By 1993, we’d lived in Fort Bragg for a year. I worked part-time as an investment advisor through the local branches of a major bank. My clients were semi-happy when the stock market was up, and extremely unhappy when it was down. My children were in preschool and grade school. My husband was beginning to experience eyesight problems, the result of the diabetes he’d had from childhood. We both knew his days of being the breadwinner were numbered.
We’d acquired a golden retriever who liked to chew our possessions and two cats who liked to shred our furniture. I maintained a second job as domestic servant to my family. I pretended to handle life with ease, but most of the time I was a stressed out mess.
So what did I do?
I joined the Leadership Mendocino program. On the surface, this might sound insane, but in reality, Leadership Mendocino gave me one entire day off each month for eight solid months.
The third Friday of the month, people treated me as if I was important. I was offered snacks, lunch, and snacks again. The classes were held in a variety of locations throughout the county and opened my mind to issues from natural resources to law enforcement. I met interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Ginny Rorby became a wonderful friend who continues to nurture my secret desire to write.
One of the highlights of that year was when our class got to tour the sawmill at Georgia Pacific. The mill played a vital role in this community’s economic health for over 100 years. The original was built in 1885 as the Fort Bragg Sawmill. It was renamed Union Lumber Company in 1893. Georgia Pacific bought the operation in 1973, and ran it for 29 years before closing down in August 2002.
Each member of our group was handed a hard hat, safety goggles and earplugs. I was excited. I had been a city girl all my life. I did not know how trees were harvested and processed into lumber. The only things I knew about the Georgia Pacific operation were: (1) the noise from the sawmill which could be heard throughout town, (2) the noon whistle that blew each day, and (3) the smokestack’s white plume that told how hard and which way the wind blew.
As our group neared the sawmill, I physically felt the noise—like coming upon a living, breathing dragon. It gave me shivers.
Inside, I was surprised by the high tech appearance of the operation. The catwalks brought to mind the boiler room of a freight ship. Two cutting operations ran side by side. A log appeared on a conveyor belt and was grabbed by a mechanical arm. A red laser beam guided a huge saw that sliced it like butter.
Each cutting operation was controlled by an operator who sat in what looked like the cockpit of a wheat combine. The darkness surprised me. It would be depressing to work in such sensory deprivation. The heavy duty ear protection made it impossible to exchange quips and gossip with co-workers. I wouldn’t want to be a cutting operator.
One occupation did strike me as potentially inviting. Outside, I asked our guide, “What’s that job where guys pull lumber off the conveyor belt and stack it?”
“The green chain,” he replied.
The green chain beckoned me. If I worked the green chain, my only concern for eight hours each day would be to pick up the next board and stack it. I could hum endless loops of Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ songs. If someone yelled at me, I’d point to my ear protection and apologize while thinking, Thank God I can’t hear you, bitch. Best of all, I could possibly drink in the mornings before work instead of having to wait until after work.
Working the green chain became my meditation. Whenever life got overwhelming, I closed my eyes, imagined myself dressed in jeans, heavy boots, and a hooded sweatshirt. I picked up a board and stacked it, picked up a board and stacked it . . . . My heart chakra would eventually open, allowing me to carry on.