Gardens, goats and chicken poop
After 27 hours of travel via Amsterdam, Barcelona, Palma, and Pollença, I finally made it to the beautiful farm where I’ll be working in Mallorca! It’s absolutely stunning.
Tonight I got my first tour of the property from a former WWOOFer turned expat turned now full time Mallorcan resident. Since the full time farmer was out this evening, she showed me around and gave me my list of chores for tomorrow.
1. Weed vegetable garden and feed plucked weeds to the goats. I’ve already picked (and promptly eaten!) fresh carrots, kale, basil, tomatoes, grapes, and beans from the garden. There really is nothing better than fresh organic veggies. I usually can’t stand to eat kale raw because it’s so tough and waxy but the raw kale I ate with my dinner tonight was spicy and crispy and needed nothing to dress it up. Yum!
2. Clean out chicken coop and compost the chicken poop. I think this might be the task that I try to complete fastest! The four chickens are adorable but tonight when we opened up the old wooden door to the indoor part of their coop, there was a huge rabbit in there that startled me! (Actually the startling was mutual). I’ve always wanted chickens so I’m really looking forward to spending some time with them.
3. Weed paths and courtyard/clean pool. I was then told I should make sure to take a dip in the pool and pick fresh figs from the fig tree that hangs over it as well. I think I can manage that.
I am dead tired and am looking forward to waking up refreshed tomorrow. I really can’t believe I’m here and I can’t wait to start shifting into the slower pace of life. It’s SO wonderfully quiet–I’m going to fall asleep to the distant “tinging” sound of the bells around the necks of the sheep in the pasture and the absolute silence of everything else.
I spend quite a lot of time thinking about and trying to advocate for farm animals that unfortunately live much shorter and much more miserable lives than these animals here on this farm do. It’s refreshing to see how these animals are natural (no growth hormones or antibiotics here!) and an integral part of the farm’s ecosystem. Living among these creatures is about as minimalist and essential as you can get.
For example, I weeded the garden for four hours today and fed the weeds to the goats. The goats eat the weeds and their poop is mixed with compost and used as fertilizer on the vegetable garden. The sheep and goats graze in the olive terraces and keep the terraces fertilized. It’s nice to be living and participating in these kinds of cycles, if only for a short time.
Obviously a big part of many of these cycles is the “fertilizer” step in the process. Lets just say I took two showers and a dip in the pool today. Thank you, rabbit pen that needed cleaning out!
Though hundreds of years old dark stone coops may not be the most glamorous part of living with animals, getting to spend hours on end with them certainly makes up for it.
I love noticing their different personalities. For instance there is this one little goat who is particularly bold and will eat grass out of my hand while the others stand watching, ready to scamper away at any minute. The goats climb up into the trees and climb up rocky hillsides–so nimble!
Then there are the chickens. The chickens and their endless head tilting and twitching. They don’t squawk as much as they just kind of murmur all the time, like they have an inside joke that they are keeping from me and talking about under their breath.The cat (on my lap right now) is super snuggly.
So tonight, cheers to all friends, furry and feathered.
Weeding as meditation
Between the densely packed strawberry bed, the forest of tall tomato plants, and the hidden onions that lie just beneath the top layer of soil, ready to uproot themselves with the gentlest of tugs, I’ve been practicing the art of advanced weeding these past couple of days. What’s so hard about weeding that it could be classified as anything other than mindless, simple work, you might ask? Nothing, and that’s precisely what makes it all the more challenging. Case in point: today I wrested with a prickly, thorny, hundreds-of-years-old bougainvillea as I pruned it. I was working on the south side of the house and the mid-morning sun was as hot as it gets. I kept alternating between trying to hurry, which resulted in me going too quickly and stabbing myself on the large thorns multiple times, or taking it slowly, which allowed me to focus and kept me from getting pricked as much, but dragged the hot and prickly ordeal out longer than the sun was making it comfortable to tolerate. Needless to say, the thought of electric hedge trimmers crossed my mind more than once. Yet, after a couple hours of pruning and then weeding a particularly dense patch of clovers that had taken up residence with the strawberries, my mind was drifting, contemplating, away in a weeding trance.
