this is it
this entry comes to you not from Bisbee or Prescott or Kansas City or Center or even from Denver. in fact, this entry comes to you not from the SouthWest at all, but from South Florida — from home.
i’ve been avoiding this entry.
a few days after we arrived back in Denver for our final week of debriefs and forced bonding activities, Darcy emailed our team asking for one last favor. she and Lisa plan to write a journal article about us in an effort to make the case for a three-way partnership between AmeriCorps, 4-H and public schools as a national model and was looking for data. she attached a survey for each of us to fill out in accordance with our personal experience that featured circling numbers on scales from 1 to 5 and other, more in-depth questions that called for short essay responses. one such question read:
"What personal gain is there to being an AmeriCorps?"
what an impossible thing to ask.
i don’t know how to talk about this. there’s too much.
i’ve been home for five days now, suspended in what feels like static or perhaps unknowingly spiraling into some strange form of PTSD. with nothing but a certificate and some awkward tan lines as concrete evidence, it’s hard to fight the feeling that these last ten months may have only been a dream.
i could never say enough to explain this. i could never show you enough photos. these relentless and unwavering project sponsors; these beautiful corners of our planet; this collection of ferociously passionate people who don’t just give a shit about the way things should be, but are bold enough to get out into the world and do something about it; this freak circumstance that fostered such profound shifts in me, most of which i’ll spend a lifetime unearthing; this strange and beautiful existence; this will never happen again.
but now at least i know it’s all out there.
the love and gratitude i have for my unit, my peers, this organization as a whole, is overwhelming, but it all pales in comparison to the love and gratitude i have for my team. i wish for every person to experience bonds so deep as those forged on Water 7. there could have been no better combination of individuals from which to learn so deeply of the human capacity for goodness and the pursuit of what is right. standing together on the side of the stage, waiting as the last of all teams to be recognized on graduation day, i remember positively aching with pride — we have come so far and accomplished so much together. i’ve been so lucky to live and learn alongside Lindsey Pettit, Ally Lemmer, Jacob Atkins, Christopher Richards, LaShera Hayward, Gabe Stroman, and Casey Kealey and can only hope for the rest of the world that you might have the privilege of knowing them.
now that i’m a bit of a crying mess, i’ll close with confidence in stating that this has been the best, most pivotal year of my life with the best, most incredible people i’ve ever known.
thank you, all of you. endless love forever.
Water 7’s Farewell Tour
instead of retracing our steps and heading back to Denver the same way we came eight weeks prior, Lindsey surprised the team with an alternate plan. we ditched Fire 6 and stole their cargo (sorry guys) and set off on our own for our final roadtrip together.
our first day saw us up through Tucson and on to Sedona, where we stopped at our old (well, Casey, Ally and I’s) third round stomping grounds — Slide Rock.
we spent just enough time there for those who hadn’t made the 65ft cliff jump to mark that notch in their belts and take a brief dip before piling back into the vans and attempting to make it to our campground at Navajo National Monument before dark.
we learned that sometimes your campground is actually an open mud field surrounded by barbed wire. sometimes it’s not only already dark out, but also raining enough that your van sinks while you’re trying to turn around and run away. so, you and your team push it out in the pouring rain and get splatter-crapped on from head to toe.
of course, the next logical step is to flee for the nearest town, even if it’s 44 miles away. despite your efforts to look as homeless and pathetic as possible (which, when you’re barefoot, sleep-deprived, and caked in mud, you can be sure are your best efforts), you’re turned away from three different hotels who all say the same thing: this town’s booked solid.
in the end, we found ourselves sponge-bathing in a Walmart bathroom and treating ourselves to snacks and a RedBox DVD as we nestled into our van seats and spent the night in the parking lot.
our second day of travel, the joke continued to be on us as we attempted to pass through Four Corners before crossing over into Colorado. to be turned away from easily the lamest national landmark may qualify as our team all-time low. after a long day of delirious driving and frantic misdirected pit stops at Mexican restaurants that seated and served us in their storage room, we finally made it to our second destination — our beloved first-round project location, Center, Colorado.
