Heather Lende for the Anchorage Daily News
When I was asked to help with the new playground at Tlingit Park, I declined. I just got finished working for five years to build a new library. That beautiful, two million-dollar community project opened in January. The landscaping has just begun. I have done my volunteer work for the century.
Then came the call asking which shift I would like to work on during the five-day barn raising style play structure build. " Morning, afternoon or evening?" I didn't recall volunteering for any of the construction. " Actually" the caller, who was my neighbor Jen, said " we're going through the phone book, I have the L's, what day will work for you?" Which is how I "volunteered" to help build the playground.
A few weeks later I had another call- would my church make a lasagna dinner for 100 people on one of nights of the big build? "All the churches are helping" my friend Frankie said, " we know you'd like the opportunity to contribute too." I could hear the smile in her voice. "Okay " I said.
Then Donna came over for coffee and I bragged that I was volunteering on the build and baking two lasagnas. Donna, an artist, said in addition to volunteering to paint the playground's components she was in charge of making 200 pounds of potato salad. "Want to make ten pounds?" How could I say no?
I was feeling extremely virtuous as I shopped for ricotta cheese and mayonnaise, which is why I was a little disappointed when I saw seventy something Lucy with a full cart and a longer list. "I'm making beef stew for 150," she said.
Not everyone was working so hard. At Mountain Market, Richard and Jim had a seat by the window and watched as more volunteers readied the park site across the road. "Think they'll do it?" Jim asked. "Sure" I said. "Especially if you guys help", and I bragged about my lasagnas, potato salads and volunteer hours. "Your making me tired just listening" Richard said "I think I'll stay clear. It sounds like it may involve some sweat."
When I got there Friday morning, the young mother in charge asked if I could use power tools. I've built a house, I can run a saw, although my husband makes the measurements and draws the cut lines. But he is out of town this week. I was paired up with a woman who retired to Haines with her husband. The head carpenter, who came from Texas as part of the design team, showed us a picture of a tunnel we were supposed to make out of 2X6's. The top was curved. "Just eyeball it," he said confidently.
It took Linda and I until lunchtime to cut six identical semi circles and screw them to the frames. Besides getting to know each other better, with each little success we gained confidence. It was so rewarding that I came back Saturday and Sunday with my children.
There was a sea of people hammering, drilling, sawing and raking wood chips. The best carpenters in town were volunteering for what they usually get paid lots to do. The fire department was there and the Borough clerk and her husband, an award winning truck driver, were in charge of the big saws under the tent. There were school children and fisherman, old ladies and young hippie types. A brassy blonde who recently moved back to town after a few hard years was running the router with a preppy pre-school mother who favors the Waldorf school approach to early child education. They were all having a fine, productive time.
I saw Richard at one of the chop saws and yelled hello. "You don't see me" he shouted back "I'm not here." Then his buddy Jim walked by carrying a two by four.
"Don't tell anyone" he joked "it will ruin my reputation." He was helping tanned river guides with no shirts on and the pale, restless teens that usually hang around the video store build a tower.
Even the scrappy heli-ski guide and the white bearded environmentalist that spent most of the winter testifying against each other over helicopter regulations were getting along. One was building a pavilion; the other was in charge of checking out the power tools he needed to do it. They smiled when their eyes met.
Which answers the big question from the latte pundits at Mountain Market "would we really be able to all work together to build such a fancy playground?"
With the amount of socializing that went on it's amazing anything got built at all. But in five days, the park was done and the sun shone on the grand opening. Everyone was there- even the school children were let out of class to come and play.
"Will you just look at what this town can do when we quit fighting " my friend Kathy said a she cut the cake and handed out lemonade.
"I used to think Haines couldn't have such good things," Christy, who grew up here, said as we walked through the new park and looked over at the new library. "But look at all this- we really can, it is just so great, especially for our children." My eyes got blurry, and I was not alone.In front of us a young summer worker new to Haines brushed tears back and said to her friend "I can't believe I'm so emotional about this. I don't even live here—Maybe it's that this is such a small town to do something so big."