“The worst wounds, the deadliest of them, aren’t the ones people see on the outside. They’re the ones that make us bleed internally.” — Sherrilyn Kenyon
“I had a thick skin and an elastic heart. An elastic smile too, I had been told,” my friend explained to me. We were on a hike to a waterfall in Olympic National Park in Washington. She had sold everything she owned a month prior, and, hoarding all of her belongings in her car trunk, had taken off on a road trip from the west coast to the east coast, hoping to find the perfect city in which to live.
“I had been so wounded in love that nothing really wounded me anymore. Until, that is, I found myself in a situation where I had to work in a farm near the Canadian border for 3 months. It made me flesh and blood again. It healed me. Sounds funny, but I can be wounded again, I guess.”
We had been talking about nature. Nothing was in our line of sight except for the lush greenery and surreally gorgeous trees ahead. Everywhere we walked, water droplets fell upon us. A small blue bird darted across the woods, as though trying to jog a forgotten dream. The waterfall was still far away.
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I didn’t know how deep her wounds were, but I totally believed her. Like time, nature has its own ways to heal wounds. I often think about her words, but my mind doesn’t go instantly back to the forest where we had the conversation. It wells up the images from Turning Earth Farms, Oregon. Images flash before my eyes of carrying big logs to implement Hügelkultur (making raised garden beds with rotten wood). Waking up every day to the crows of roosters. Sitting in the forest under a night sky that seemed to teeter upon the brink of falling out of orbit, carrying the weight of the stars. Hearing the wind and howls of coyotes with an unusual clarity.
My then girlfriend Ane and I volunteered in Turning Earth Farms for almost a month, right before I left the USA to start traveling, and right before the vicious presidential election. Far away from all of the noise, news reports and hate-mongering, we were tucked in a little world. So many things happened, but all too different from what we were used to. This little world was made up of 40 chickens, 5 goats, a llama with the biggest attitude ever, a vegetable farm, a small forest with a creek, and a community of wonderful people.
From day one, I started with cleaning the chicken coop, watering the vegetable garden and shovelling in the farm to make new beds. The first few days, my arms were sore and my body screamed: what the hell are you up to man?! Do you really think YOU have it in you? You are not cut out for this.
It’s one thing to hear how someone had the best time of their life on a farm, connecting with nature and themselves. You know- like ‘that’s so cool’, ‘awesome’, ‘I wish I could do it’. It’s a totally different ball game when you arrive at the farm and instantly know that you’re not up for it. It sometimes freaks me out that some people have a wayward, dumb-ass attitude towards real work; especially when they’re participating in a work-exchange program (news flash: you have to work for your food and lodging). These types of people want to just hang out with the animals, eat good food, have the best conversations of their lives…all without getting dirty or working. How could you think to lay around all day while everyone else is working? How do you sleep at night?
I often heard little anecdotes from Sara (the wonderful woman who owned the farm) about volunteers who just came to mess things up and proved to be people who just didn’t respect nature: free-loaders and all those other types. I even had the opportunity to meet one of these people: someone who wanted to connect to the farm with his positive energy, while crashing on the couch for God-knows-until-when, not doing any real work.
So, no matter what my body said, I could never just sit and look pretty. This was my first time at a real farm, and working there was physically demanding. After having a desk job for years, I quickly got into the real farm life and the assortment of work it came with.
What’s a typical day like in Turning Earth Farms?
Starting with shovelling, I moved logs to make raised beds, milked goats, fed chickens, harvested vegetables and collected blackberries. There were some amazing volunteers, and we often worked with Sara, the owner. In the evening, we would all have dinner together and the conversations would flow right in. There was always a chill in the October nights and the sky was often full of stars. Coyotes could be heard all night from a nearby forest, singing their hymns about realisations that we would never know. Sometimes during the day, I would walk in the forest and lay in the hammock by the creek. My little heart would be so full of gratitude and I would try to remember the last time I really took notice of the sky breaking down with stars. The sound of a creek. The songs of coyotes and the fact that there were tomatoes in America that actually smelled like tomatoes.
What can you expect in Turning Earth Farms?
- A good deal of work. So, if you are a slob, do yourself a favor and don’t go there.
- You will understand how to start a farm, the little nuances and pain and happiness that come with it.
- You will learn lots of farming techniques and new skills.
- Good food that comes with farm-fresh vegetables and eggs.
- Amazing people, and have those great connections you have been hearing about. Turning Earth Farms has hosted more than 200 volunteers from all over the world. You might also meet some animals which are (how do I put it?) some real characters.
- In retrospect, you can expect to have a head full of nostalgia when you are away from it.
- And, a lot of fun too. Bands, events, bonfires– you name it!