Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sandbagging for the flood

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record

I went up to the North Dakota Winter Show building on Tuesday morning to put in a few hours sandbagging after the paper went to press.

Monday I'd seen the college students up there and I knew the high school students would be there taking the first shift.

So I drove up, parked my car and walked over to the sign-up desk. I'd covered this story enough to know they really need to be finicky about documenting everything for federal aid reimbursement, and that includes volunteer time.

“Where should I go?” I asked the gentleman at the desk.

“You know Daryl Stensland?” he said.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“See him, he's over there.”

So I go up to the volunteer fireman who's coordinating efforts on the floor.

“What should I do?” I ask.

“Grab a shovel and start filling,” he answers quite logically. “Three full shovels in each bag.”

Following his advice, I join a group of high school students at the nearest pile of sand. They're all paired up, shovelers and baggers. So I start filling bags solo.

There's a drill to this. Grab a bag and open it. Hold it with a couple of fingers while you use both hands to stick the shovel into the pile. Take out the shovel with your right hand near the blade and use it like a very big trowel to put in the bag. Put the bag down and get another shovelful with two hands. Shift grips, grab the bag with your left and pour in the sand. Repeat. Shift grips, grab the bag with your left, and put it aside.

Young girls around me are shoveling and grabbing bags that look like they're a significant fraction of their own weight and piling them on pallets.

After a while a young lady comes up and without a word starts helping me with the bags. Now I can shovel without interruption while she opens bags, holds them and puts them aside. Repeat.

I can feel it coming, the ache. It starts in back, right on the belt line, a little more on the right at first, if you're right-handed.

Come on! You used to do this for a living. And shoveling stuff much less pleasant than sand at that.

Jeez, will you look at that girl! You can see the exhaustion in her face, but she doesn't complain.

Come to think of it, nobody's complaining. These kids are having a ball. They're doing meaningful work to help save their town, and they're doing a durn good job of it too, without supervision and without slacking an inch.

There's an old guy over there working alongside kids who look like they could be his grandchildren. There's a woman with a grade-school kid working together, filling bags.

Pallets get covered with bags, one, two layers at most. Wouldn't take many of these to break them. Guys come and get them with forklifts and put them on big flatbed trucks to take into town.

My partner gets called away to help with something else. By! I wonder what her name was? Back to shoveling one-handed.

After a while the Salvation Army arrives with barbecue sandwich makings. This is the second meal in my life I've had from the SA. Tastes grand.

More sandbagging after a quick lunch. Then I've got to get back to town and take some pictures of the work along the dikes.

So long kids, it's been an honor working with you.


  • At 11:00 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    Good on you.

    I lived in Winnipeg for some time and I know how bad North Dakota gets hit by floods. Good work for chipping in and trying to prevent a repeat of 97.

  • At 4:02 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Thanks. I've heard about '97.

    We're ready for it here. We're the first town downstream of the Baldhill Dam. But Fargo's going to get it I fear.


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