Monday, August 4, 2008

Halfway There…

Day Eleven, or Green Hectares is the Place to Be!:

Because the weather had again been uncooperative, we found ourselves once more harvesting hay on a hot, sunny Sunday. After giving the grasses a chance to dry from the morning dew, we found ourselves out in the fields by noon. It was a big day of harvest, working the hay from the lowest fields to the highest fields on the property, and the farmeress joked that with all of this up and down all day we’d be having a Sunday hike just as nice as anyone else!

As we were turning the hay on the lowest field, the farmeress paused and turned towards me. Leaning on her rake, she said, “You know, I’m impressed at your perseverance.” Unsure if she was referring to the hay harvest, I asked what she meant. “That you’re still here,” she replied. “I thought you would’ve thrown in the towel by now.” The farmeress went on say that she hadn’t thought I’d make it this far; she had even wondered aloud to the farmer when I’d come and say I was ready to go home.

I dared not reveal what a close call it had been. As I smiled and graciously accepted the compliment at face value, she went on to explain that usually the helpers on the farm come later in the season and that none before me had ever worked so much on the hay harvest as I had! I felt proud to hold this distinction, but I still didn’t tell her that I much preferred the rigorous hay harvest to the “easy garden work” as she put it!

We worked all day from the low fields to the high fields and back down to the low fields again, taking only small breaks for water here and there. By 7 p.m. my feet were burning from standing on the steep mountainside all day, and it felt terribly uncomfortable to stand—either on an incline or otherwise! I felt as if there were burning blisters all over my feet, about to burst open with every step. Despite taking measures to keep myself hydrated, I’d developed a headache…most likely from the intensity of the alpine sun, which was now starting to sink at a harsh angle. By 8 p.m. we were almost done with one of the middle fields, and I was at my end. My head was pounding, my feet were burning, I was noticeably slowing, and I felt I lacked the energy to continue. When the farmer said that we still had the lowest field to finish, something inside of me cracked. The 8 demanding hours of the day welled up inside me and threatened to overflow in exhausted tears. I tried to hold it back as we approached the house again, but as the nice couple from the guest apartment saw me coming and asked how it was going, I’d reached the breaking point. I felt embarrassed and weakened, especially after the farmeress’ high compliment earlier in the day about my perseverance, but I had reached my physical breaking point and could no longer keep from crying.

Still trying to pull myself back together, I went to my room to change my shoes for the final field. A member of the family must’ve seen my sorry state, and a sympathetic voice called up that I could stay there and rest—the daughter would help in my place. I felt bad that my breakdown should come on the same day as my “perseverance,” but on the other hand I had been working outside for 8 hours in the sun and the heat without stopping for a meal, and my body simply wasn’t used to that. But I couldn’t help hoping that the others wouldn’t see this as a sign of city girl weakness.

Day Twelve, or In Good Company:

The day after the spectacular hay harvest (and consequent collapsing point) was my much-needed first day off after working 10 straight days on the farm. I’d become friends with the couple staying in the guest apartment, and they were kind enough to take me along for a day’s excursion.

Our first stop was an open air museum of Tyrolean farmhouses. While this may sound somewhat boring (or perhaps a bit redundant for me), it was a fantastic museum and a very well-spent morning. The fascinating thing about Tyrolean farmhouses and tools is that they are made almost entirely of wood that has been fitted or joined—I didn’t see a single nail! The farmhouses dated as far back at the 16th century, but by the looks of it, they haven’t really evolved all that much in the past few hundred years. I would have loved to take a museum tour, but alas, there was no time…We had to catch a train!

Apparently my new friends were also train buffs, and they really wanted to take a steam locomotive ride through the Zillertal valley. An old-fashioned steam locomotive—complete with some poor guy shoveling coal into the fire—takes tourists and curious locals through a slow and scenic ride through the valley. We rode the train to the end station, grabbed some ice cream, and took the same stretch back. It was a beautiful and scenic ride, but my absolute favorite photo I took from the train was this one…priceless!!

It was awesome to hang out with my new friends, and having them around the farm had really helped with the homesickness. They were super nice and super generous, and I was so glad to spend my day off with them seeing a bit more of the area.

Day Thirteen, or ‘Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Eaten Alive! Eaten Alive!’:

I was a little nervous on my first day back to work after the hay harvest from Hades. To my surprise (and delight!) it was quite an easy day.

I spent most of the day picking blossoms in the herb garden. However, as I was in competition with the bees, I had to be especially attentive. We worked out a system where I would let the bee have its fill of a particularly “pollenous” blossom, and then I would come behind and pluck it. I found that in waiting for the bees to finish up with their blossoms, I’d become completely distracted from my task and end up simply enthralled by their fastidiousness and dedication to the task at hand.

The mosquitoes were out in particularly full force on the farm between the hours of 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Whether you’re inside or outside, you can’t help but get eaten alive, and I’ve found that I’ve become quite skilled at clapping them or catching them midair—a skill I’d never intended to perfect!

A Note on Language: It was surprisingly not taxing to speak German all the time. I’d spoken a great deal of English before coming to the farm with friends from the States, but as soon as I was on the farm I slid quite naturally again into German. The Tyrolean dialect wasn’t a problem on the farm for the most part, but I could only understand about half of what the farmer or his son would say. But I found deciphering this new dialect to be rather like a puzzle—once you figure out where the pieces fit, the larger picture starts to make more sense… And, rather fittingly, I caught myself speaking in more dialect (i.e., Styrian dialect) than usual!

A Note on the Weakest Link: One of the things I found very difficult to understand on the farm is how they could look at a litter of 6 kittens and decide that half of them must go. And I mean go. You know…
The argument was that the mother didn’t have enough milk to feed the whole litter and in nature the weakest of the bunch would either starve (because they couldn’t get to the milk) or be pushed from the nest. On the farm, the fear was that all 6 would die if none of them could get enough milk. So instead of letting nature take its course, they decided to help it along.
At one point the farmer disappeared and it was suddenly apparent that he was “taking care of” the kittens. I know he’s a farmer and that’s life on the farm, but I have a really difficult time understanding how someone can kill a kitten. A chicken, sure, but a kitten?! Clearly I’d don’t have what it takes to be a farmer.

Farmer Mentality: I cannot relate to the farmer. He works from sunup to sundown and takes breaks only for food and water. He doesn’t have a free day if he can help it, and vacation is a foreign concept to him. A true farmer is a workaholic, and he thrives on it. He loves it—it’s his passion! He wouldn’t enjoy a lazy poolside afternoon or laying out in the grass of the park—his work is his niche. His existence. And the nonstop, full throttle work mentality is one that I simply cannot understand…

Day Fourteen, or The Last Supper:

My new friends in the guest apartment decided to leave a couple days early. As it was their last night on the farm, they invited me down for some watermelon in their apartment. Happy to get away from the seemingly self-replenishing supply of mosquitoes in my room, I decided to go down and visit them in the hopes that their place wouldn’t be so inundated with miniature blood-sucking vampires as mine. We ate watermelon and homemade bread with Nutella and talked for hours. I was sad to see them go, but we decided to keep in touch. I was glad to see that some permanent good had come from being on the farm—I made new friends!

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