thoughts on co-Wwoofers

Having a co-Wwoofer is really nice, perhaps even essential sometimes. While working there can be much time spent in companionable silence, but then there are laughter sessions, and ‘um…what are we supposed to be doing again?’ moments, semi-ridiculous conversations, semi-serious conversations, and copious amounts of teasing.

The essential times are, for instance, when you’ve spent three hours doing acrobatic parsley [trans]planting and you still have several (seemingly hundred) boxes left. Your back is ready to declare mutiny on you, your feet can no longer remember what alignment feels like, and your mind only recognizes parsley and slugs. And then there is your co-Wwoofer. Chastising you for being in the way when it is clearly they, not you, that are in ‘the way’, discussing favorites and phobias, kindly reminding you how many more hours of quality time with the parsley you have left, or explaining a bit of their life back home. This is just my most recent example – there are plenty of other times when co-Wwoofers are necessary.

See, in Wwoofing, you are handling a person’s livelihood, and as such there is a seriousness to your work. What you do may not really affect your life, but it completely affects your host’s life. That said, Wwoofing – as with everything – requires a bit of merriment in conjunction with your sense of gravity. And there again, is where co-Wwoofers come in.

Mutually living in a strange environment creates a special sort of bond. Whether or not you are the same age, sex, nationality, or what have you – you are sharing a similar life experience. That makes for an unparalleled relationship.

And that only covers the basics! After hours is a whole other story. Thousands of cups of tea paired (hopefully) with biscuits (preferably chocolate covered or ginger creams), playing Scrabble with various languaged people, writing to important government officials, exploring cities (even if it only takes fifteen minutes and you spend the rest of the hour(s) standing by the harbour, and yes, drinking tea), exploring nature, exchanging music, making sometimes wonderful, sometimes questionable meals, attending parties, banquets, shows, or parades, not celebrating your birthday, first time hitchhiking, geocaching successes and failures, sharing an almost unhealthy appreciation for pizza (psh, pizza obsession is not unhealthy!) playing excellent or painfully awful (I’ll claim the latter) music and singing together (even if you don’t know the same songs), co-discovering the local culture, eating unhealthy (yes, unhealthy) amounts of peanut butter, walking far too many times up hills that try to kill you by causing your lungs to fail (and your co-Wwoofer assists in the attempted murder by continually forcing you to laugh), failing to wake up in time to see the sunrise together for a month straight, and good old just hanging out and doing nothing in each others company. Those and a hundred other moments of near-perfect experiences with essentially near-strangers. Yes, co-Wwoofers are officially wonderful, marvelous beings.


her and five inconsiderate people

It is 2:42am at Rowan Tree hostel in Ennis. I have abandoned my room and the attempt to sleep and taken to the hallway instead. Besides Olivia and myself, our ten bed dorm is currently inhabited by three men. All of whom snore. Quite loudly. Their combined effort creates an unfortunate sort of snoring symphony, which is prohibiting me from sleeping. This is the situation you hope to avoid when staying in a hostel. Also, when Snores McGee #2 settled into our room – in the bed to my right – I watched him scrape around in his nose for well over two minutes while he lit his face with his mobile. His findings were then scattered on the floor next to him, cringe-makingly close to where Olivia and I had our belongings. Yeah, the hallway seems pretty nice right now, despite the fact that I’m not sleeping at this hour.

The day leading up until now has been grand, though. We had a lazy morning preparing for the weekend, and a quick and very enjoyable hitching experience to Ennis. We had a jaunt to the ruins of Clare Abbey, where we climbed the walls and laid in the sun. Sadly our two geocache attempts failed, both of them apparently did actually require a gps. Finally we made it to a Tesco where we purchased an admittedly unacceptable amount of chocolate and biscuits. My main interest in visiting Ennis related to its music, which has been well spoken of. A couchsurfer named Paddy had recommended a few good pubs, so we ended up meeting up with him and hanging out. Sadly it was the wrong night for trad music in the first pub, but after we went to a rock pub called Brandon’s, and the music there was really good.

