I hope it isn’t going to be one of those nights where they…take us to a pasture to tip cows.*

I never gave much thought to cows before I came here.  Once, in fifth grade, a cow sneezed on my hand and all of my cold-hearted classmates took my mucus-covered hand as yet another reason to consider me a social pariah.  I guess that’s ten-year-old society for you.  But from that day to my first afternoon on the farm, I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about cows one way or the other.  Sure, they provide dairy products, but so do goats and sheep.  Many of them eventually become hamburgers, but I haven’t eaten meat since the summer before I started college.  I’ve never been attack by a cow, nor rescued from mortal peril by one.  They are slightly more interesting than chemistry and marginally less interesting than seagulls.

The farm at which I’m currently residing has two pastures set aside for cows: one for the bulls, and one for the lady cows.  At some point, a bull was put in with the ladies, so from time to time a new calf will show up.  They don’t require the pomp and circumstance of a goat birth, and for the most part they regard the humans with mild disinterest.  We check on them once a day, bring them food three times a week, and very rarely pull their deceased brethren out of the freezer for “Thaco Thursday.”  My fellow interns and I live in a small house erected right beside the pasture that contains the female cows, so we hear them mooing from time to time.  It’s as much a part of the background noise here as the roosters and the goats and the dogs, so we hardly ever give them a second thought.  Last week, however, there was a disturbance in the pasture.

It was late at night.  I had been on the phone for a while after finishing bed check, so I hadn’t paid any attention to the noises carrying over from the pasture.  After changing into pajamas, I climbed into my queen-sized bottom bunk and was preparing to shove earbuds into my ears when The Australian leaned over the side of the top bunk and asked, “Do you hear the cows?”

“What cows?” I asked, idly untangling my headphones.

“The ones making a bloody racket out there,” she said.

We both fell silent, listening.  Sure enough, a loud chorus of moos drifted in through the window.

“I’m sure they’re fine,” I said, reaching over to set an alarm for the next morning.

A minute passed, and then they started up again.  Neither of us spoke for a bit, until she finally asked, “are you sure?”

Trying to sound authoritative, I said, “um, yeah.  I’m totally sure.  Besides, even if they weren’t ok, there’s nothing that we could fight off that a cow couldn’t.”

“Fine, but if there’s a dead cow tomorrow, we didn’t hear anything.”

“Agreed.”

“What are you talking about?” piped up Ave Maria from the adjoining room.

“The cows,” I called.  “They’re fine though, just a little noisy.”

As if in protest, another loud moo met our ears.  We went on in this manner for several more minutes, until The Australian finally made an executive decision.  “I’m going out there to check on them.”

I wasn’t about to let her go out there alone.  Horrible images of news headlines flashed through my mind: Australian tourist found dead in a pasture trying to rescue cows from a pack of rabid coyotes.  Pushing aside my trepidation, I walked out onto the porch with her and we slipped on our boots.  Ave Maria came shuffling out of her room in a tank top and underwear, asking, “where are you going?”

“We’re going to check on the cows,” said The Australian.

Ave Maria looked between us, shrugged, and said, “I’m coming with you.”

So we set off, two of us wearing pajamas, one without pants, and not a bra between us.  After walking about ten feet, we realized that we had forgotten to bring a headlamp.  Should we have gone back?  Probably.  But in the words of Kumar, “we’ve come too far.”  So we ventured forth by the light of three phones, laughing at our bizarre adventure attire, half convinced that we were going to discover some monstrous beast eating our cows.

When we reached the fence that separated the pasture from our yard, The Australian shushed us.  “Shh, I need to hear where the cows are.  Hold on.”  She held up a finger and we fell silent.  Several of the cows called out, and she pointed in their direction.  “I think it’s coming from over there.”

The absurdity of the situation hit Ave Maria and I, and we lost it, bending over with laughter.  “Well done, Encyclopedia Brown,” I managed to gasp out.  When we had our giggles under control, we continued in the direction of the cows.  Once they came into our range of sight, we discovered that they were…perfectly fine.

Of course they were fine.

We traipsed back to the house, laughing at ourselves, and then headed to bed.  The next day we learned that a neighbor’s cow had slipped through the fence and attempted to mingle with our cows, much to their displeasure.  The invader was escorted home, and our cows haven’t made any particularly loud noises since that night.  When we recounted the story to the rest of the farm a few days later, one of the farm owners said, “That’s the kind of story you’re going to tell your grandkids.”

