Canada Sabbatical Pt. III

After washing dishes from yet another delightful meal on the farm we were handed a notebook to take back to the WWOOF house. The notebook has been signed by each volunteer on the farm, but is much more than the standard guestbook with quick scribbles and generic thankyous. Each 8.5” x 11” page is at least half way filled with reflections; some people take two pages to reflect. Being fascinated with the human experience, and by that I mean being the nosey parker that I am, I couldn’t resist reading some of the musings written by people from all over the world. Our hosts have seven volumes of these musings. Clearly, yet I don’t think intentionally, these hosts have created a space that not only grows fresh organic produce to feed their community, but have also created a space that allows for personal growth that will affect communities world wide. Maybe that sounds grand of me, but in spite of my English heritage I think some things need not be diminished for the sake of modesty. No, we aren’t concluding our stay by sitting under a tree attaining enlightenment, but personally I do feel lighter.

The following are some highlights, that may or may not have been disguised as dark clouds in the moment, that have contributed to my personal growth while staying at this farm:

The Carrots

On our first day as WWOOFers we were each given a hoe and told to weed the carrots. Admittedly I’m a bit of a space case (for those of your who don’t know) and didn’t even fully comprehend that was the task at hand for the first few minutes; I was just trying to copy what our teacher Bryne was demonstrating. It looked to me like he was arbitrarily dragging a tool down a long patch of green stuff, dodging a certain green stuff that was totally indistinguishable from the rest. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one confused. We all gave it fair effort for about five minutes, until Bryne noticed our struggle at which time he ushered us on to another task. As the days went on we acquired some training and gained some knowledge about weeding, so by Friday two WWOOFers were sent back to the carrots to tackle the seemingly impossible yet again. This time they picked weeds by hand to avoid wiping out 20 carrots in one misguided drag of the hoe. I looked over at my fellow volunteers from the spinach, relieved I wasn’t in their shoes, or wellies as some might call them.

Monday morning my work boots moseyed over to the carrot patch carrying me with them and I was faced for the second time with a sea of green. Fortunately this time I had a partner who had about 10 minutes more experience than me and I sought her wisdom with great desperation. She pointed to the green that was a carrot and confirmed all the other green had to go. The minutes ticked as we pulled the encroaching weeds with great delicacy so as not to hurt our tiny little carrot friends.

The next day we were told to weed the carrots again, and were also told we didn’t need to do it so slowly. Our pace did not accelerate. As much as our eyes were more skilled at differentiating the greenery, we lacked the confidence and precision to annihilate the bad guys without getting some of the good guys too. There are circumstances where this happens and is accepted (by some). We weren’t prepared to make those kinds of sacrifices however.

By the end of week two it seemed as though Bryne was accepting of, or at least indifferent to, our sluggish speed at the carrot patch. It became the task we were all given when he didn’t have another task in mind. Twenty minutes til lunch – fuss with the carrots. End of the day – do a bit more weeding in the carrots.

It’s now week three and we’ve all become quite fond of those ever weeded tubers. We walk past them and look down with pride and excitement at how free they look (in comparison to when the journey began) and how tall they’ve grown. Kneeling over them I’ve bonded with our WWOOF roomies, had plenty time for quiet contemplation, and have discussed future aspirations with Cam.

There is a drawing I love that depicts two people standing next to their carrots in the ground. One person has a carrot with a big bushy top and a little carrot under the soil. The other has a carrot with a little bushy top and a big carrot under the soil. The caption reads “Success isn’t always what you see.”

Nourishment

Every WWOOFer who has stayed on this farm and signed the guestbook has mentioned the food; I haven’t read all seven volumes, but I think it’s a safe bet to say. The WWOOF house is stocked with breakfast items to prepare ourselves, and while Cam is a little stale on the carb heavy, protein light options, there’s not much room for complaint. You would be a real schafseckel (Swiss German for sheep balls) to complain about the food here.

During the week we stuff ourselves with oatmeal, guzzle some tea and make our way to the field by 8:57am. After three weeks of conditioning, my belly starts to grumble at 11:45am sharp, typically while weeding the carrots. At 12pm we all gather at the outdoor dining table and make a lunch spread. Toast pops steady for about 30 minutes while 6 different kinds of sandwiches are being made, often accompanied by salads, soups, and leftovers from supper (that’s what they call it here and I enjoy its old-timey charm).

Never is there a dull face among the WWOOFers when we make way to 6pm supper. Yes, the food is delicious and plentiful – one person wrote in the guestbook that they had hoped to lose weight during their stay but instead they got fat, which gave me a good chuckle – but there’s more to it than that. Our hosts are under no obligation to provide such careful, wholesome, exquisite meals; they choose to cater in this way. It pleases them to provide good food, and of course it pleases their guests too – the proof is in the pudding, I mean guestbook.