Weeding is mindless and never ending, kind of like unbroken flat stretches of Nebraska on a long road trip. But take your eyes of the road for one minute, and you risk yanking up a carrot, or trampling a pea sprout or crushing a stalk of lettuce. So it forces you into a kind of alert meditative state which, once you realize you’ve fallen into, is actually quite nice.
To be simultaneously preoccupied and zoned out is rare and lovely, and leaves you with the time, permission, and focus to do a kind of thinking that you might not otherwise do. When weeding the bed of begonias around the pool, I though about opening a B&B somewhere. When tackling the tomatoes, I thought about how the smell of them reminded me of our garden in Atlanta growing up. And when feeding all these weeds to the goats, I found myself wondering how I could smuggle one back to Chicago. I thought about that one for a while.
I want to weed more in every way of my life and it doing so, clear out space so that ideas both good and less good have room to poke through. Is that not the point of minimalism after all?
Goats + Barley
I have really been loving the goats here. They’re so full of personality and so much fun to watch. So before we talk barley, an ode to the goats in pictures:
After pruning some ivy on some old stone walls and feeding it to the goats, Tolo and I set out in the tractor to go plant some barley for the sheep. Let me tell you, this 45 minute tractor ride up steep old and narrow mountain farm paths through the olive groves was quite the adventure. I rode on the fender while Tolo drove and his dog followed. At one point there were two huge boulders on the path so he used the plow that we had attached to the tractor to push the boulders to the side of the road.
We had loaded 3 sacks of barley seeds onto the back of the tractor to transport to the field, and at one point, I felt the fender under me bend, so I moved my hand just as a full sack of seeds came up and then under the wheel. It had fallen off the back and had been dragged by the wheel. Close call!
Once we finally got to the terraced fields, Tolo showed me how to properly throw seeds for sowing. Apparently, people practice proper seed throwing technique their whole lives and you can look at a pasture and tell immediately if an old seasoned farmer has sowed it by hand or if, well, Jean, has because the field grows evenly and not in clumps. Tolo also told me all about how long it would take the crop to grow and when he would set the sheep in the fields to graze it, or harvest it it with the cycle of the moon in the late spring.
We worked from 10 until 2 in the field and then hiked through thick brush down the valley and then back up the mountain before getting back to the house. I am pooped but so happy. There is so much I want to learn about farming and lucky for me, there is a seemingly endless amount to learn.
A certain “je ne sais quoi”
I get the weekend off of work so I decided to spend the day at the beach. I love European beaches. There is a distinct lack of coolers, beach totes, boomboxes, and beach junk. In fact, the only sound disrupting that of of the waves is the back and forth “pat pat” of beach paddle board, a game I had forgotten about the Euros loving somuch since my days in Martinique.
But even their beach games seem to be scaled down and appropriately sized to the narrow beaches.
People swim lazily in the water, read lazily in the cabanas, and stroll lazily along the sand. The classic European “je ne sais quoi” is precisely that: a lack of something to put your finger on because there is simply less there. Beach bodies aren’t caked in makeup and are delightfully unadorned with gadgets. It’s simply a body on the beach, in the sand and sun. What’s not to love about that?
Spent today putzing around Pollença, the closest town to the farm. I walked down the mountain for an hour and forty five minutes to get to it and enjoyed an afternoon strolling through the labyrinth of medieval streets, checking out the Sunday market, and climbing the 365 stairs up to the Calvari chapel overlooking the town.
Traditional Mallorcan Pam B’oli dinner (bread with olive oil and olives) on the plaza in Pollença last night:
Today was my last day at the farm. I worked until this afternoon and then told Tolo, the goats, chickens, bunnies, sheep, and all the plants and veggies goodbye and headed off to Palma where I’m staying with a lovely woman I found through AirBnB for the night.
I feel like I was just starting to get into the swing of things at the farm, and feel that I could have stayed for at least a month longer. I wanted to do the volunteer program on the farm for many reasons. I wanted to see if I even liked doing manual labor all day (I do). I wanted to see if I even could do manual labor all day (I can). I wanted to experience the restorative energy of nature (I did). I feel healthy and strong and connected to centuries of people who have farmed all over the world.
By Jean Pembleton