Well, I’m a long way from having any grandkids, but I do have a blog.  I hope y’all enjoyed this little slice of nonsense.

Happy National High Five Day!

M.A.

*From “Heathers” 1988

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How puzzling all these changes are!*

I’m sorry, dear readers, that I’ve been slack-a-lackin’.  In my mind I see each day as having endless potential; I will put away my laundry and write in my journal and watch an episode of “Weeds” and take pictures of my baby goats and drink eight glasses of water and make a blog post on top off all my farm responsibilities.  But alas, I’m lucky to get one of those things done, and by necessity (aka for my sanity) the blog has fallen by the wayside.  Even though I’m here for a finite amount of time, I’ve somehow been sucked into the farm vortex where this feels like my entire life.  Frankly, I’m exhausted, and there are definitely times when it feels like I’m living break to break.  So why am I still here?

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That is a picture of me with the newborn Captain Hook and Chamomile, over six weeks ago now.  And that is why I’m here.  I can’t seem to get enough of the goats, and I’ve become almost unreasonably attached to those two in particular.  All the hard work, long hours, and drama (oh, GOD, is there drama here) is worth it when I get to spend time playing with those cuties.  Even though they’re considerably bigger now, they’re still my babies.  I’ve never loved an animal the way I love those two.  I was complaining to The Certified One about how I wasn’t suppose to fall in love in the south…I’m already far too attached to friends and family on both the east and west coasts to be convenient for such an avid traveler.  But alas, those kiddos have stolen my heart.  There have even been moments where I’ve considered finding a semi-permanent home so that I can buy Captain Hook, since statistically speaking he’s likely to end up as someone’s dinner (male goats that aren’t purebred are fairly undesirable to potential buyers).  But I can’t tie myself down, so I just perk up whenever someone asks for a male goat and slyly suggest that Cappy might be a good fit for them.

It turns out that I’m bad luck, because I have taken two defective boys under my wing.  Cappy is doing better, but one of his horn buds has grown back since he was disbudded, and now he’s all lopsided.  That makes his stock drop even further, because the poor guy looks unbalanced now.  I am really proud of his progress though, partly because he was such a trooper, and partly because I took charge of administering his subcutaneous antibiotics and topical treatments.  Ten-year-old me is probably squealing with delight somewhere…she wanted to be a vet.  The other defective boy I’m looking out for is named Frodo (I couldn’t resist…we already have a goat named Sam).  He was born with one ear that wouldn’t perk up.  This is problematic since he’s a saanen.  He’s purebred, so he should be ideal for breeding, but with a defect like that he’s probably destined to become, you guessed it, a meatball.  Today we actually superglued his ear into the proper position in hopes that he’ll learn to keep it there itself and strengthen those muscles.  But he has another, potentially bigger, issue.  He’s been having these fits where he stumbles around and his eyes roll around in his head and he whacks his head back and forth.  There’s debate as to whether he’s getting dizzy flicking his droopy ear out of his eye or is he’s having seizures.  If they are seizures, then there’s the question of whether or not the same thing that;s causing them also caused his ear to develop incorrectly.  There’s not really a way to test this, or at least not one that would be worth the cost, but I’m hoping he’ll get his act together and maybe worm his way into someone’s heart enough to be bought as a pet goat.  Male pet goats get castrated, but honestly I don’t think that’s nearly as horrid a fate as being eaten.

In other news, I’ll be cutting my goat farming experience a little short.  I was originally planning to stay for six months, but then my student loan lenders started bombarding me with e-mails about my upcoming payments and I had one of those oh-crap-I’m-supposed-t0-be-a-financially-literate-adult meltdowns.  So I started searching for a summer job.  At first I was considering just abandoning agriculture for the time being, so I applied to high ropes course centers and adventure parks.  They sounded exciting enough.  But then I discovered ATTRA, which is like WWOOF but you don’t have to pay for the website, and the internships/apprenticeships are all paid.  I managed to score a position at an apple orchard for the summer and fall that will provide me with enough income to start chipping away at my loans and save up for future adventures.  The best part?  It’s located thirty minutes from the place where The Certified One and Frankenstein will be working this summer, and a couple hours from my parents/brother/Merbs.  I’m really excited about the transition, and I will have gotten in almost 4 months with the goats.  I’m definitely planning on coming back here within the next few years, so I’m not going to be too sad about leaving, although I’m sure I’ll sob when I have to say goodbye to my kiddos.  I have less than six weeks to cram in all the southern experience I can, and then it’s off to learn about New England’s agriculture.

