this is your second wwoofing stint.
what drew you to this particular farm?
simple: the description where the owner described the farm as being 1200 meters above sea level. 3,937 feet.
the mountains. that is all that was needed to convince you.
also the département is called alpes-maritimes. le 06. the mountain and the sea. you’re still on your search for where they meet.
but actually – these mountains are actually two hours north of the sea. so you will need to search elsewhere.
he raises cows. but not a lot – just enough to collect their milk.
he’s also quite possibly the last person who milks his cows by hand. machinary and technology has woven itself into many lives, but not his. it’s not really a thing of principle – he explains that he hates cleaning those machines, when it is much easier to clean a bucket and jug.
cheese is what he makes with all that milk. but don’t think it’s his bread and butter – he gets government assistance by cutting the grass (for hay) in the surrounding fields in addition to other odd jobs.
self-sustainable is a dream. reality, however, is another thing.
one thing is for sure: you don’t choose to farm unless you truly love it.
because it is easier to make money other ways.
mucking. twice a day, poop needs to be shoveled and dumped outside. oddly enough, when you stand on top of the poop pile, you actually have one of the nicest views.
you aren’t the lone WWOOFer here.
you find yourself constantly gossiping with some of the funniest girls from america. you might not believe it, but the stories about wwoofing from this little mountain paradise only became wackier and wackier. but that’s for one of these three girls to tell one day, as they are much funnier than you are.
it is groseille season. so a lot of picking is done. tarts and cakes are made for dessert too. [redcurrants]
what you really want, however, are the framboises. raspberries. but they will unfortunately be ready long after you’ll have left.
there’s quite a bit to be done around here. weeding. feeding. chopping. collecting. stacking. tying. preparing. chasing. filling. cooking. cursing. lighting. sweeping. wwoofing.
you’re still sick. but those three girls give you the best advice: yogurt and granola. it worked wonders. and now, months later, you find yourself replacing bread and butter with yogurt and granola for breakfast.
in fact, in addition to learning the usual stuff on the farm, you’re learning so much about life from these girls. questions you never dared to ask, questions you’ve kept inside you, questions that finally come out. all around the table, of course. or in the fields. or in the gardens. wherever you are working, you’re also talking.
your favorite task revolves around three petits cochons. piglets.
you’ve secretly named them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. because they are going to grow up delicious. or perhaps bacon, eggs, and ham would’ve been better names.
twice a day you prepare a mixture of biscottes with the leftover lait drained from making cheese. and when the piglets aren’t eating that, they’re munching on the grass around them. [dried bread, milk]
this is also the first (and perhaps) only time you’ve seen a pig outdoors. normally they’re kept indoors all their life, unlike cows or hens or goats or sheep. you’re not sure why pigs are kept indoors, but you’re happy to be somewhere where the owner lets them mature outside.
and when you’re not working…
it is the first time you’ve seen mountains in the summer. you’ve only seen them covered in snow – and this, with all the colors, is a completely different landscape.
what you also love is how unnecessary it is to carry water with you because there is always drinkable water running down from higher up.
these girls are also performers. stand-up, slam, and poetry is their thing.
you never expected to hear one of the best renditions of destiny’s child’s say my name while hiking through the alps in france.
but you did. and your sides still hurt from all the laughing.
this area of the alps is scattered with abandoned farms.
your host explains that they were all working family farms, until the war. WWI or WWII, you can’t remember. and your memory thinks it was because people left to fight and people left to the cities to work in factories… thus there was gradually nobody left to run the farms.
whereas before, entire families would live on their farms and come down from the mountains to the nearest village once a month. or was it once a week.
you’ve got quite an awful memory with facts, which is why history and politics are your weakness when it comes to conversations.
in any case, when hiking these buildings are a fun detour to explore for a bit. or better yet, avoid the rain.
perhaps your favorite thing about rain is the aftermath. petals that have fallen. confetti in the form of flowers that have been pushed down by raindrops. sprinkles that change the color of the ground.
you walk past someone else’s heard of sheep. and this next story, you do remember. the french government decided to reintroduce les loups into the mountains since there were too few. [the wolves]
you can imagine who threw a fit.
sheepherders, of course, because sheep = perfect wolf dinner.
to appease them, the government gave them sheepherding killing dogs.
this is no exaggeration. these dogs are trained to kill anything or anybody or any animal that gets too close to the sheep.
when you hear the growls and the barks, you back far far away because these dogs take their job seriously.
a different day, a different hike.
a discussion about how when nature calls, boys have it so much easier.
is it possible for girls as well? the experiments begin.
you turn your head and focus instead on the landscape.
you trail behind the others because you’re too busy stopping to look at everything purple.
and everything flaky. shale. it must be. you remember identifying it for an exam your freshman year.
those geology classes you took at ut austin are coming in handier than you think.
perhaps also more connected than you think as well, now that you look back. geology. one of your absolute favorite professors. gem and gem minerals. rock climbing. wwoofing in the alpes. hmmm.
that brings you back to your discussion with him years ago at college when you were interrogating anybody and everybody about how they ended up with their current jobs. more importantly, why.
you remember loving his response. “i was a geology student and i loved being outside doing fieldwork, and i needed a job that would keep me outside doing fieldwork. that is basically why i teach geology – to stay outside.”
love of doing something is the best reason to do anything.
if you don’t love it, why are you doing it?
you can’t wait to say hello to him in a few weeks when you head down to austin.
the walk continues.
had someone asked you 10 years ago. 5 years ago. 5 months ago. the question of “mountains or the sea?” you’d have responded “the sea. hands down. the traveling. the movement. the swimming.”
but gradually you are hesitating more and more as you find yourself falling more and more in love with the mountains.
and just like that, your two weeks here have flown by. it is suddenly over. you spend your last day catching four hens and one rooster because a fox ate the previous coop.
then you spend a few days in some cities just to have a look.
your one photo from nice. after being in an idyllic bubble in the alps, nice is too drastic of a change and you find that you can’t stand it.
so you run away to grasse which is more hidden.
here you breathe a bit better.
a pause in a church.
a pause in a perfume factory.
then you spend the night in antibes. couchsurfing. which, in the strangest of strange coincidences, you spend your last time couchsurfing with a person you met your first time couchsurfing.
summer 2008 to summer 2011. you never expected for it to come full circle like that. but life is funny like that, isn’t it?
and you hope – more than anything – that the path you’re on now will only circle back to a place where your heart felt happiest: france.