"Pull on the Smallest of Holds"
After leaving the army, Liv Dunwoody felt
lost and adrift. Nothing mattered anymore.
She had trouble holding down a job or a home.
Eventually she washed up at the
Dumont Veterans Retreat just outside
of Easy City in Louisiana, a place
for people to stay while they
rebuilt a civilian life.
Burley Desbois, who supervised
the Turing Lodge, suggested things
like meditation and contemplation
to find the meaning of life, but she
hated the idea of taking a seat in
the long row of rocking chairs
on the porch and just watching
the world go by without her.
Liv needed things to do.
She paddled a canoe around
Stevenson lake for hours on end.
She climbed the thirty-foot tower
that dominated the athletic field.
She swam the hundred-foot pool
and ran the little obstacle course
until she grew bored with them.
"This isn't working," Liv grumbled
as she picked at her peeling palms.
"Rebuilding your life after you leave
the military is like climbing a mountain,"
Burley said. "You have to use everything
within reach, pull on the smallest of holds."
So Liv hiked through the trails of the retreat
and discovered the mudslide that people
had made down a long clay slope.
There she met Milo Leahy, a navy veteran
who understood other people better than himself.
"Maybe it would help if we found something
new to do," he said thoughtfully.
The two of them talked to Burley,
who rented a portable rope course
for the weekend. They had fun
clambering along the nets and lines.
"This is great while we have it," Liv said.
"The rental company has to pick it up
on Sunday afternoon, though. I want
something that will last longer and
actually make a difference here."
"What we need," Milo declared after
listening to Liv, "is a real project."
They got together with some other veterans
and discussed options, finally deciding to build
a permanent rope course of their very own.
The veterans bought the ropes and
the hardware, but they did the woodwork
and the assembly all by themselves.
It began with a single mast surmounted by
two platforms and festooned with climbing ropes.
They chose a tree to form the mast and cut it down,
then stripped the branches and bark to sand it smooth.
They cut more trees to make boards for the platforms.
Liv learned how to use a hand plane, realizing
how much she enjoyed the feel of freshly-planed wood
under her fingertips and the smell of linseed oil.
Milo waxed poetic about how much more fun
it would be if they had two masts and
plenty of rope to connect them.
They made log bridges and swing bridges,
cargo nets and rope ladders and trapezes.
They added more masts and different shapes
of platforms -- octagons and criss-crosses,
circles and squares and hollow rectangles.
It was beautiful and dramatic, and
while it was carefully built, it was
never meant to be perfectly safe.
The veterans loved the challenge of it,
the uncertainty of climbing high above ground
on the vast, swaying network of ropes.
"We made our own special place,"
Liv said happily, looking up at it.
Squirrel Haven was a huge success.
Before long, they had busloads of people
coming from Laguardia Residence Hall
at Loyola University, wanting to spend
the weekend at the veterans retreat.
It was all fun and games until
Holden Morrisett wanted to climb up
despite missing his left leg near the hip.
And then his roomie Donjae Roberson
insisted on taking a turn too, even though
both of his legs were severed near the hips.
And then Jaimeson Tate, who was blind,
wanted to explore the course with his guide dog.
"That would be pretty dangerous," Liv observed.
"So what?" Jaimeson said. "I've been to war
and back. Life is dangerous. Live it anyway."
"Suppose there were an emergency,"
Burley mused, "and so we had to
get them up there somehow."
"This is nuts," Liv said as she
wove a dog harness out of paracord.
"I know," Milo said with a grin.
He was working on a safety harness
for Jaimeson. "Ain't it grand?"
Liv had to agree that it was.
"What do you think we should
build next?" she said.
"We're running out of room here
unless we want to clear a lot of trees,"
Burley pointed out, "and besides,
y'all done built every kind of
rope toy in the catalogs."
"I miss working in metal," Liv mused.
"I am all on board with that," Milo said,
clapping his hands together and rubbing them.
So Liv got out her sketchbook and began to draw.
* * *
Liv Dunwoody -- She has tawny skin, streaked blonde hair, and green eyes. As an engineer, building things makes her feel useful. After leaving the army, Liv feels adrift in the world, like nothing she does really matters. Currently she is staying at the Dumont Veterans Retreat just outside of Easy City in Louisiana.
Qualities: Good (+2) Army Engineer Veteran, Good (+2) Body/Mechanical Intelligence, Good (+2) Moxie, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Loss of Purpose
Burley Desbois -- He has ebony skin, brown eyes, and nappy white hair with a mustache and beard. He served in the Vietnam War. Currently he supervises the Turing Lodge at the Dumont Veterans Retreat. That provides guidance for the residents and guests from someone who knows what it's like to go to war, and come back changed. As a hobby, Burley carves figurines and makes dioramas, often of military or historic scenes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Leadership, Master (+6) Marine Veteran, Expert (+4) Bravery, Expert (+4) Peer Counselor, Good (+2) Critical Thinking, Good (+2) Still Tough as Nails, Good (+2) Whittling
Poor (-2) Not as Fast as He Used to Be
Milo Leahy -- He has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He comes from Nebraska. Currently he is staying at the Dumont Veterans Retreat just outside of Easy City in Louisiana. Milo is a playful man and a skilled leader. However, understands other people better than himself, and tends to distract himself rather than deal with difficult personal issues.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Navy Veteran, Good (+2) Fun-loving Guy, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Strategic Thought, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Intrapersonal Awareness
Holden Morrisett -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair. He is missing his left leg near the hip and uses a wheelchair. He served in the Marines for three and a half years prior to his injury. Now he lives in Suite 107b of the Laguardia Residence Hall in Easy City. He enjoys playing wheelchair basketball and memorizing the stats of other players.