I’m sorry again for the long delay.  Here, have some pictures to make up for it:

Chamomile, about a week old (post-disbudding).

Chamomile, about a week old (post-disbudding).

Hazelnut (affectionately called Hazelbutt by pretty much everyone).

Hazelnut (affectionately called Hazelbutt by pretty much everyone).

 

Chamomile, approx 3-4 weeks old.

Chamomile, approx 3-4 weeks old.

Floppy-eared Frodo.

Floppy-eared Frodo.

Captain Hook, approx 5 weeks old.

Captain Hook, approx 5 weeks old.

Happy Scrabble Day!

M.A.

*From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

What is a baby, anyway? Oh, what is a baby?*

Time seems to move in bizarre leaps and bounds here.  I’ve officially been WWOOFing for over a month, and in some ways it feels like it’s been so much longer than that.  On the other hand, each day seems to zip by in quick segments.  It seems like I’m heading to breakfast immediately after waking up even though there’s a good 4 hours in between there some days.  After breakfast I head to scoop poop and do noon check, and then I’m back for lunch.  Suddenly It’s time for afternoon projects, then more chores, then dinner, and suddenly I’m headed to bed.  Every other day I manage to work in a run with a couple of other WWOOFers, but for the most part my days follow a set schedule that makes the time flit by.  This does not mean, however, that the days blend into one another.  There are always a lot of individual occurrences that pop up seemingly out of nowhere (and usually at the worst possible time).

A few days ago I was harvesting rainbow chard from the garden when I heard another intern shouting, “Athena had her babies!”

I dropped what I was holding and scurried over to see one of the dogs with three puppies half-hidden under her body.  We called one of the farm owners and ended up moving the puppies so that they were able to start nursing.  By the time we went to bed, there were seven puppies, and when we woke up in the morning there were twelve.  They essentially came into the world all by themselves, without any noise or commotion.  For the next several days, Athena refused to eat anything except for hot chicken noodle soup.  That dog is a diva.

Speaking of divas, the dairy goats are worse than teenage girls.  I have literally been bitten on the ass on several occasions because a goat thought I wasn’t giving her enough attention.  They knock over their own and each other’s buckets of grain while being milked, so we have to lock them down with giant clamps.  They take an eon to get up on the stand to be milked, and some goats even have certain spots that they refuse to give up.  One goat will only eat oats and rice bran, but not grain and not sunflower seeds.  They kick me when they don’t want to be milked, oftentimes smearing my arms with turd, and they bellow if they don’t want to leave their kids.  Despite all this, I really love them.  They’re funny, they have personalities, and they provide milk that turns into delicious byproducts.

This week we had a couple of goat births.  Raindrop, a beautiful white saanen goat had some major complications, and we nearly lost her and her two little boys.  The first boy was in the birth canal before she was dilated, so she started pushing.  Each baby goat is born in an individual sack, and his sack burst before he was outside her body.  He slipped back in, and at that point he was in danger of dying imminently.  The farm manager sanitized and lubed up his hands, and reached inside to pull out the baby.  It took what felt like forever, and Raindrop was screaming the entire time, but eventually the baby came out no worse for ware.  His brother followed without complication, and they have progressed normally since then.

Today, a la mancha goat named Ceira went into labor in the afternoon.  I was going to deliver her first baby, but his leg was in the wrong position, so one of the farm owners corrected it and delivered him.  A minute later his sister fell into my hands, covered in placenta and blood but perfectly healthy.  I cleared her mouth, nose, and ears (little “elf ears” because her dad is a saanen and her mom’s a la mancha), and then spent the next several minutes drying her off.  Within twenty minutes both babies were standing up and nursing from their mother.  I know that I didn’t do much…it was Ceira who put in most of the work.  But it was incredible to help bring something into the world.

It’s time to start theme night (we’re eating homemade sushi and watching Mulan), so I’ll sign off.

Happy Women’s History Month!

M.A.

