Wednesday, January 20, 2010

knee deep in the compost heap

One week. I am completely exhausted but happy. It shouldn't amaze me so much how something so simple as doing what makes you happy, heck, makes you happy. There are highs and lows; working with ice and snow can really be a challenge, but then you go feed the pigs and they somehow cheer you right up. I don't really know where to begin, how to summarize my first week as an apprentice here. Busy. That's the short version. I've been learning so many new things every day, and every day is a challenge.

Yesterday I used an old-fashioned tortilla press and don't think I can ever go back to rolling with a little plastic glass (much as I loved those times Nat!) Physically it's challenging, the sitting on my ass for two years did me no good and I can feel it. Moving 50lbs at a time, and those times are often, is tough now but I grow stronger each day. Today I found a new love-splitting wood. Never in my life did I picture myself swinging a large, sharp, metal object into the air, much less enjoying it! This morning my boss Dominic asked if Josh (the other current apprentice here, he started a couple months ago) had yet taught me "the zen of wood-splitting." My usual awkward laugh and familiar stomach lurch of fear of the unknown followed and then we moved through the motions of another day on the farm.

Soon after climbing out of the compost heap (I had to bury some old livers and manage the top level) it was time to test my "zen." The ax seemed to weigh a ton and flop like a fish in my hands. After a quick lesson and a few awkward swings something switched; with each hard whack and beautiful sound of wood splitting I got better and understood the correct stance and technique. Any tension and all the usual uncertainty that comes with beginning something new floated further and further away each time I aimed and followed through a perfect split. Completely awesome. Any day that ends with you having an entirely new skill set and the accompanying confidence it instills is a great day. Tomorrow's challenge may not end with such glory, but becoming capable of doing what I once thought I could not is what I must remember in times when the work is most difficult. Well don't I sound like a little know-it-all, sorry. A little feeling of bad-assery comes after splitting wood, forgive me.

So where to go from here? I want to talk about all the other new skills I'm acquiring, and the incredible animals that test me. Milking? Premium example of practice makes perfect. Mimi is a forgiving lass and seems to just smile knowingly as I wear myself out pleading the gift of milk out of her. But each morning my hands understand the motion better and I remain patient. Driving steers? I had no idea I would be learning to drive working oxen, but it's true. A former apprentice keeps his two young and beautiful steers here and trains both them and us a couple days a week. I've always had great difficulty in directing animals (or people for that matter), as I really prefer to be told what to do. Horses have always sensed my lack of confidence and take advantage and the steers are no different. So learning to direct steers may teach me a few things in other aspects of my life as well.

All the animals here are great, maybe I'll try to feature different ones each time I write. Just want to make a quick note though on how much I freaking love pigs! They are just so wonderful, smart, hilarious, oh I just love them and will write more on them soon. The number one animal, and man, in my life remains my dear Bu. The other cats haven't quite warmed to him yet, but hopefully soon. He's happy anyhow and, as I always knew, he thrives outdoors. Galloping around the farm like a gazelle, it's adorable. We both have trouble with the cold, and spooning at night is a must. I know it's ridiculous but I don't care.

I'll post pictures soon of the lovely cabin, I really miss my mud hut, but I'm definitely loving my living situation here as well. Let's see, what else? Food? No worries, I'm eating very well. And I must soon post on the glories of lard. We have such a ridiculous misconception of and hatred for this most amazing cooking aid. I've also had a fair amount of venison this week, not bad. Also on the food subject, when not feeding, mucking, moving, watering or otherwise for the animals that feed us here, or dealing with all the weather that makes this process evermore difficult, we're inside planning for planting!

We only plant about an acre, but jeez it takes a lot of planning. Inventorying seed, going over successes and failures from previous years, discussing what we want to plant, mapping beds, calculating what, where, how far apart and when all these things will be planted and harvested, and soon - ordering seed! One farmer I know said when a seed catalog came in her husband started flipping through it with glee and exclaimed, "it's like porn!" And now I understand his excitement. Um, ok this was way random but I thought I ought to post an update. I am very well and hope you all are too. I seriously need to get to bed, its only 8:15 but I'm dead tired and we have another long day tomorrow. Much love to all and send me updates!

Monday, January 11, 2010

here i go

So after bidding goodbye to my dear family in Washington Saturday, January 2nd, I flew back to California and spent an evening with my uncle’s family and my Nana. Though it was a quick visit it was wonderful. Sunday Morning my Aunt Laura drove me all the way back to Ojai and we went for a beautiful ride in part of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (the land I worked to protect as an intern the summer before Peace Corps) with my mom. Her business is going well by the way and I highly recommend going for a ride in Ojai if you need a breather! It was so beautiful and I still can’t fully comprehend why I’m so intent on moving so far away yet again. And then my whirlwind two days-before-moving-to-the-east-coast began.