Lindsey had booked us a room at a cute cabin-style lodge complete with enormous beds for ample farewell spooning (which we took full advantage of). we also reunited with our old VISTA pals, Matt and Etienne for a night at Hooper Pool and a surprisingly emotional visit to our old housing — the shabby shack where we first became a team.
to be back in this place we’d first entered as strangers, to the community, to this program, and to each other, was simultaneously so surreal and so like coming home. it was the only proper note to end on.
the next day, we woke early and found ourselves in Denver not four hours later. a week and a half was all that stood between us and rejoining the real world — yikes.
the final final stretch
our last week and a half in Cochise County was a tough one. we worked as long as it took to tie up loose ends, our final day of work spanning into the 14 hour range (had it not been for a particularly aggressive monsoon, i’d wager we’d have toiled longer). despite our fatigue, we maintained motivation through the relentless positivity enthusiasm of our beloved VISTA, Phillip, and the incredible satisfaction of crossing projects off our once endless list.
in addition to our previous accomplishments at La Solana and with the 4th of July Bicycle Project, we completed the natives garden in front of the school, installing in-ground irrigation and laying a thick foundation of compost to foster rapid growth,
fulfilled their request for eighteen painted character words throughout the hallways,
built and painted a pergola complete with benches and chairs out of old pallet wood to serve as an outdoor classroom,
installed three 2,400 gallon rainwater harvesting systems,
constructed two hoop houses to accompany our straw bales and lasagna beds that now comprise Bisbee’s first combination community garden and outdoor agro-science classroom,
complete with its own in-ground irrigation system.
we also planted over 30 trees and somewhere around 200 native plants complete with their own in-ground irrigation systems
along with the pallet planters we constructed, painted, and filled
and the brick walkway we dug out, leveled, and laid.
however lengthy our workdays became, however much time we spent meticulously deep-cleaning our living space and packing up the vans, one thing that felt entirely too short was our last night with Darcy.
after an incredible dinner, we found ourselves huddled together in her living room insulated from the reality of finality by food comas and denial. all of a sudden, the television switched off and the dogs were herded in from outside. all eyes fell on Darcy.
i’m not a crier — at least not in front of people — but that night, that hit so hard. i volunteered to drive us home afterward not knowing how difficult it would be to see through the combined veil of desert darkness and unstoppable welling of tears. to have had the privilege of meeting Darcy Tessman and Lisa Holland was one thing. to have served alongside them, come to know them and befriend them was quite another. i challenge the future to reveal to me another duo so dynamic and unstoppable. it will be difficult to find others so worthy of admiration.
snippets of last Sunday’s day of leisure floating down the Salt River along with Phillip and Jacque — whatta day.
(look for arrows to appear on either side of the photos and scroll through)
sprint to the finish
it’s been a weird day — and a long one at that.
i woke up really sweaty and panicky around 2:00am and didn’t manage to get back to sleep for another hour or so. because we’re in our final days of this project and still have so much to finish, i did what i could to combat some serious lightheadedness and overall weakness, but wound up asleep for the later half of the workday. even now, after a rainy afternoon face down in my cot, i’m still feeling pretty hazy.
good thing Lisa’s taking us out for an appreciation dinner tonight. my stunted social skills should make for excellent table talk.
it’s been a weird day in a long week of long days and encroaching deadlines. it’s crunchtime, y’all, and Water 7 is not sitting pretty.
Darcy and Lisa, the brilliant women that they are, applied for and were awarded $700,000 in grants to put toward Bisbee High School in an effort to more effectively engage the student body and keep them from straying into the world of drug trafficking and violence so prevalent along the Mexico border. these grants are where 100% of the funding for the projects we’ve been working on has come from.
incredible. excellent work, Darcy and Lisa, right? definitely.
the downside to this is that grants have some strings attached, which have set deadlines for completion. i’m not sure what happens if we fail to check off every item on our long list of to-do’s, but Darcy’s facial expression at the mention of this theoretical failure is enough for us to know that it’s simply not an option.
and so our workdays have stretched into the 12-hour range and (sometimes) beyond. our bodies are burnt, blistered, and sore, but our dedication to Lisa and Darcy (plus a steady influx of ice cream and home-cooked meals) has kept us motivated. as our regional director would say — “it’s a sprint to the finish!”
yesterday, we celebrated the first half of America’s birthday hosting a bicycle giveaway at the town celebration down in Douglas. we rigged a beanbag toss for kids to try their hand at with the ultimate prizes being the bikes we’ve spent the past month and a half fixing up. it was a morning of little men fist-pumping and little ladies screaming — we couldn’t have asked for more.
the later half of our holiday was spent at Darcy’s riding horses, flipping 4-wheelers, and eating homemade ice cream (among other things), our night ending on the barn roof as we slipped comfortably into food comas and laid watching fireworks spring up in all directions across the valley.
it’s incredible to me that we’re so close to the end. people on other teams have already started posting nostalgic i’ll-never-forget’s and blog updates that reek of closure, but i can’t face any of that just yet. with two weeks left of this strange and beautiful existence, i think i’ll stand by ignorance as bliss.