*From “Lady and the Tramp” 1995 

Man I Dig Those Rhythm And Blues*

Despite the fact that I am living below the Mason-Dixon line for the first time, I haven’t really experienced that much southern culture.  My life is essentially contained on the farm, and my fellow WWOOFers are from all over the USA.  So it was super exciting last night to go on a girls-night-out trip to a local bar.

Normally I don’t care too much about what I’m wearing when I go out, but after a month of nothing but athletic shorts and tie-dye t-shirts, I wanted to go out in style.  We all threw on outfits with varying degrees of pizzaz (I opted for a halter to show off my tattoo), and piled into a car.  The bar looked shabby from outside, and I kid you not, every single vehicle there was a truck.  Some were shiny, some were dirty, but they were all different types of pick-up.  There was a sign declaring that it was “KARAOKE NIGHT!” and an open door.  We flounced in, all bubbly and excited to be doing something off the farm, and were met with a crowd of locals in plaid flannels and jeans who kept asking from throughout the night if we “weren’t from around here.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of a bar, I think of rows of liquor lined up just waiting to be mixed into countless cocktails.  This was not that kind of bar.  They had eight kinds of beer, all served in bottles…and all costing $2.25.  Two twenty-five for a beer?  Are you kidding me?  Admittedly, I don’t frequent bars and I tend to steer clear of beer, but that low price blew my mind.  We sat down at a table covered in a plastic tablecloth and surveyed the room.  Within a minute, a man with one of those tooth-flosser things in his mouth ambled over and asked us how we were doing and if we were from around here.  We chatted idly and then made our way over to a man with a computer in front of him.  He explained that he was running karaoke, and then warned us that, this being the south, we should refrain from doing any rapping…or he would be fired.  We agreed and then proceeded to stand there for nine and a half minutes warbling out “American Pie” like every group of twenty-something women ever to attend a karaoke night.  Someone at the bar started snapping pictures of us, and as we finished I heard someone in that general vicinity call out, “Is it over yet?”

As the night went on, we were warned to be wary of the man in the hat (a description that applied to almost everyone in the building), told that we would have to shoot for a turn at the pool table (then they realized we hadn’t ever done that before and just let us play), and asked to encore as a karaoke group…as backup singers for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.  I made my way into the bathroom at one point, which was located outside, and found no soap or paper towels, but a massive container of bleach and a note with specific instructions on how to flush the toilet.  When I got back, a man complimented my “tiger” tattoo (it’s a lion), and asked me to divulge its meaning.

I’ve never spent much time in bars, but this experience felt so alien compared to the few I went to back in college.  The south is such a different culture from the Pacific Northwest, and I’m a little sad that I don’t have more time to explore and get to see local life.  On the other hand, I’m getting the hang of milking a goat, I’ve seen two births, I’ve helped make cheese and yogurt and soap, and I’m learning how to set up and clean a milking machine.

Happy Closing Ceremony Day!

M.A.

*From “American Pie” by Don McLean

Help me!…I’m in a weird situation.*

Well, it’s my day off.  That means that I’m still in bed at 11:44, curled up with Sherlock the Baker Bear and a bag of Goldfish crackers.  The sheer amount of work, both physical and mental, that goes into working on a raw goat farm means that most people spend their entire day off in pajamas.  I took advantage of the chance to sleep in and stayed up with some other WWOOFers to watch “Rosemary’s Baby” last night.  I’d never seen it before, and I was thrilled to find Ruth Gordon playing a central role.  Speaking of Ruth Gordon, “Harold and Maude” is on Netflix again!  If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading right now and delve into the greatest love story of our time.  While I’m on this pop culture tangent, I’d like to take a sentence to squeal over the fact that tonight’s episode of Teen Wolf should be super duper fantastic.  I’ve fallen out of touch with the world of fandom for the most part since I graduated college and deleted my Tumblr in one fell swoop, but I’ve been very consistent about catching every single episode of Teen Wolf.  Dylan O’Brian’s acting never fails to impress me. /rant

Sherlock and John the Baker Bears, having a midday drink in Kensington Gardens back in the day.

Sherlock and John the Baker Bears, having a midday drink in Kensington Gardens back in the day.

