Laughing, joking and living it up

By: Maureen Hanlon

When you run into our crew in the woods, we are running chainsaws. We are dirty and rundown. Our muscles bulge and our faces sweat.

When you run into our crew on the prairie, we are lighting fires. We are tired and covered in soot. We are carrying heavy packs and flaming torches.

When you run into our crew anywhere, we are working and working hard. We are young and strong. We’re the Ottertail Crew, at your service!

Sometimes, I think I love the Corps because it gives us a chance to be the people that hide in the corners of our collective childhood: the lumberjacks and firefighters, the mothers and fathers that everyone is excited to see on career day. I’ve become the adult I wanted to be, and I am cool.

Then reality hits: it’s windy and raining, or it’s eighty five degrees at 10 a.m., or a saw quits on the first day of a project and I’m stuck pretending to be a mechanic. I lose track of the glamor and put my nose to the grindstone. And then we’re all grinding away, distracted and perhaps worlds away from each other in a 10 foot space. What happened?

Luckily, this is when somebody asks a riddle, or cracks a joke, or pulls out the badly needed secret snack. For those of you not in the know, a secret snack hides in wait all week, until the moment when your brave and valiant heroes are surely defeated….and then it appears! From an unassuming daypack, or a heretofore unnoticed corner of the truck bed, the secret snack arrives to revive the weak and save the day. I would like to take this moment to thank crew members for strawberries, popcorn, licorice, Koolaid, and even homemade marshmallow treats. You guys rock!

And what kind of riddle might distract us from terrible weather and arduous tasks? Lately we’ve been playing before-and-after: connect two phrases or word-groups to solve the riddle. For instance, your favorite agricultural politician? Cotton-eyed Joe Biden, of course. Or sometimes, we need a longer lasting challenge. One afternoon, we had to do all our chemical rinsing for the day in the biting wind, and ended up trying to speak in only haiku for the remainder of the task.

So I found myself

Fingers numb in a prairie ditch

Smiling nonetheless.

These are the moments when I remember why I really love the Corps. We can be as tough as we want, but our culture is not about bravado and showmanship. We want to enjoy our experience while we live it, and this means being sweaty and tough and wearing a grin while we do it.

When you run into our crew, we are working and working hard. We are young and strong. We’re laughing, joking, and living it up!