Montana Conservation Corps
by Lowell Jaeger
Montana Conservation Corps regularly sponsors Reflect sessions for its AmeriCorp volunteers. Last summer my wife and I, along with some friends, hiked two miles up rugged terrain to meet a hard-working conservation crew; we brought with us enough melon, veggies and steak sandwiches for everybody, and—best of all—the energy and enthusiasm to engage these well-deserving young people in a spirited conversation.
They were excited to see us and eager to get started. We all shook hands, exchanged smiles, then gathered in a circle on the ground for our discussion. I'd brought copies of the poem "Government" by Marie Howe. A volunteer read it aloud. Then another read it aloud again. The poem recounts an incident at the "Health and Harmony Food Store" in which a woman, blocking the aisle with her cart, grudgingly moves "not quite far back enough" to let others pass. The speaker in the poem is angered by this and confesses "a small mob in [her] begins picking up the fruit to throw."
"Why didn't she throw the fruit?" I asked, and the discussion was underway. The crew members told humorous stories about "throwing fruit"—or wanting to—in various encounters with people who'd been uncivil or unkind. We considered what it takes to make a civilization, what sort of rules we have to agree upon in order to get along. We considered how some of these rules were simply common courtesies, while the most important rules we'd made into laws. The poem continues:
So many kingdoms,
"Who governs us?" I asked. We laughed about conflicting voices in our heads, moments of lost control, moments of supreme self-control. We explored the nature of democracy and the responsibilities of an individual in keeping our collective governance on track.
"Why have you volunteered to serve with AmeriCorps?" I asked.
They mulled it over for a while. Then one young man said, "It seems important to me to pitch in. And I get excited about getting things done."
One of the crew then asked my friend, "Why did you bother to hike all the way up here? And to bring us food?" My friend pointed at me and said, "Because he was so excited about meeting all of you. And because I'm inspired by your service. It made me want to meet you, too."
We thought about this a while, talked about how good it felt to be proud of someone and how it feels to support the good work of someone else. Now we'd become one group, not two; the discussion had linked us together.
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