the worth waiting for

Returning to Annie’s was a great, albeit last minute decision. It’s wonderful to see her again, and to be able to once more experience her Wwoofing atmosphere. My first night, after a brief introduction to the other Wwoofers, Annie and I had tea and dinner together while catching up. I also had a look at the second wall that my gang left incomplete. It is finished now, and it’s nearly my height! It’s so interesting returning and seeing all of the changes that have been made. Our first wall looked, as Annie put it, as if it had always been there. As I said – returning was a good choice.

My co-Wwoofers are Clara from France, and a South African family consisting of Andreas and Jeanine, teenagers Sebastian and Matthieu, as well as toddlers Thor and Evelyn.

At the end of Wednesday as Matthieu was teaching me to chop wood, I tried unsuccessfully to pull some nailed wood apart, and succeeded instead in causing a major flair of pain in my thumb. What is it with my fingers and Wwoofing? I retired from wood chopping duty. Half an hour later I decided that since using my thumb made me feel slightly about to vomit, probably something was wrong. I sought Annie. She gave me comfrey lotion and ice. Fast forward to socializing in little house. I had to have Andreas open a bottle because the pain in my thumb interfered with stupidly simple capabilities. ‘Let me see.’ said Andreas, who opened the bottle for me. ‘I’m a doctor.’ he assured me a moment later. He took my hand and immediately said ‘ah, right.’ He pressed and pulled a bit, he moved his hands around some force field just off my hand, and then he snapped it softly back into place. Alternative medicine. Within an hour the pain from my dislocated thumb was gone, just an off sort of feeling left. Their whole family is fascinating.

The work at Annie’s this time included digging and leveling a section of earth from a hillside and using the space to plant various fruit plants. Also pulling out brambles by the river, weeding and preparing a spot for rhubarb and strawberries, and building frames for beans and peas.

I had forgotten that staying with Annie means partaking in extraordinary vegetarian meals. Andreas also made dinner for us a few evenings, and his food was fabulous as well. We watched some movies, played some games, socialized. I attempted to sort out my passport issues, but to no avail. Instead I spent the day in Bantry with the South Africans. We went to the market, the library, a well-known pub called Ma Murphy’s – where they had Crabbie’s. Upon said discovery we went and bought four bottles to split between the residents. We had a bits and bobs meal with our ginger beer to celebrate Jeanine’s official residency in Ireland. After which Annie, Clara, Sebastian, Matthieu and I spent the evening in Baltimore. We had tea while watching the sunset, followed by pizza. Pizza and Crabbie’s in the same day?! Yes, please very much.

Saturday I spent remaining calm about my unresolved and nearly expired legal issues. I helped Annie clean with the help of several cups of tea. Then she took us young folk on a car trip. We went to Priest’s Leap, and the weather was nice enough that we actually had a decent view of Cork and Kerry. We jumped a cemetery wall to visit a stone formation, took a walk through Bonane where we saw a ring fort, ruins of a famine cottage, a stone circle, and other such things. Finally we stopped by Glengariff on our way home. It was Clara’s and my last meal. Annie made a mushroom and camembert starter, salmon and spinach quiche, several salads, and cheesecake. Clara also made crepes for us. It was a delicious event. At the end of the evening we watched somebody’s paper lantern glow softly across the sky.

common sensey pants

My last weekend here in Tuamgraney was a relaxed one at home. I am not a bit bothered by that. I reveled in the distinct scent of warm apricots, peaches, and nectarines that gathers in the small polytunnel when it’s sunny, I made a tour of the entire farm to see what has changed since my arrival. Various beds of salads and herbs have been removed and replaced by newer salads and herbs, as well as fruiting plants like tomato, cucumber, and zucchini/courgettes. The peas are well past my knees and boasting white blossoms. The fruit trees have not only gotten leaves, blossoms, and fruit, but have already undergone their first pruning. Despite the ceaseless nature of weeds, there is a discernible difference in the manicuredness of the place. Wild mint that barely poked above the ground has now been transferred to rows lined with stones. The once-sizable manure pile is now almost non-existent. Strawberries are turning light shades of red. I was given the first strawberry of the season, since I’ll be leaving. I have seen a lot go and come during my stay.

The final week was much like its predecessors. I said goodbye to Finian and Lucas on Wednesday after my final apple crumble and movie night. On Friday I had planned to do lots of preparations for my departure, but it didn’t work out. I merely reordered the few contents of my backpack and added a few trinketish mementos that I’ve acquired. I also did have a slightly longer shower and scrubbed every speck of dirt from my once-a-week showered skin. Boy did that feel good! I said goodbye to Olivia that evening, since I would be going to the Limerick market with Tobias very early on Saturday morning.

5am didn’t feel too early, surprisingly. Still, my body was filled with trepidation at the uncertainty of my upcoming life. Change, my ever present companion. The market was really nice. I spent under ten quid on fresh, healthy, and delicious food for the entirety of the next week. I also purchased Irish slave-free chocolate. Yeah. I spent most of the day watching the interactions of people, listening to the buzz of activity, smelling all sorts of market-rich aromas. At closing time, Tobias introduced me to another vendor who had agreed to give me a ride to Cork. Then I said a final goodbye to Tobias. Before I left he have me a sizable bag of the nicest trail mix I’ve ever seen – brazil nuts, raw sunflower seeds, huge chunks of dates. He didn’t want me to starve on my travels. What a wonderful person!

My ride to Cork with Leo was pleasant. It was weird riding in a car with a stranger without having gone through the hassle of thumbing. He dropped me off just outside the city and I walked the remainder of the way.

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.