That night I randomly bumped into Ms. Anaise, my old high school English teacher who truly opened my eyes and helped me to develop the way in which we put our thoughts to paper-writing (not to mention the time she saved my life! I stopped breathing, hey, it happens). She invited me to come speak to her current students about my experience, and possibly inspire some kids to think about Peace Corps as an option in their futures. Though nervous, I just couldn’t resist. I managed to run all my errands on Monday so that I could spend Tuesday speaking to her students.

It was SO weird to step into Ventura High School as a true adult. Getting a visitors pass made me feel supremely old. Late for class and shaky, I made it and spent four periods talking to juniors. I must take a moment to thank them immensely for their interest and sweet comments (they got extra credit for reading my blog, and for that I must apologize, it can be dry). They were full of questions about everything from the Peace Corps application process to living in a mud house, Moroccan cuisine to living in a Muslim country, how we party there to gender roles and relationships. It was awesome, and I truly hope they enjoyed my answers as much as I enjoyed their questions. Particularly as an RPCV, sharing our experiences is Peace Corps goal 3: “Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans” and I hope to do it again.

After that delightful day in school I finally headed to the beach. I’d driven by it numerous times, but shamefully, hadn’t stepped foot on the sand or in the water since returning to America! I know, I can hardly believe it myself. Leaving my shoes in the car, I walked out onto the terrain I know best. The sand was cool as it was nearly sunset and only the fear of hypothermia kept me from completely diving into the water. The Pacific in January is freezing! I plopped down and let the calm set in of being so at home next to the water. Whenever I allow myself the time to sit there I am refreshed. It still amazes me how oblivious so many Californians are of the incredible beauty that surrounds them on a daily basis. Is that why I’m moving away? To get away from the lack of appreciation? No, its not like there will be more in Massachusetts. I know my standards are impossibly high, but I aim for them nonetheless. I pondered my decision to leave yet again in those moments on the beach, and while I cant express any real conclusions, I remain wholeheartedly committed to my choice. Something in me is saying go, and so I follow. My instincts are right far more often than my reason, so it’s quite reasonable to trust them.

After a stressful night of packing while trying to let my mom sleep, we headed out to breakfast with my grandparents and sister Michelle before Mom, Bu and I headed to the airport. After a sweet goodbye I dove into the insanity that is LAX and after over two hours of security made it onto my flight just in time. The tranquilizers for Buggid worked like a charm this time and one layover and plane change later I was in Indiana.

From the top of possibly the slowest and longest escalator in the world I spotted the pink figure of joy that is my best friend/roomate/heterosexual soul-mate/other half/etc. Ashley. I squealed just a bit as I tried desperately not to scream and when I finally got off that damn escalator we all but knocked each other over. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about our reunion. People change, our lives had taken such different paths, two years was a long time, yada yada, but holy moley, you’d think not a week had gone by. Though vastly changed as people, our friendship is exactly as it was-completely delightful. I can’t begin to express how happy I’ve been this week with her. I’m just all smiles.

Even covered in snow, she’s given me a fabulous tour of Bloomington and her grand campus of IU, the recycling center, etc., we even went wine tasting and I’m a convert! I’m the one that hates wine, but apparently shitty Moroccan wine really isn’t the way to go. On the way home with a bottle of Oliver I realized aloud, “Ashley, maybe I’m not a cheap date anymore.” Of course I still am tolerance-wise as was shown a couple nights later. She somehow coerced me into watching stoopid football with her wonderful friends before going out to the Hairbangers Ball. It was amazing, we (me in particular) got completely smashed and danced like there was no tomorrow to awesome 80’s covers. Wow.

Today was the first day of classes and I was lucky enough to attend one class with her, Art, Craft and Technology in Subsaharan Africa. It was wonderful and I deeply miss living in Africa. I appreciate even more today how happy I am to not be in school anymore. It was cool, and odd, to be on a real, working campus again and hang out with grad students, and see how happy and thriving Ashley is there, and how happy and thriving I am to not be there. It’s good to know these things about ourselves, and to accept them.

I’m just waiting for her to come home now for tonight, my last night. We’re having Chinese delivered, popping open that bottle of wine, watching movies, doing henna and relaxing. Tomorrow Bu and I fly to New Hampshire, have a wonderful evening at the Coes’s, and Thursday I drive to Sheffield and life at Moon in the Pond Farm begins. Bismillah farming!