Saturday, May 3, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: McKenna Farms Spring Mission Trip 2013 (part 4)

Brian leading the singing

Saturday: Working for the Weekend  

Bright fresh faces greet me on the patio. Brian’s ready with devotions: I Corinthians 13, the passage on love. I never tire of this, and am forever in need of reminding that love is patient, kind, never fails, and never ends. He’s also given us a songbook, and we sing three songs before we break up into work teams and scatter out over the farm. And we haven’t even had breakfast yet!

I’m passing out tools, directing wheelbarrows full of weeds to the dumpster, and recruiting help to get the Gator started. The barn is a magnet. Of course it is. How can anyone not want to see, pet, feed, groom, and lead the horses to pasture? Then there are the miniature horses. Jessie’s told our eager youth they can go inside the corral to see them up close. No sooner said than done. One or two of the kids have ridden horses before, but most are discovering these beautiful animals for the first time.  

Jessie’s here with biscuits! These are monster biscuits, light and fluffy and filled with things like bacon and sausage and cheese and egg. They’re delicious, and with the profit this morning coming to McKenna Farms, we hope they sell thousands of them.

The slight cloud cover makes today more comfortable for all-day work. I check the hourly forecast. Looks like we’re home free. No precipitation is expected until after dark. Wilma, you are the woman!

Other volunteers have arrived, including a local ROTC crew, and a young woman who has come alone. She immediately becomes part of our weeding and mulching crew, spreading pine straw after Jana, wearing the weed killer backpack, douses the unruly vegetation.

What mission trip would be complete without an encounter with wildlife? While we don’t stumble into bats, rats or tarantulas as our Red Thread counterparts in Haiti have done, Georgia has its own zoological thrills: lizards and ants. “Look what I found!” one of our young men says as he holds a lovely green gecko up for me to see. I share his delight – these little lizards are captivating.  

Our group seems to be pretty much on a live-and-let-live basis with ants for the most part, but the ants here seem determined to build skyscrapers in the midst of the planting beds, making it hard to mulch. So the routine is: ant killer, wait, check anthill for activity, then, if all is quiet, flatten anthill and spread mulch. Slows the process down a bit. 

Since a visitor to the farm parked too close to a fence last week and a horse ate the front of her car, one of our crews is moving railroad ties to the staff parking lot, placing them a safe distance from the fence and any hungry equines.  

Next they begin what will be the hardest, longest job of the day. The indoor arena sits atop a hill, and drainage and erosion have been a problem. Most of the problems have been corrected, but two perforated plastic drain pipes that ran from the arena to the pasture below have washed down. A few feet of pipe extend from the top of the hill, but most of it lies thirty or so feet below. Our mission: dig two thirty-foot trenches, reattach the pipe, and bury it. I’m somewhat surprised and pleased to see that a rather large crew, both boys and girls, has gathered to help Brian and Ted with this project. This job isn’t going to be easy.

I’ve come to borrow a mattock to dig out a transplanted shrub that is not going to make it.  Ted brings it and quickly dispenses with the dying bush, making my twenty minute task his five minute job.

Jana and I set out sandwich makings and round up our troops. They’re ready for a break, but as soon as they’ve eaten they’re back to work.

“We’re almost out of pine straw.” That’s the news as I return to the sensory trail. Jessie’s back from delivering two of the miniature horses to a festival for disabled kids at a nearby church, so it’s unhitch the horse trailer, hitch the flatbed trailer. Off to the garden center.

We’re hoping to mow the area in the center of the trail, but the riding mower can’t get close enough to the weeds around each of the stations, so I’m off to get the weed trimmer when I encounter Ben. Ben’s just completed his last task and is looking for something to do. I hold up the weed eater, which is nearly as tall as I am, and thus is at least as tall as Ben. Undeterred, he’s ready for this. I take a quick pass and then hand the trimmer to Ben. Bernie has joined us now, and he gently instructs Ben in the fine art of weed eating.  

These last thirty bales of pine straw bring our weekend total to one hundred ten bales. Good thing we brought gloves; otherwise our hands would look like pincushions.

Ted meets me at the edge of the parking lot and announces that the drain pipe is in place and buried in the two trenches they’ve been digging for six hours. I check the time – after 4 p.m. The kids are tired; they’ve worked very hard. And Ted and I are responsible for dinner tonight. I’ll prep and he’ll grill.

I run a mental inventory of what’s left to be done: mow the grass at the sensory trail, continue weed eating around the stations, and spread mulch at the few stations that still need it. Maybe an hour and a half’s worth. I think we can finish before we leave tomorrow morning.

A flock of teenage girls clusters around me in the kitchen. “Can we take a shower?” they chorus. Of course you can, I tell them. Not so simple. The next line of the chorus is “Can I go first?”  

I wash the hamburger off my hands, find paper and a pen, and make a schedule. With warnings about running out of hot water (thank goodness the boys take their showers in the barn’s upstairs bathroom), I return to making patties.  

We have one casualty – there’s a small patch of poison ivy on Alex’s leg, but the farm’s first-aid kit is amply supplied with packets of poison ivy cream to soothe her itch.  

Ted and Glenna preparing the meal
Our hungry crew quickly dispenses with twenty-four hamburgers and nearly thirty hot dogs, plus all the cookies and fruit left from lunch.

Ted, who brought hand tools, is busily installing some great signage donated by a father of one of McKenna Farms’ kids.  

Dusk is quickly moving toward darkness. Joyce has brought us her fire pit and some marshmallows. Some of our youth have brought the minis up from the pen, and they’re exercising them in the grassy area near the gazebo. Oh, wait! Now the horse is ahead of one of the young men, so perhaps its horses exercising teenagers. 

Brian, guitar in hand, sits on one of the picnic tables. Christian grabs a bucket from the barn, turns it upside down, and begins drumming. Their duet draws a crowd – good music.  

Joyce giving marshmallow roasting lessons
At the fire pit, Joyce gives instructions on how to toast the perfect marshmallow without burning it. She has several eager pupils, and some even duplicate the golden toasted exterior and soft warm interior that literally melts in your mouth. I’d forgotten how good they were.  

There’s a game of “Hide the Lizard” going on (yes, that lizard) a few feet away. It’s noisy, but I don’t think the lizard is any worse for wear.

Raindrops begin to fall. I smile at Wilma, our weather maker, sitting by the fire pit.  

The little chill brought on by the sprinkles of rain drives some team members inside. A group of teens gathers on the patio, talking with Brian. As I recall from my own youth, there’s nothing like a full day in the outdoors and a quiet evening to bring out the big questions in life.  

Thunder rolls as I zip up my sleeping bag. ~ Glenna Fisher

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