The following excerpt from a blog post by our host Barbara gives some insight to her culinary philosophies:
“I have always enjoyed cooking and baking for my family and friends. I read once in an Ayurveda cook book that in India there are songs that women sing for preparing food. These songs infuse the food with love and good thoughts. This is how all food should be prepared. Much like the food we grow here on the farm our energy and thought patterns are transferred to the plants and into the crops we lovingly care for. The same thing applies to the food we are handling and preparing for a meal.”
More of her wonderful philosophies and farm knowledge can be found here: https://ironwoodfannybay.blogspot.ca/2011/06/whats-for-supper.html
(She hasn’t posted in a while, but the content is rather timeless)

Each night our bodies are nourished with entrees accompanied by farm fresh produce and Prussian breads, often followed by a homemade dessert. As cutlery clinks and taste buds rejoice, our minds are nourished too. Conversation is as rich as the rye. From cultural norms to personal anecdotes, Inuit diets to the history or fermentation, male strippers to commercial fishers, the exchanges are plentiful. Cam has been in conversation heaven. He is a sponge for knowledge and our hosts are happy to oblige.

What I’ve found to be nourishing, without knowing I was in need, is the opportunity to sit and listen. There was a time when sitting with people in conversation about topics I wasn’t knowledgeable about was daunting for me. Still there are times when I feel embarrassed for all the things I don’t know, but I’ve become more comfortable asking, and lately listening. I’ve learned that while I am, as a dear friend likes to say, “a sun loving flower” – someone who loves to speak, or perhaps just be in the light – I enjoy some shade from time to time too. While getting my degree in Human Services I took a class about small group dynamics, and the group I worked with in that class did a presentation on termination at the end of the semester. We gave our classmates a small gift to honor our time together as a group, and to wish them well as they transitioned to the next semester. The gift was a card with a quote that read “Speak in such a way others love to listen to you, listen in such a way others love to speak to you.” This, we thought, and I still think, is a valuable skill to strive for in Human Services. These past few weeks I have been listening. Admittedly I do still have a tendency to zone out – but I’m not out here trying to be perfect. Something I heard tonight at the table is that people have become scared to think for themselves. It’s those sound bites that make listening so worth while, when we hear something that resonates and makes us wonder, “hm.. what do I think about that?”

Bugs and others.

Somehow I didn’t anticipate how closely I would be working with bugs when I signed up to work on a farm. Mosquitos were a consideration; no other flying, crawling, wriggling little creature crossed my mind. This lack of totally obvious foresight was probably for the best, however, because I hate bugs. I really do just hate them.

Well, there are lots of bugs on a farm I’ll have you know, and I am face to face with my fears, tiny as they may be, every day. My first encounter was before we even got to the farm. We were walking at night in West Vancouver – perfectly manicured – and I realized slugs were all about the place. I had flashbacks of rolling down hills as a kid in England and squirming as I realized mid roll I’d have to try and dodge the slugs so as not to smoosh one with my ear or elbow as I tumbled down. There are no shortage of slugs here on this moist veggie-ful farm and I’ve solidified they are in fact second on my list of most hated bugs and others (apparently it’s a mollusc), after spiders of course. My memory seems to believe all the slugs in England looked about the same – kind of brown and as long as my finger. On this farm, they are all shapes and sizes and colors, which makes them so much more of a bother because they can be so inconspicuous. Last weekend we went to the west coast of Vancouver Island to camp and fish and go to the beach. After a long day of not catching any fish, then cooking dinner late at the campsite, I was excited to sit at the fire with some tea and chocolate. The fire was lit, tea made, I reached for the chocolate and what was lurking on the wrapper? A horrible, slimy, sneaky slug. Thankfully, the chocolate was safe inside the wrapper and was consumed with no further frights. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give each object a 360 with the lantern to check for imposters before picking anything up again for the rest of the night.

Progress has been made mind you. Today while planting tomatoes I grabbed the bottom of the container to turn it upside and remove the plant. I felt the squish and saw the little bugger, but managed to flick it away and carry on with my life in a pretty efficient manner. All this digging and weeding, I’ve come across all kinds of creepy crawlies. Being in their territory, I feel it’s only right to to work on respecting their home. I’ve even calmed my nerves around the spiders. There is a kind of spider that just loves the strawberry patch which grows in a bed of straw. Spiders scurry around in there like crazy, and to be honest if I were that size it does look like a fun place to be. So when I pick the strawberries I try to appreciate the natural ecosystem I’m working in and even train myself to think logically about how the spider is scared of me too. Logic still fails me when they are in my home though. Last night I heard Cam just outside the bedroom say something about a huge spider and told me to come look at it. In the bedroom I weighed in my mind curiosity against fear to determine if I’d go have a look, but was interrupted by the sight of Cam’s face following the spider around the doorway into the bedroom. It almost seemed as though he maneuvered it in there with his eyes and I felt like saying “why did you send him in here!?” But we had more serious issues on our hands by that point; the spider ran down the wall under the bed. Cam tried to act like nothing could be done when the spider was unreachable located centrally under said bed, but I let him know that something could definitely be done, and needed to be done. He tried to strategize a team effort which involved him coaxing it out toward me so I could squish it with a book, but I didn’t want to look enough to target it so Cam had to complete the whole plan singlehandedly. It wasn’t a situation that resulted in him being impressed with me, but I’m accepting of my shortcomings and he seems to be too. That’s something else I’m still learning – we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Sometimes our strength is recognizing our weaknesses, and sometimes our weakness is not recognizing our strengths.

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