And that brings me back to Rowan Tree, at 1am. I spent almost two hours trying to drown out the atmospheric sounds of room 106 with the preferable sounds of Coldplay. It is now 4:38am. I’ve just spent the past ninety minutes conversing with an inebriated Aidan from Galway. He joined me in the hallway while he consumed a bag of chicken and chips from Supermacs. We had actually quite a pleasant and surprisingly fluid conversation, considering one of us was drunk. Well, you just never know what’s going to happen.

Now it is officially Sunday because the sun has arrived. I managed three hours of sleep last night. This morning Olivia and I apparently escaped our room just in time. When she left the room for breakfast, one of our roommates was continuously farting. Upon our return to gather our belongings I opened the door and gagged. The room smelled so gross. Couchsurfing is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to the world, second to Jesus. Anyways, three hours and three lifts later, Olivia and I arrived at home again, where I proceeded to take a three hour nap.

grey following blue

Oh right, I’m here working on a farm five days per week. I suppose I have failed in writing about that in favor of recording weekend outings. Here’s a patchwork of working life:

Early days of the week feature a mash up of tasks. We’ve brewed up a batch of arnica infused oil, worked on miscellaneous ointment and oil bottling, tubing, and labeling, bagged tea and kitchen herbs, prepared ointment, and made pesto, all the while learning tidbits of information concerning herb growing, herbal remedies, herbal product preparation, and the like. I quite enjoy the days indoors with the warm herbal aromas, the precision required for labeling, the chill music, knowledge absorption, and of course the ability to drink tea while working.

One day was filled through and through with crap in various forms. First was mucking out the chicken coop, followed by spreading some pretty fresh compost on a bed for parsley, then weeding between the raspberries under a dried layer of manure, and finally, sprinkling chicken pellets on mint and arnica, oh and then some more manure spreading in between. That was the day after I did my laundry. So much for clean clothes!

I have a few official jobs, a few KB-specific tasks. I remain the chicken letter-outer, I am the wheat grass queen, the mizuna harvester, the mixed salads bagger (in other words: ‘let’s make Kendall have a freezing right hand for two hours’), the spinach bag closer, the kale sprout gatherer, and the powdered seaweed spreader. I also slice the apples and rhubarb for our Wednesday crumble, as well as function as both Finian’s and Tobias’s dictionary.

For the first time in my life I have a clear ‘least favorite thing ever.’ Slugs. I detest slugs. I finally understand why they are considered the gardener’s worst enemy. They should be everyone’s worst enemy, the disgusting creatures. I have killed so many slugs, and still they persist in their destructive ubiquitousness. I’ve begun to have nightmares about slugs. Olivia and I had a threat duel recently that ended with me conceding to her statement ‘I’ll make your floorboards out of slugs!’ Slugs have become the worst form of punishment and the strongest curse word. The thing that brings me most excitement about leaving here in two weeks is that I won’t have to deal with slugs anymore. Life will be a dream, sweetheart.

Have I mentioned how Irish weather reminds me of a time-lapse video? This morning the sun shone strongly through my window, so my first thought upon waking was ‘harvesting in the polytunnels is going to be [hot as] hell’. This was true for about half an hour. Then a few clouds appeared. Less than a minute later the sky became purple-black darkness. Then it started raining so hard that we got rained on inside the polytunnel. Only it wasn’t rain, nope, it was hail. Big hail. And it hailed for a good ten or fifteen minutes. The pathways between the tunnels were pure white, like a snowy winter day. Oh, and then the sun returned full blast without a dark spot in sight before five minutes passed. Yes, the ‘typical Irish weather’ has finally returned.

obstructing the fairy path

Biddy Early is a well-known name in this country. A famous witch from Clare born in the seventeen hundreds, she was said to be able to see the future and cure any ailment. According to lore she had interactions with both the departed and the fairies. A pretty interesting woman all in all. The site of her homestead, now in ruins, also happens to be the site for a geocache. A geocache which I was intent on finding. Neither Olivia nor Jason had ever been geocaching, but both were keen on trying it.