My list yesterday was an attempt to show just how much there is going on here at the farm.  But for every bullet point, there is a story.  One of the more shocking experiences I’ve had since arriving here occurred when I was helping to medicate (or, orally drench) the bucks.  Bucks are male goats, and all of the bucks here are used for breeding.  This means that they go into rut (the male version of heat), and have massive balls hanging between their legs.  They are strong, and huge, and incredibly ornery when they want to be.  My first time medicating the bucks was about a week ago.  The best way to medicate a goat is to straddle him or her, so long as your feet can still touch the ground.  Some of the bigger bucks need to be wrestled into submission from the side by catching them in a headlock, because straddling them would result in a hilarious and dangerous ride.  I was just able to get my legs on either side of a brown and black buck named Rodeo, and had the syringe (without a needle, just a long tube) in my hand.  The goal is to get the syringe toward their esophagus, which is on the right side of their throat.  Oftentimes, goats will bite down on the syringe, and sometimes they keep the medicine in the back of their throat and then spit it back out all over the person medicating them.  So proper technique dictates that you hold their head up and their mouth closed until you have forced them to swallow the medication.  It’s not comfortable, but it doesn’t harm them at all.  Unfortunately, I was unprepared for Rodeo’s strength, and he took me for a ride.  I had the syringe in his mouth when he rocketed toward the edge of the pen we were enclosed in, slamming me into the wall.  I was unhurt, but winded.  Unfortunately, his head had also made contact with the wall, and one of his horns had been torn off, exposing the nerve and sending a cascade of blood across his head.  I got him to swallow the medicine and then proceeded to panic.  “I broke the farm!” I called out.  The shift manager laughed and informed me that he had probably already loosened the horn up by headbutting with the other bucks, and that it was most certainly not my fault.  Then she asked me if I wanted to keep the horn.  I politely declined.

The trees here are draped in a noninvasive plant called Spanish Moss.  So beautiful.

The trees here are draped in a noninvasive plant called Spanish Moss. So beautiful.

Here are some videos of the goats that I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks:

Happy Presidents Day!

M.A.

*From the StarKid musical “Starship”

Aside

Put One Foot In Front Of The Other*

I’ve been so busy over the last few weeks that I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on how much I’ve learned.  Here’s a list of a bunch of stuff I’ve done since I got to the farm:

  • Learned how to feed and care for dairy goats, bucks, horses, dogs, cows, chickens, and ducks.
  • Examined goat poop and learned to differentiate between healthy turds and sick turds.
  • Taken fecal samples (both of suspicious poop and a random mish-mash from the pasture) and used a microscope to identify various parasites.
  • Scooped a lot of poop.
  • Talked about poop incessantly…seriously, it comes up all the time.  Even during meals.  Especially during meals.
  • Deep cleaned the chicken coops.
  • Collected, counted, and cleaned eggs.
  • Learned the names of half the goats here.
  • Milked various goats.
  • Memorized various idiosyncrasies about certain goats, such as food preferences.
  • Cleaned a lot of dishes.
  • Cooked dinner for twelve people.
  • Watched the first Harry Potter movie during dinner.
  • Attended a Valentine’s Day dinner.
  • Wired electrical outlets in a small cabin.
  • Cuddled lots and lots of baby goats.
  • Drove a tractor.
  • Wiped teats.
  • Used a screw driver without stripping the poor screw.
  • Stripped dairy goats before milking (if you’re interested in farming terminology, look it up).
  • Washed my clothes and hung them on the line to dry.  In FEBRUARY.
  • Learned what a ground wire is for in a circuit and why an outlet has different size holes.
  • Made and packaged soap.
  • Participated in oral drenching of goats (essentially wrestling a goat until you’re straddling it, forcing its head up, shoving a syringe down its throat, and trying to hold it still until it swallows…or else the goat spits and you have to start all over).
  • Etc, etc, etc.
This goat, Aloe, is being trained as a therapy goat, so we bring her inside sometimes.

This goat, Aloe, is being trained as a therapy goat, so we bring her inside sometimes.

The cows are surprisingly friendly.

The cows are surprisingly friendly.

The baby goats are so cute.  I thought the novelty would wear off, but it hasn't in the slightest.

The baby goats are so cute. I thought the novelty would wear off, but it hasn’t in the slightest.

Homer's my favorite baby boy :)

Homer’s my favorite baby boy 🙂

The goats sometimes segregate themselves.

The goats sometimes segregate themselves.

