We’ve had rain piled on rain in Birdland. First, a thunderstorm came in the night, comforting in all its tympanic booming. We woke to a heavy drizzle, which left a wider-than-usual delta in the meadow behind the Benson timber, and on top of the usual flooding of grass waterways, we saw new creeks snaking through the fields in paths we’ve never seen. Water was standing in the yard while the chicken coop, newly shoveled of compost, was a puddle 3 inches deep. I went back into the house for my galoshes when the water sloshed into my gardening clogs, soaking my socks.
A while back, I wrote about our visit to Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin, where we hiked up a trail built in the 1930s by the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corps). The park website told us that the boulders were hauled up by hand and shaped into the steps that took us to the top, where we had a panoramic view of the lake below. The CCC was a government program designed to give employment, job training and education to young men displaced by the Great Depression. (Women were actually not allowed. Sorry, but sexism: Yikes!) History.com called the CCC “the most rapid peacetime mobilization in American history.” These workers, under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, lived and worked in camps, earning money for their work fighting fires; planting trees; building campgrounds, roads and bridges, and even the steps we hiked up in Devil’s Lake. On our visit, we passed so many people climbing these boulder stairs and even a shelf where a small group practiced rock climbing. Imagine how this program not only provided a modest salary (room and board plus $30 per month, which is $588.49 today, adjusted for inflation according to dollartimes.com) to unemployed young men, but their work is still helping us today.
Now we are faced with another bout of massive unemployment. Why not learn from history and repeat the good parts? (Not the sexism or racism, though — History.com also tells us that African Americans had separate housing because segregation wasn’t yet considered by our government to be discriminatory.) People need jobs; we need workers to do contact tracing to help get the virus under control. Later, when it’s safer to gather, could we rebuild our rich heritage of state and national parks and put people back to work who lost their jobs to the pandemic? We are still waiting to see how our world will reshape itself when the pandemic is over, but we do know people will need employment and training, that society will need natural spaces, that infrastructure will need maintenance. Why not shape our post-pandemic world in a way that is equitable and nurturing of community while we encourage and support workers?
The Nov. 30, 1933, issue of the Daily Illini reported that FDR visited “the khaki-clad boys of Camp Meriwether,” (near his Warm Springs, Ga., home) telling them, “The Civilian Conservation Corps has been of great good to the country-side [...] and of great benefit to you.” I like to think of how the president’s words of encouragement inspired some of these workers to continue a life of service.
Americorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a modern-day program with some similarities, but instead of a work relief focus, Americorps is dedicated to the needs of communities, developing programs to build leadership and skills in its members while giving them money for education. Projects might range from environmental work to disaster relief to educational mentoring, or work with nonprofits, like Habitat for Humanity. They have programs for all ages from youth to senior citizens. Could this program, like its predecessor, help guide us back to prosperity?
When the storm has passed, there is work to be done. It will take time for things to return to normal, and maybe welcome a new normal. Three days after the rain, and the coop is still 3 inches deep in thick mud, even as the water has soaked down into the earth. I’ll still wear my galoshes to visit the coop and hope we dry out soon.
Restore beauty; Rebuild peace; Blessed Be.