definitely worse than wading along the Danube in Romania.

The team is heading into the final week before the Southwest Region departs for Winter Break. It’s a lazy Sunday here. Snow is collecting on the cars and I’ve been reading and drinking copious amounts of coffee. You know the like. Tomorrow, we are back out in the mountains building fireline.

Since October, my team has constructed near on 8.2 miles of protective fire line and enclosed over 700 acres of land for the Missouri State Parks Department at the new, underdevelopment Bryant Creek and Ozark Mountain State Parks. The two parks were acquired in 2016 as part of an environmental land settlement due to corporate pollution into public lands and waters. We also worked to clean native plant seeds for a prairie revitalization project happening in the north-central part of the state. Additionally, the entire team was certified with Level 1 Fire Management through the Missouri State Parks with the Missouri Department of Conservation and just this past week assisted with a prescribed burn of 31 acres at Roaring River State Park. Between carrying 45 lbs of water and using the drip torch to set fires… it was a pretty exciting day. Busy stuff, but I am doing what I can to develop future leaders and help America build back better from a safe distance.

At both locations, we are housed out of two vacant houses located within park boundaries and a good drive from the nearest town of any size. I hung up fairy lights over my Government issued cot and between a plastic folding table, metal chair, and a stack of Young Adult fantasy novels, I’ve set up a cozy little space to drink my morning coffee before setting out to throw logs and jog through the forest and mountains eight hours a day, five days a week.

Things have been going. Some days things move quicker. Other days, the weed eaters run out of cord and the chainsaws are blunt. But, that’s the gig ain’t?

Since you’ve last ~officially~ heard from me, the team celebrated Thanksgiving in our ‘lil house in the Ozarks and being the sentimental piece of shite that I am, I got to thinking. Philosophizing. Using my pretentious Edinburgh degree. You know the like.

Out of the last six Thanksgivings, I spent only one in Kansas with my parents, sister, and grandmother. The other five, I was… somewhere, elsewhere, everywhere, and nowhere. Sometimes, I seemed to be in the place I needed to be, but not maybe the place I wanted to be. Or, if I am in the place I wanted to be, I might not be in the place I needed to be.

Each year, somewhere in the world, someone left an empty chair setting for me. This year I received well wishes from Americans, gal pals in England, some rowdy Scots, my dear Norwegians, a lone Lithuanian in the Emirates, and a beetle-chasing boy in Taiwan. 

Over the past six years, Thanksgiving (and I guess the Holiday Time in general) has become a time to understand the sometimes long but all too often fleeting impact I leave. You might never know what you leave with a person, but legacy, impact, whatever word you want to use is all about planting trees you will never see but trusting that they might actually grow. I’ve never been one to plant small trees and I tend to hold a little too tightly onto hope.  

That is what the gig is about, isn’t it?

A home isn’t always a place. Sometimes it’s a group of friends or a state of mind created with something as simple as fairy lights strung over a Government issued cot deep in the Ozarks.

I do feel sad knowing chairs were left empty for me, but I rejoice in knowing that in some way a single, obnoxious American was able to leave enough of an impact on a bunch of rowdy foreign nationals for them to leave that chair.

So, maybe this time of year has become liminal for me. It didn’t matter if I was in a flat in Edinburgh, a bothy near Skye, a farmhouse in Kansas, or a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks so long as I could still look around the table and understand the significance of those gathered. Nationalities represented. States accounted for. For beliefs, race, creed, age, sexual orientation, and gender.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Putting faces to the unknown. Understanding what we don’t. Lifting up and reaching back. Creating spaces to foster new thinking. Helping to move the world forward, together.

I mean, I did decide to do a year of national service and mentor a group of young people during a global pandemic… what did you expect? 

Like I wrote in 2018 when Roseneath hosted a group of 40 odd humans with me acting as the sole American representative: 

As I looked around at my friends, I said that I was thankful for the hope that I saw around our living room in Edinburgh. I was thankful for the hope I saw for the future. I was thankful for the hope vested in my friends from all over the world. I was thankful we were all able to sit down together for a meal. Looking to each one of them, I know that together my friends and I will overcome the bigotry, hatred, and fear seemingly everywhere these days. Even when things seem the darkest, I hold onto that hope I saw in my friends’ faces.

So. Here’s to the place I find myself next week, month, year and the people sat at that table. I’m sure we’ll find something to chat about. 

Right boyos, the team’s just called out me outside and I need to go win a snowball fight. Catch ya l8tr. XD