GIVING BACK TO THE COUNTRY


In the visitor’s center in Waldport, Oregon, mid-way down the Oregon Coast, is a sign that reads:  Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, 1936, Project #982.

This project was a bridge over Alsea; the river flows into the Pacific about 0.5 nm after the bridge crossing.  The original bridge no longer stands, having been replaced by a new span in 1993.  Outside the visitor’s center is a wall covered with plaques of names of people, who wrote their names, all volunteers in helping with traffic, explanations of the need for a new bridge, and other jobs.  At the top, on the right side, are the names of my parents.  My father showed that to me in 2003, his last summer up there, and the only one of the 30 summers he spent there alone.  I will not visit Waldport without looking at their plaque.  This is sacred ground for me. This time, I viewed it with sadness, happiness, but no tears.

I don’t believe in turning back the clock to the “golden days,” which weren’t so golden (cars broke down a lot, more people died in transportation accidents, Jim Crow, the Poll Tax, and the KKK were all alive and well), but I do believe in learning from history.  I had hoped we would have learned from Vietnam, before our “misadventures” in the Middle East.  We didn’t, other than to support the troops, so long as most of us didn’t have to change our lives one iota.

I also believe that maybe we can learn from the ideas engendered by the Great Depression, where we put people to work–honest, hard work–rebuilding this country’s infrastructure.  It used to take several weeks and ferry crossings to traverse Oregon from north to south.  Now it can be done in a few hours, although the coast itself should require a few days.

A few kilometers south of Waldport is Cape Perpetua, about 300 meters above the Pacific with a trail, a tunnel through rock, and a park that was built by the CCC, whose abbreviation everybody should know.  We need a new version of the CCC, a need for volunteerism, a need for giving back to this country.  I had hoped in 2009 we would see this, but I was wrong.  We need it, and I know I am right.  I am often right, and I wish I weren’t.  I wrote a column on that a while back.  I make mistakes, but I admit mine, and in the need for mandatory national service and volunteerism, I am about as right as I can be.

We need those who have to give freely to those who do not. Interestingly, this is one of the five tenets of Islam.  That statement, I’m sure doesn’t go over well, but fundamentalists of all sorts are dangerous.  American fundamentalists blamed Katrina on homosexuality, rather than on a rather normal way for the Earth to remain in heat balance.  That is, of course, why we have tropical and extra-tropical cyclones.

We need those who have to give freely to their country, by giving of time to a variety of secular organizations in this country.  I have no problems with people who give to religious organizations, but to me giving to the country as a whole, in some other way than to a specific religion, is required.  I can name several possible places, besides rebuilding our infrastructure, so that Interstate bridges in Oklahoma and Minnesota don’t fall into rivers, trains don’t derail near Kingman, because water washed out part of the rail bed.

I think we need volunteers in the public schools.  We need people to tutor, before, during, after school and on weekends.  We need people to help kids of all sorts get outside and exercise more, as well as to teach good eating habits.  That might help with obesity.  We need people to actually measure some of these outcomes appropriately, the way I did for free, so we know what works and what doesn’t.  Things that don’t work are still good, if we learn from the mistakes.

I think we need volunteers in animal shelters and to teach the next generation about care of animals, which correlates highly with care of people.  Animal cruelty in the young is a red flag for real trouble as an adult.  Did I mention that leg hold traps and cock fighting used to be legal?  How about two other words:  Michael Vick.

We need people who are fluent in other languages to help out in public places, be it airports, hospitals, or national parks.  One of my dreams, that probably won’t become reality, is that I will be able to do that adequately in German some day.  We need volunteers to teach people how to read, since a frighteningly high percentage of Americans cannot.

I see volunteers who wear large V pins, red, white and blue if they are a veteran, blue (for justice, since that is what the blue in our flag stands for).  They can have stars for 1000 hours, and they would pay for the pin, a nominal cost, whose funds would be used for something special in this country.

I think citizen science should count as volunteerism:  the annual Christmas Bird Count is one example, where we have learned a great deal about birds, including the fact that nearly two-thirds have moved significantly further north in the past 112 years.

We need volunteerism.  Oh, there would be mistakes, but it would help. I went to Senator Jon Kyl’s office to push the idea.  I received a letter from him saying it was a bad idea.  Senator Kyl has never worn the uniform of his country.  The fact he doesn’t support it doesn’t mean I can’t.  There is nothing stopping me from getting a red, white and blue V pin with four stars on it, wearing it in the schools, where I teach children math, physics, chemistry, or English.  I’d love to wear one in the canoe country of Minnesota, where I’ve logged over 1000 hours.  I’d wear it at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, where I have logged about 500 hours.  Maybe a few people might be curious and ask me what it is all about.

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