Thursday, May 13, 2004

APRIL 20 2004, cont'd

I have been touring Horizons Unlimited in Emmetsburg. Teresa Murphy is my tour guide. We have already been through the kitchen and dining area at the plant, and now we're standing in the "pre-vocational" area. We have already talked about the laundry that gets done in this room.

Horizons produces ID badges and buttons, Teresa told me. They had recently done 500 buttons for the effort to get casino boat gambling on Five Island Lake, for instance.

Here in the "pre-vocational" area, the workers also do paper-shredding. Since passage of laws mandating greater protection of personal information, more and more documents need to be shredded. "That's what Richard is doing," Teresa said. Richard was sitting in a wheelchair in front of a small paper-shredder, feeding in a few sheets at a time. The work of shredding material with personal information is assigned to people who are unable to read.

Others in the room are going through boxes, sorting colored paper from white, newspapers and magazines from office paper.

Jamie Parsons was overseeing the working going on in the room. Teresa said "She's an ICFMR Instructor." I said "Huh?" Jamie said "ICFMR - Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded." A light went on for me.

"What does an ICFMR Instructor need to know?" I asked Jamie.

"I'm supposed to know everything I'm supposed to know," she said. She made it sound like she had to be prepared to deal with whatever came up.

Cheryl Hilton was sitting at a small desk near the door, helping as needed in the room. I asked what she does. "I'm retired," she said. "I just substitute wherever they need me." She is a "residential instructor" and usually works overnight in a group home, from midnight to 8:00 a.m.

"Do you have to stay awake for that whole period," I wondered.

The answer was yes. "The other night with the storm," Cheryl said, "there was a loud clap of thunder and one of the consumers shot out of his room just like that, terrified."

Teresa and I stood at the doorway, talking about the organization. Horizons Unlimited publishes a newsletter for parents and guardians of its consumers and for twelve communities in the area surrounding Emmetsburg. The plant receives recyclable materials from some surrounding counties. Fund-raisers include a Superbowl Breakfast and the Non-Dinner Dinner where donors receive a description of an imaginary meal corresponding to the size of the contributions. The Non-Dinner Dinner promotion takes place about the time of the Thanksgiving holiday.

"People from the community who come into the plant are surprised," Teresa said. "They say 'I didn't realize how big it was in here.'"

Teresa and I moved into the next room in the plant, farther back in the building, part of the space that the public doesn't know is so big. "This is the pop bottle de-capping area," Teresa said. Here consumers take caps off the plastic bottles, dump any liquid from the bottles into a bucket, and bag the bottles. These are some of the "dud" bottles, according to Teresa, those which don't get the 5-cent Iowa refund, either because they aren't marked for that (bottles from Minnesota, say) or they're plastic liquor bottles. Bottles need to be de-capped before they're baled.

When we pass the Program Manager's office on our way farther back into the building, the door is closed because the "staffing" is still going on in there. Teresa said that the status of eight or nine consumers was being reviewed this month. Horizons Unlimited supplies work activity for a total of eighty-seven consumers.

In the next room back, newspapers and magazines get sorted on a huge scale, white paper gets shredded, there are bunkers for tin cans and aluminum. The industrial shredder will cut through paper half an inch thick. It is run once or twice a month depending on the volume of paper the plant is handling.

Jessie Manwarren, Recycling Manager, and Laura Sidles, Workshop Superviosr, oversee work in this area. There are two Bobcats sitting off to the side. It's not that they always have two of them: the shiny new one is replacing the older Bobcat. Large bales of aluminum cans and of paper are stacked up several bales high.

A pick-up from the City of Mallard has backed a trailer into the work area. Consumers unloaded paper from the trailer onto the floor. One of the staff members got onto a Bobcat and pushed the pile of paper into a bunker for sorting later. A Toyota forklift moves carefully through the work area. Staff members drive the forklift, Teresa said, "plus one consumer is allowed to."

The paper shoved into the bunker will get sorted out into white paper, magazines, cardboard, "and the garbage," Teresa said. "You'd be surprised what people put in their recycling." In a month's time, the bunker for storing paper can be filled all the way out into the aisle. "In fact, we've had it all the way out to the desks before," Teresa said, indicating two desks across the twenty-foot aisle from us.

Bales of newspaper weight 1400-1500 pounds each, Teresa informed me. Thirty-one bales make a semi load. The plant sends out about three semi loads of newspaper each month, to a Bowater papermill in Canada.

One neighboring county delivers a "roll-off" load of magazines to the plant each month. A "roll-off" is a container that rolls off the frame of a truck for use; when it has been filled, it is rolled back onto the truck for transport.

A private outfit, Shamrock Recycling, brings in materials from Emmetsburg and surrounding counties, including five roll-offs a month for Pocahontas. Shamrock has roll-offs with compartments for glass, tin, aluminum, plastic, newspapers, and cardboard. Roll-offs of tin are brought in as well, and Teresa said that Pocahontas used to bring in the equivalent of a garbage truck full of tin every three months; she doesn't know if that's still the case.

