Saturday, July 26, 2008

One Week Down…And How Many to Go?

Day Five, or The Burden of Free Time:

After my Tyrolean farmer breakfast, I was assigned to the weeding of the herb garden. Three hours later I was so over herbs and stray grasses, and I was actually missing the drama and activity of the hay harvest! I’d also made the unfortunate choice of a waist-length shirt that slid up my back when I bent over, and I had a wide red swatch of sunburn across my lower back that was starting to irritate me.

After lunch, I was told that I’d have the rest of the afternoon free. This was my first real chunk of free time since I arrived…what to do? I decided to get all that I could out of the guest apartment, as I’d be moving back into the sleeping stable the next day. So first I did some reading and had some God time. Then I felt a little sleepy, so I took a nap. Then I stumbled into the living room and turned on the TV. Then I did some German grammar exercises. Then I finally called a friend.

With all of my free time, it was finally starting to sink in that I was alone up there on the mountain…and a month suddenly seemed longer than I’d originally thought! It seemed like I’d been gone for ages already, and even the all-night party seemed weeks past. Instead of time passing faster in the mountains, it had slowed dramatically. And as soon as I had time to start thinking, I couldn’t help but think about how little contact I had with people and how lonely I now felt. When I arrived back from Australia in January, I felt so overloaded that I longed to become a hermit; now that I finally had my chance to enjoy a hermitical existence, I found myself feeling lonely and homesick. Part of me wondered: Could I last the month? I mean, I can. But I didn’t have to—technically I was free to leave at any time. And if the family can do this for a lifetime, surely I can do this for a mere month! I wanted to tough it out and I wanted to enjoy my time on the farm, but it just seemed that it would be a lot easier if time would just speed up a little.

Battle Scars: I was responsible enough to apply sunscreen to my face, neck, and arms; but apparently I was not responsible enough to protect my unwittingly exposed back! My sunburn was getting worse—tall, wide, red, and…wait a minute, what’s that?…sun blisters?!
The blisters on my hands from the hay harvest were peeling and healing, but the one on my thumb stubbornly refused to heal.
I’d acquired bruises and bites and scratches along the way, but I tried so very hard to simply accept them as the normal everyday appearance of a real farmer.

Day Six, or The Fear of the Unknown:

Again assigned to work in the herb garden, I thought to myself how ironic it was that I should choose an herbal farm since I’m not so big on gardening. In fact, I consider myself to have a black thumb…just ask my roommate who asked me to watch her plants while she was away for a week! Once more I realized that despite the heat, the sweat, the long hours, the steep mountain slopes, and the stressful time crunch of the hay harvest…I like the constant movement and the exertion and seeing immediate results!

After lunch I went back up to the herb garden with the farmeress to weed. When I got up there I realized that I’d forgotten my work gloves, but not wanting to appear weak in her eyes, I resigned myself to pulling weeds her way—with my bare hands. My major hesitation wasn’t the dirt…rather, it was the fear of the unknown: the unknown number of bugs and spiders I could blindly be reaching for. It really disturbed me, and I had to make a deliberate effort not to think about it. Especially when I saw 5 different kinds of spiders. (Later I discovered a bite mark on my arm with two entry points—fangs. What else has fangs? It must have been one of those dang garden spiders!)

I was astonished when I heard the farmeress ask, “Don’t you enjoy pulling weeds?” I looked up to find her expectant features completely serious and in rapt anticipation of my answer. Until this moment it had not even entered my frame of reference that someone could enjoy this sort of work—it was simply the tedious task that had to be done. I answered truthfully—honestly, I enjoy the hay harvest better. She was surprised and amused at this ignorant city girl who couldn’t recognize life’s little pleasures like this if they, like that spider, came up and bit her. She commented that I’d change my mind once I took her tour of the herb garden and learned a bit more about the plants, but I wasn’t so sure.

Day Seven, or Minor Inconveniences:

Often when there’s any sort of inconvenience, nuisance, or difficulty, it’s easy to blow it out of proportion and feel more burdened than we should. The inconveniences that arose on the farm were probably no big deal when separated from the big picture, but with a week into my stay on the farm, they only served to nurture my developing homesickness. So—deal breaker or whiny overreaction? You decide…

Minor (Stinkin’) Inconvenience #1:
Since I was back in the sleeping stable, this meant no indoor plumbing. This meant that I more or less had to time my biological needs around the family’s schedule…how late can I take my final bathroom break before the family goes to bed? If I wake up in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom, do I attempt to hold it until daybreak or do I wander out in the dark to the outhouse down the hill that’s surrounded my massive spider webs with proportionally massive spiders?

Minor (Annoying) Inconvenience #2:
A farmer’s life is certainly a hard one—and a busy one. I finally realized that the way my free time is arranged is quite inconvenient. I only got one day a week free: Sundays…the day everything in Austria is closed. (And this, assuming that the time-sensitive hay harvest isn’t stealing my Sunday away from me! As the farmeress put it: If God didn’t want us to work on Sundays, he should have sent better weather during the rest of the week!) I got little breaks during the day, but not enough time to really start anything or go anywhere…it was more like being on call. As I was restricted to the premises for random chunks of time during the day, I never really had a chance to get out and explore the area. (On foot, of course.)

Minor (Distracting) Inconvenience #3:
The sunburn from weeding in the garden quickly became quite painful. It kept me from sleeping at night and prevented me from sitting back in any sort of chair. It was swollen and blistered and even my loose t-shirts brushing up against it made me cringe with pain. It was so bad that it totally freaked me out and I would have seen a doctor immediately had I been near civilization; instead I settled for smearing it with the Austrian equivalent of cream cheese for the cooling effect, hoping I wouldn’t become that random person you read about in the “Oddly Enough” newspaper section who died from a freak sunburn infection.