It's really fun to work in the garden when it's sunny and warm.

It’s really fun to work in the garden when it’s sunny and warm.

Such a cutie.

Such a cutie.

This puppy is a complete troublemaker.

This puppy is a complete troublemaker.

With ears like that, I feel like he could just take off and fly.

With ears like that, I feel like he could just take off and fly.

The ducks are super chipper, even first thing in the morning.

The ducks are super chipper, even first thing in the morning.

I know how to use all of these as of this afternoon.

I know how to use all of these as of this afternoon.

Happy Do A Grouch A Favor Day!

M.A.

*”One Foot” by fun.

Need a little time to wake up, need a little time to rest your mind.*

The most intense part of working with livestock for the first time is the insane learning curve.  There’s no way to ease into it, because everything must be done at a certain time.  This means that, after a week here, I’m getting up at 6:00 am each morning (6:30 on weekends) so that I can help feed the goats, chickens, and horses.  There are several different goat pens, since some goats have different needs than others.  For instance, the new moms and babies need to have their pen scooped several times a day, while the moms-to-be have enough of a pasture that they only need to be scooped once or twice.  The bucks–male goats–only need a little bit of peanut hay, but the moms-to-be need a whole bunch to help fatten them up for pregnancy.  Even the chickens are broken into three groups: regular chickens, infirmary chickens, and cannibal chickens.  The cannibals eat (and sometimes poop in) their own eggs, so if we want steady egg production we need to keep them away from the other layers.

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Feeding goes on for about an hour to an hour and a half, and then we move on to scooping.  By the time the first couple of pens have been scooped, it’s time to break for breakfast.  Most days it’s an hour of make-it-yourself, but today we had Sunday Brunch all together.  It’s interesting living with so many people.  The only time I’ve been living in a community with this many of my peers was at summer camp where almost all of our time was devoted to being responsible for children.  We certainly have a lot of responsibility here, but it comes in spurts.  There are hours where we have nothing in particular to do.  I try to catch a nap each day because the sheer amount of physical activity and new knowledge is exhausting.

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The goat dynamics are fascinating.  There’s a hierarchy to a certain extent when it comes to things like where each goat stands to get milked, but they all exist relatively peacefully.  Of course, the bucks are a different story, pushing each other around the way so many species’ males do.  They are separated from the females when they are a few months old, and then only interact when they are bred.  Goats in general are horny creatures…the females go into heat and the males go into rut.  Since they are in single-sex accommodations, plenty of homosexual humping takes place.  With the girls it seems like a mutually beneficial interaction, but with the guys it’s generally a big goat feeling rutty and jumping up on the nearest convenient buck.  The baby goats start humping when they’re a few weeks old, oftentimes on their siblings.  Obviously they can’t impregnate each other yet, but it just shows how important it is to keep the bucks and the does separate.  Imagine the chaos if the goats were allowed to chose their own partners…inbreeding would quickly cause problems.

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Happy National Children’s Dental Health Month!

M.A.

*”(What’s the Story) Morning Glory” by Oasis

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland, beasts of every land and clime, harken to my joyful tiding of the golden future time.*

The line for lost luggage at the Tallahassee airport wasn’t long.  In fact, I was only standing there for about five minutes.  But that short length of time marked my introduction to the south.  For those of you who are out of touch with the weather in Georgia, there was a storm that essentially immobilized all transportation in Atlanta for several days.  I was lucky enough to only be stuck there for 15 hours, but some people had been attempting to get home for the better part of a week.  I was supposed to fly into a small airport about half an hour from the farm where I’ll be WWOOFing for next few months, but after three cancelled flights I decided to fly to Tallahassee instead.  Delta was so overloaded with rescheduled flights that they flat out stopped forwarding luggage to people’s new final destinations; that was how I found myself in the lost luggage line.

There was only one employee helping travelers track down their suitcases, so when a man wearing an ID badge walked past the line, two men pulled him aside.  “Do you know if that was the last of the suitcases to come through?” one man asked, gesturing to the baggage claim.  The employee nodded.  “Even the oversized luggage?”

“I don’t think there was any oversized luggage.”

“Even guns?”

The employee lit up.  “Oh, guns.  They’re this way.”  He led them to a nearby room and began to pull out case after case presumably full of guns.  The men surveyed the lot and pulled out their cases, briefly opening them to ensure that their guns were fine.  Nobody batted an eye.  I was pulled away from the scene because it was my turn to give my local address and describe my bright orange rolling case, but I couldn’t help thinking, I’ve officially made it to the south.