One of the balers in the plant is devoted entirely to newspapers. Another bales tin, magazines, shredded white paper, and newspaper, as needed.

Bales of tin weight about a thousand pounds each. Forty-five bales make a load. The plant sends a load of tin out about every three months. Tin is sold to Connecticut Metals and gets shipped to East Chicago, Illinois, or Chicago, Indiana.

A bale of magazines weighs two thousand pounds. Twenty-two bales make a load. The plant ships about one load per month, to a papermill in Canada.

The aluminum "duds" get baled, six hundred pounds to the bale, about one bale per month, and they're sold to the Shine Brothers in Spencer, Iowa. Not much "dud" aluminum has to be handled because most cans in Iowa are redeemable for 5-cents per can, as we would see in the Redemption Center in another building at Horizons.

Some dog food and cat food cans are aluminum and some are not. How do the consumers tell the difference when they are sorting cans? There are magnets along the side of the sorting table. If the can is held up when you put it next to the magnet, it's a tin can; if the can falls back onto the table, it gets sorted as aluminum.

We've been standing in the center of the room watching activity around us. A couple groups of consumers come past us. They are going on break. Many of them say "Hello, Teresa" as they come past, with obvious affection.

To be continued....



This continues our discussion about "the construction of place," started in our post of April 28, and continued on April 29, April 30, May 10, and May 11, in response to the article "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life" by Gaile McGregor. I have been highlighting points of interest from that article and considering them from the perspective of my Vagabond in the Middle project.

"The whole corpus," McGregor says, "is overflowing with enclosure images. It is also overflowing with signs of anxiety about the integrity and meaning of these enclosures. Are they cages or caves?" Many of the "iconic boxes exude a feeling not of entrapment but of safety."

Rather than images of enclosure, the central metaphors in the pioneer middle west likely were images of things man-made or natural that reached for the sky. The flatness here is immense, the horizon is forever. Bell tower, church steeple, windmill, water tower, barn with cupola, silo - for the pioneers all these broke the great horizontal sweep of their world. Sometimes, perhaps, the vastness of sky was oppressive in the way wilderness weighed on McGregor's Canadians. For our pioneers, those towering edifices helped push back the sky.

The other central metaphor here might have been the railroad tracks pointed at the sunset, gleaming with a golden shine that greased the path west, each new community pushing the frontier farther towards the mountains.

I say that the middle western metaphor was not box or enclosure even knowing full well that this region was surveyed to rectangular regularity section after section after section in grid-like monotony. Yet that squared severity on the landscape was not taken into the middle western heart, not incorporated into our sense of who we are the way that McGregor believes enclosures hold Canadians. Our pioneers here were more given to pushing into open space than to looking for comfort in corners.

MAY 8, 1998

The long view: a very mild winter, a moist spring. Both the result, I'm assuming, of the El Nino. Wisconsin is carpeted thick and green following such mildness and moisture. It is a beautiful world by comparison to some harsh, ugly, reluctant springs I have known. We should take joy in the beauty of this season's world.
There are so many times we get caught up in the details, overwhelmed by the minutiae, that we overlook the true beauty in the sweep of things. Cannot see the forest for the trees, as they say. Cannot enjoy the loveliness because of a small blemish. Cannot enjoy what we have because we wish for something we don't have. Perspective is a wonderful thing, if you can find it. Why is it so difficult to find? We really are trapped in our own little orb of skull bone, aren't we? The elephant confined by a ten foot piece of chain can pace only a distance of ten feet, even after the chain has been removed. What must we do to set ourselves free of our own such tethers?

The white daffodils are spent. The peonies have shot up and become very bushy. Some of the tulips bend towards their end. The lilies of the valley have a notion they'll open soon, to release their sweet perfume. It is a sunny morning, a little cool but bright. Send the whiners home - this will be a good day.

Another explosion of blossoms in the orchard at Weinkauf's, just north of Fairwater.

Where is the hawk taking breakfast this morning? I do not see him.


MAY 11, 1998
We had a wonderful weekend and the week is starting out lovely too. Blue sky and bright sun. Grass is green and thick. The birds are calling. Charge, I say. Charge!

Long shadows of the morning sun. This is almost a morning made for cutting hay. I know, I know - it is too early in the season.

The hawk is not in his tree; and there are now nearly enough leaves on the tree that I might not see him even if he were. In the evening, he likes to sit on one or the other poles of the powerline along the highway, just south of the grove of trees I call his home.

A few fields are green with crops. It is peas which have sprouted. Some fields have not yet been worked at all and they are turning green with weeds. Dandelions have turned to fluff, gone to seed for the first time this season.

At the farm near Five Corners a baby donkey is taking suck.

North of Union Street along Highway E, it is corn that has just barely sprouted.

Today must be "bulky article pick-up" in Ripon. The streets are lined with couch and bookshelf and end table and all manner of cast-off. The ritual of spring is playing out here, now. Spring house-cleaning. Where and when did the impulse originate? And why? And how has it been transmuted?

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