Qualities: Good (+2) Marine Veteran, Good (+2) Followship, Good (+2) Honorable, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Wheelchair Basketball
Poor (-2) Choosing His Own Path
Donjae Roberson -- He has brown skin, brown eyes, and very short black hair. Both legs were severed near the hips, so he uses a wheelchair. He served in the Navy for just over two years prior to his injury. Now he lives in Suite 107b of the Laguardia Residence Hall in Easy City. He enjoys playing wheelchair basketball and collecting basketball cards.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dependable, Good (+2) Leadership, Good (+2) Navy Veteran, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence, Good (+2) Wheelchair Basketball
Poor (-2) Hates Flying
Jaimeson Tate -- He has brown skin, one brown eye, and nappy dark brown hair worn short on top and shaved at the sides. He is fully blind, his left eye missing and his right nonfunctional. He navigates with a guide dog, Buttercup, and wants to learn how to pinpoint people with his other senses. Buttercup is a golden retriever, and she shares her owner's bubbly personality. Prior to his injury, he served as an Army sniper, but it wasn't even a year before he was sent home with a medical discharge. Now he lives in Suite 107a of the Laguardia Residence Hall in Easy City. Jaimeson prefers playing dice to cards, and particularly excels at Pirate Dice.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dice Games, Good (+2) Keen Senses, Good (+2) Making Friends, Good (+2) Sense of Humor, Good (+2) Veteran Sniper
Poor (-2) Fully Blind
* * *
"I may not be able to pull on the smallest of holds, but those I can pull on I can pull on all day long."
— Jimmy Jewel
Rejoining civilian life poses many challenges for returning veterans. (Note that this uses the military definitions: "serving military personnel" and "civilians = everyone else." T-American use more often divides people into "first responders," "citizen responders," and "civilians = people who can't/won't help in a crisis and must be protected.") One of the greatest difficulties is loss of purpose, so veterans must find and pursue life purpose in a new direction. Understand how to talk with veterans and help them with readjustment and general support. There are tips for returning veterans too. Here is a post-deployment booklet for soldiers and families.
Dumont Veterans Retreat lies just outside of Easy City, Louisiana and is named after Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator. This facility includes about 150 acres and two large buildings, the Turing Lodge and the Gymnatorium. Along with the main buildings, facilities include two outdoor chapels, hiking trails, wilderness camping, a 4.5 acre lake with picnic pavilion, camp fire circles, an athletic field, basketball and sand volleyball courts, a swimming pool, obstacle equipment, and a 30-foot climbing tower with zip line.
Turing Lodge stands four storeys tall. The ground floor has a wraparound overhang, which is also the porch for the first floor aboveground. Parts of that porch have overhangs from the third storey. The main porch stretches 400 feet around three sides of the lodge, holding over a hundred rocking chairs to invite relaxation and contemplation. See the ground floor, first floor, second floor, and third floor plans.
Stevenson Lake has paddle boats, row boats, and canoes in addition to fishing. A lake pavilion shelters picnics and cookouts for small or large groups.
At 30 feet tall, the climbing tower provides multiple faces as different levels of difficulty. The attached zipline travels 150 feet to the edge of the woods.
The facility also started out with a simple obstacle course located near the Turing Lodge, the kind of thing found in many Terramagne parks.
The swimming pool measures 100 feet by 40 feet with a low diving board, patio, and pool shed.
Dumont Veterans Retreat began with a relatively simple, portable rope course.
The veterans then designed and built a massive rope playground which they named Squirrel Haven. They did the work almost entirely by hand, felling trees and cutting boards, although they did buy the rope and most of the hardware. The work is modular, beginning with the central mast and one connected mast, intended for expansion over time.
Playgrounds offer many developmental benefits. Rope playgrounds offer a whole new challenge with frame nets, ladders and rings, and other climbing accessories. You can find instructions on how to make wooden playground equipment, climbing grids, tree nets, and more.
Rope courses use many of the same elements as rope playgrounds, customarily divided into low and high courses. Here are a few tips on how to build a low rope course.
Veterans with disabilities face a great many challenges.
Accessible sports appeal to many veterans. Resources for veterans help find suitable activities. (Understand that many veterans define "suitable" as "not guaranteed to cause immediate death.") Adaptive principles assist program directors and veterans in modifying activities.
Paracord can be made into hundreds of things. This pet harness fastens with plastic clips; this dog harness uses carabiners; for maximum safety above ground, you might make the straps wider and add a hip section. You can make a human harness too.</user>