ImageI got here via New York (pictured above) and Richmond, where I stayed with family.  Perhaps because of the long trip, it’s taken a couple of days to get my bearings here at the farm.  I’m in Northern Florida for the first time, working with livestock (which I’ve never done before), and to top it off there are about ten WWOOFers here who already know each other.  The first night was unbelievably overwhelming, what with the dubstep blasting during dinner and all the new faces.  One of the long-term volunteers on the farm took me for a walk to chill out a bit, and before I knew it I had an armful of baby goat.  (The cutie pictured below is Muffin.)

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It occurred to me that night that I haven’t really hung out with large groups of people my own age since high school.  My friends and I tend to hang out in twos or threes, and a “rowdy” night includes a card or board game and some white wine.  The atmosphere at the farm is incredibly positive for the most part, but the sheer number of twenty-somethings sharing one very small building invites chaos.  Take into account that everyone who WWOOFs is adventurous and most are outgoing, and you have a veritable recipe for excessive noise and excitement.

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In terms of work, I’m having a blast.  The owners of the farm have assured me that it takes a few weeks to really feel comfortable with all of the daily tasks, and nearly a month to be able to do them unsupervised.  Since it’s day 3 and I’m still completely lost, I figure I’m right on track.  Okay, I’m not completely lost.  I can drive both the gas-powered golf cart and the electric “Gator.”  I can refill hay, both for food and for bedding, and I can hand out grain (although I generally get mildly trampled in the process).  I know several goats and dogs by name, and I’ve got all of the WWOOFers’ names matched with their faces.  I’m quickly developing a hatred for chickens and a fondness for goats.  I can scoop up Raisinet-shaped turds fairly efficiently, and I can almost always identify whether or not hay is too damp to be left on the ground.

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Today I cleaned out a chicken coop, which was easily the grossest experience of my life.  I had gloves on, but that didn’t change the fact that chicken crap is disgusting.  I felt every little bit of it squishing between my fingers as I picked up poop-infused straw from the bottom of the coop.  Then there was the algae growing in the chickens’ water buckets.  Health-wise, they only need to be cleaned every couple of months, but I still found the thick layer of green sludge horrifying.  I couldn’t imagine drinking water that had been filtered through it for weeks on end.  Then again, chickens crap in their own feeders, so I doubt they care.

Happy Canned Food Month!

M.A.

*Animal Farm by George Orwell

Aside

You need not be sorry for her. She was the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.*

I suppose there comes a time in every woman’s life when she’s standing in Barnes and Noble holding a self-help book as an employee cheerily waves her off with a, “Feel better!”  I just didn’t expect it to happen four weeks after I graduated college.

Let’s back up here a minute.  When I say self-help, I don’t mean some celebrity’s kind-of memoir loaded with pop psychology and artificial angst…not that there’s anything wrong with pop psychology under certain circumstances.  The Headmistress and I have spent many an evening debating the motives and ensuing implications of countless fictional characters, and diagnosing them with all sorts of conditions.  But the book I’m holding in my unemployed, post-grad hands is about changing your lifestyle (don’t judge me yet)…to avoid having migraines.

It turns out that there are all kinds of different things that cause migraines.  I spent years assuming that I was just stressed out.  After all, when I wasn’t in school I was a camp counselor (read: ~$2/hour, on the clock for 22 hours/day), and when I wasn’t at camp I was in my hometown trying desperately to avoid awkward encounters with old classmates.  The late teens and early twenties contain a plethora of everyday stresses, so a few headaches should be expected.  But it turns out that a lot of people try to write their headaches off or suck them up, and it’s pretty counterproductive.  So now I’m trying to be an adult by taking care of myself.

And that brings me to the heart of my musings…I really am inescapably trapped in the adult world.  I suppose I could go to grad school, but I am so excited to be done with the academic world that I’m not particularly interested in diving back in.  My life from here on out will be partially comprised of responsibilities, including but not limited to:

  1. Feeding myself.
  2. Finding somewhere to live where I won’t inconvenience anyone (I spent my entire final semester of school living on the floor of my friends’ hallway, and while they were all super nice about it, I’m sure they’re relieved not to be stepping over me each morning.)
  3. Paying bills/paying off loans/paying for new clothes when the old ones fall apart.
  4. Wearing real pants–pajamas don’t count–when I leave the house.

