Sometimes I would wake up to sun shining in the windows, but more often than not, the fog would caress the hill behind the house. I woke up from one dream in another. The farm started early, so we did too.
Circling the spiral staircase downstairs, I would hear the thumping of Burma’s tail on the wall. Give me some love! She’d stretch out her Burmese Mountain dog legs and roll onto her back in anticipation for a belly rub. She is the size of a teenager and has the spirit of a crafty child.
The farm was more than a place to help; it was a place to think. So much time away from civilization. So much freedom for the mind. We arrived on September 28th, and the weather was still warm — surprising for Oregon.
When the back door was opened, we were told to make sure not to let the Box-alders in. Never having been introduced to them before, I was skeptical about their intentions. If one was to land on me, would it bite me? Sting me, even? Am I its food? No, not at all. They were absolutely harmless and because of their naiveté, they never really had any direction to their lives. I thought on their purpose every time I opened a window and hundreds would drop from between the screen and the glass. As they fell, the sound reminded me of my mom pouring coffee beans into a grinder when I was a child. I opened the windows every day, just to hear the noise.
As the days became colder, the swarms of happy and healthy box-alders dwindled. The lucky ones that had made it in the house were given names and were watched over with grace. I remember one night as I was working at the table, a shadow kept appearing and disappearing on the ceiling. Having a tendency to climb on thin ridges, Tom (one of our favorites) had found his way to the top of a lamp shade and continued to walk in circles for hours. Why was he doing this? At least he wasn’t going for the light, I thought at the time. But what was he doing? He did this many more nights throughout the next couple of weeks and would change directions periodically.
Tom’s repetitive actions reminded me of my walk in the Labyrinth in Santa Cruz. Tom reminded me to breathe and envision where I was going, without worrying about my actual next steps. He stayed warm by the heat of the lamp. I stayed focused on words written on rocks in the spiral. Breathe. Motivate. Smile.
The farm allowed for this same type of meditation. We had chores that we helped with and specific jobs that we were instructed to complete. One of those was to completely remove blackberry bushes from the side of a hill. This would allow for the owners to monitor the chickens in the orchard and to potentially do some terraced farming.
If you have ever waged war on blackberry bushes, you already know what was ahead of us. Even though my father had hacked away at them when I was a child, I forgot about their ferocity and, without much preparation, went after them anyway. Dressed in shorts and a tank-top, I was ready for the weather, but not for the bushes outreached thorns. After the first full day of working, we made a large dent in the bushed, but they had fought back vigorously. I soon was scratching my entire body and later found out, that somehow, I had been given the gift of poison ivy. It spread quickly and itched more than the thorn scratches hurt. It took 3 weeks for me to fully recover.
After we defeated the blackberry bushes, it was time to move onto our other jobs. These included cleaning the barn, weeding and spreading manure in the garden, removing grass from the base of trees in the orchard, spreading new gravel in potholes on the road and in the paddock, stabilizing the paddock fence, and continuing with the frequent animal chores.
At one point, Brad and Mel had left the barn as I went to fetch Willy, the horse, from the field. But when I returned, the goats had forced their pen gate open and were roaming the barn. Not only that, but they had forced the lid off of their food container. Six goats viciously surrounded it, butting each other for a better spot. I started rounding them up by pulling their ears toward their pen. After containing four of them, I chased the rest in circles around some shelving while shooing more from the food and clamping down the lid. As soon as I would grab another goat, the lid was off, and they would dive back in their food. It was hopeless. I grabbed the lid, closed the container, and sat down on top of it breathing heavily. One of the more aggressive goats head butted my leg and stared at me. I stared back and didn’t budge. I remembered being told that goats can eat themselves to death, meaning that if they had open access to a continuous food supply, their stomachs would burst. Thankfully, Mel walked back in to see what was taking me so long. She stood at the door and laughed.
We reflected on our help with the animals more so than any other tasks on the farm. It was incredibly enriching to know that we were helping give the cows, the goats, the chickens, the cats, the dogs, and the horse vitality and love. We would walk down to the barn knowing that the animals were expecting us and were excited to see us. Willy became accustomed to our hugging his snout and the goats eventually enjoyed a scratch behind their ears. Even the three legged cat, named Horse, needed our help scratching his left ear, which was the side of his missing leg.
We had found a feeling of satisfaction like no other – that warm and fuzzy that flooded in because we knew our help was appreciated. This is our vision. One where students will have this same feeling as they volunteer their passions and better their communities.
Thank you Tom for you incessant adventures around the rim of the lamp. Thank you fog for your dreamy awakenings. Thank you McMinnville and the farm. Our time with all of you allowed for much valuable reflection.