With a picnic packed and a few trinkets, Olivia and I left for Feakle, 11km away. Once we reached the road to Feakle we didn’t see a single car going our direction for what seemed like 20km. I had a feeling we wouldn’t arrive by 12, when we were meant to meet Jason. We walked a ways before one finally passed, but no luck. The trend continued for a few kilometers. After a few more cars passed with no intentions of picking up passengers, I noted aloud ‘the blinker is the clear ‘I am not picking you up’ signal’. At which point the car about which I made this statement slowed and the man asked ‘going to Feakle?’ So much for that observation. We were indeed late, by thirty-six minutes, but Jason was waiting patiently for us in the city center.

Our trio entered the nearest pub to get proper directions. There were several older men sitting around the bar with their pints. Typical. ‘Biddy?’ they asked, when we stated our business. Biddy, we agreed. ‘Biddy Early?’ Yes. ‘Biddy Early? The witch?’ That’s the one. Her house, please. ‘I wouldn’t go there,’ said one man. ‘It’s just ruins’, said another. The pub owner, however, pointed us in the correct direction. The end of the road, right, two miles, a bridge, overgrown path on the right. Got it. After a walk loaded with congenial conversation, we found the overgrown path that led to Biddy’s place.

Before dealing with the geocache, we decided to explore the ruins of her home. It was very small – not much bigger than the room in which I am currently residing. The ground was pure mud, the walls mostly covered in moss and ivy. On the windowsills, in nooks, and tied to small branches were all manners of gifts and offerings left for the spirit of Biddy, which many people claim they can still feel quite strongly. There were coins, bottles filled with unknown liquids (likely whiskey or poiteen), rings and bracelets, candles, and other bits and bobs. I personally favored the blue bottles people had left. It was said that Biddy used a blue bottle – given to her by either her deceased son or the fairies – to see the future.

We spread our picnic just outside of the residence. Olivia and I had brought peanut butter sandwiches and fruit, and Jason brought spelt bread, little jams, and goat cheese. It was a nice meal. Good food, good company, good location…picnics are a good idea. But the purpose of our venture was the geocache. I had read the hint, and since I’ve geocached before, I decided to let them be the real seekers. After a not-so-very-long time, Olivia found the ‘small lock top box in a camo bag’ without even using the clue. Cache #2 sans GPS! Take that, Bembridge scholars! There were some coins and such, as well as an actual notebook for a log. Olivia left a magical blue rock along with a story about its magical origin, and I left an origami crane with a secret note hidden within its folds.

We all hitchhiked back to Feakle where Olivia and I said our farewells to Jason, who was continuing on to Cork. From there we hitched back to Tuamgraney. The evening concluded with a group viewing of The Voice of Ireland. My man, Conor Quinn, is still going strong, so all is right with the world.

bluebells and birch leaves

Weekend motivation round two. I had written to an American CSer who was hitching around Ireland for two weeks and looking for adventuring buddies. I said I’d be happy to meet up if he should find himself in Co. Clare. He replied with a willing attitude, and was agreeable to join in with any of Olivia’s and my potential plans. After some communication and elapsed time, we planned on meeting in Scariff after Olivia and I finished work on Friday. We headed there later than expected, hoping he was still around and not terribly upset about waiting too long. ‘Under the road sign’, where he bemusedly agreed to meet at my suggestion (‘it must be a small town’, he said), was sadly empty. We waited an acceptable amount of time, then gave up and purchased ginger cream biscuits and a chocolate bar for chocolate chip cookie making. We may have been stood up, but our trip was certainly not unproductive! Upon returning home, Tobias, who was skeptical of this couchsurfing business, greeted us with a sarcastic and knowing “so?”. Apparently Jason (aka The North Carolinian), the CSer, had called in our absence with ‘a load of bollocks’ in the way of an excuse. I shrugged. Nothing goes perfectly. Jason messaged me later and essentially he had experienced my same hitchhiking issues from Dublin. I told him he could meet us in Mountshannon at 1:30 at The Snug.