I might let the last one slide.  I mean, come on.  Pajamas are super comfy.  But I digress.

This weekend I will be heading out on an epic 5-day journey down the east coast.  I’ll be crashing with my brother and sister-in-theory (when they get married this year she’ll be promoted to sister-in-law), and then with my aunt and uncle.  My final destination is the organic farm where I will be WWOOFing for the next six months, and I am so excited to get there.  Of course, there are both perks and downfalls to volunteering for half a year.  Remember those adult responsibilities from a paragraph ago?  They all require money, and volunteering doesn’t provide money.  But WWOOFing host farms do provide room and board while you’re there, so I can actually cross 1 and 2 off the list.  Student loans most definitely require some sort of income, but I will still be in my grace period for the majority of this adventure, and I’ve budgeted extremely carefully to ensure that I will be able to make my first payment on time.  3?  Check!  So far so good.  I bought two new pairs of jeans this week, and I don’t really want to get goat poo on my PJs, so 4 should be taken care of.  That just leaves perks.  Let’s see…

I get to visit the South, which will be a totally new experience for me.  I get to learn new skills, like how to drive a tractor and how to clean out a chicken coop.  I get to meet new people from diverse backgrounds.  I get to build my resume so that I will be able to get awesome job offers over the next few years.  As far as I can see, the pros are outweighing the cons.

If I’m being honest, I don’t want to deal with adult responsibility.  I don’t want to put my health before taste (the headache book suggests I give up chocolate and raspberries).  I have no interest in spending money on utilities and loans and groceries.  But I am willing to get through all of those annoying aspects of grownup life if they allow me to explore the world to my adventurous little heart’s content.

Happy National Pie Day (not to be confused with Pi Day)!

M.A. 

*Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Hockety pockety wockety wack! Odds and ends and bric-a-brac! Be with you in just a minute, son. Packing’s almost done.*

One of the dreariest and most time-consuming aspects of travel preparation is the process of packing.  I have never been particularly good at sussing out what I actually need for a trip versus what just happens to be nearby (and I could need it at some point).  Generally speaking, if I’m debating whether or not to bring something, I don’t actually need it.  Luckily, most critical possessions can be purchased is you realize you need them after leaving them behind, so over time I have gotten better about slimming down the contents of my suitcase.

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I moved across the country from my parents right after I graduated high school.  I have been jumping back and forth across the continental United States for four and a half years, which means that I have essentially two sets of possessions.  It’s much easier to have clothes at home for when I visit than to trek things back and forth whenever there’s a holiday.  The trouble is, I’m getting to the point where my visits home won’t necessarily be on a twice-a-year basis.  In other words: it’s time to get rid of some stuff.

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Tonight I will be flying back home to spend a few weeks with my family and friends before setting off for six months of WWOOFing.  Throughout college I have gathered a truly formidable collection of stuff, so over the past week I have been desperately trying to get rid of as many things as possible.  On Saturday I took seven bags to Goodwill…it was downright liberating.  The problem is, I now am down to the essentials, and it’s time to play Packing Tetris and attempt to fit everything into one check bag, one carry-on, and one personal item.  I’ve set an even bigger challenge for myself by choosing my beautiful Osprey backpack (whose name is Porter…we traveled Europe together) as my check bag.

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So here’s where I’m going to get philosophical about this and give some advice, one traveler to another:

Let things go.  If you are like me and want to see the world, there aren’t any possessions as important as a plane ticket.  Ok, maybe a passport.  And let’s be real, my 400+ book collection, but I’ve managed to get that settled in my old bedroom for now.  In terms of what you need to bring with you, keep in mind that almost everything is replaceable, and every time you have to check an extra bag or ship another box, you are paying for your possessions over again.  Make sure they are worth it.  To quote Tyler Durden, “the things you own end up owning you.”  (If you have yet to get your contemporary existentialist fix, go read and watch Fight Club right this minute.)

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As stressful as packing can be, it always reminds me that I am about to go somewhere, that I have a glorious adventure ahead of me, and that I am as free as I let myself be.

Happy New Year!

M.A.

*The Sword in the Stone, 1963