Olivia and I set off around 11am. We walked as far as Scariff before trying to hitch a ride. Precisely five cars passed before a yellow van containing a light-haired woman stopped and let us in. Annaliese knew of Wwoofing, and in fact knew Tobias. She was originally from the Netherlands and relocated to Ireland from there because it was ‘too crowded’. As we were conversing she suddenly said ‘ah, but I must show you…’ – I didn’t catch the rest. But she pulled off onto a nature trail. ‘I don’t have much time, but I’ll take you along the small loop.’ Before we were out of sight of her car, she pointed to some bluebells. She spoke of them admiringly as we walked, and before long we came upon an area that was filled with bluebells. She likes them, she said, because it is blue covering the ground beneath the green of the trees – an inverse of the trees and sky. ‘I want to show you the birch leaves.’ We continued walking. Annaliese walked both purposefully and leisurely. Her hands softly brushed the trees as she passed, in a reverent manner. When we arrived to the first patch of birch, the sun was hiding behind a cloud. We decided to wait for it to return so we could really see the leaves. The birch trees were displaying their newly formed, very pale leaves. They were indeed a tender color, as she said. They fluttered lightly in the scattered sunbeams. ‘How is it so beautiful?’ Annaliese asked. I’m not the only one around here in awe of nature. And that was what she wanted us to see before leaving us in Mountshannon. Deep blue and tender green. That is the ideal hitchhiking experience, in my opinion. The people who not only offer you transport from A to B, but get excited about contributing to your journey. Prior to our departure, we took a few minutes to gather wild garlic leaves, which Annaliese would use to make a pesto.

We arrived in the picturesque Mountshannon at 1:00. We ambled to a maze/labyrinth and gathered sunshine in the company of swans at the harbour. Then, The Snug. The Snug is a cafe that is owned by a friend of Tobias. He had recommended it more than once, describing delightful cups of tea and pizza…we were eagerly anticipating pizza. Jason was there before we were, and after a bit of a ‘is that him? Yes? No?’ dance, I asked outright and we joined his table. We had a lovely lunch. The Snug is a comely little cafe. We were served by a twelve-or-so aged girl. Annaliese was there as well, having tea with friends. After lunch we explored Mountshannon in its entirety. Jason is, as he described himself, gregarious. An artist by passion, he was biding his time traveling before returning to France for a jazz concert, where he was previously studying art. He certainly brightened the already-sunny day with his jovial personality and stories. I’m glad we were able to meet up with him. We agreed to meet again the following day in the town of Feakle for a geocaching venture at the abandoned homestead of a famous witch.


wanting to be haunted

At the conclusion of my geocaching venture I found myself pulled into a community woodland. The wide paths were full of milky light from the overcast skies, but looking far into the forest I could see the depth of its darkness. I came across a woman, who, as she neared me, said “Isn’t nature beautiful?”, stretching her arms out to both sides in an indicative and joyful gesture. I quite agreed.

The first unmarked trail I saw, I took. I was quickly enveloped in the muffled light and sound of the woods. My doc martens made an almost hollow sound on the needle strewn floor of the forest, as if I was walking in a thickly carpeted attic, as if there was empty space below me. The dull luminescence that filtered through the leaves settled over everything in a cool softness. The entire place was gorgeous. I felt like I was in a sanctuary created by God himself. If you have not gathered, I am constantly awestruck by nature.

I wandered the pathways of the forest for hours, simply entranced by its beauty and intricacy. I find myself in such a place and it reminds me how utterly expansive this world is. In this tiny town, this particular forest, and this one tree seems placed so very intentionally in such a magnificent pose. And then there are all of the others – standing twisted or tall whether or not a living soul will ever glimpse them. How grand is that?