I stopped waiting for instructions after the third day when I realized I wasn’t going to get any. I didn’t know it then, but that first morning as I casually followed Tina, Kai and Lill’s daughter, around the farm, was the only tutorial I would get. The work is simple enough, provided you have common sense and an understanding of basic animal needs, but I have this thing where I like to at least feel like I am doing things right and doing them well. As far as instructions go, Lill and Kai simply said, “Just look with your eyes. You’ll see what needs to be done.”
Not gonna lie, I was worried about the confidence they put in my eyes. I may have been born on a farm, but 1981 was a long time ago. As I started to become familiar with my surroundings though, I found they were right. Water buckets dirty? Clean them. Empty? Fill them. Chicken coops look dirty and smell dirtier? Clean them. Cow in the road? Put it back with the other cows. It’s a farm. There is always something that needs doing.
So every morning I let the ducks and geese out of their safe-from-the-fox nighttime houses. The cows come down from the mountains, bellowing in expectation of their morning vegetables. The ducks and geese waddle around, following my bucket of day-old bread and can’t-sell-in-supermarket vegetables, donated by local grocers because it’s cheaper if farmers take it off their hands than having to rid of it themselves (bonus: nothing gets wasted). I check food and water levels in the baby chick cages, the hen-house and the individual coops. I peek in on the sheep and nurse my baby lambs (absolutely the best part of my day). And then I look with my eyes and see what else needs to be done.
I walked into the hen-house one morning and was greeted by the sharp smell of urine. My eyes confirmed what my nose discovered: wood shavings in several cages soaked in urine and chicken poo, because that’s what happens when you shit wherever you want. Fun chicken fact: Chickens DO in fact pee. I googled this after I was almost knocked out by the urine smell because I had actually never seen a chicken pee. Turns out, “all three parts are usually passed in one go after they are stored together in the cloaca. The ‘poo’ bit is a brownish to greenish colour, depending on what you are feeding the chickens. The surrounding white bit is the uric acid part. It is made by the liver and is not soluble in water. The third part is urine. It might be a little less obvious to see, but if you find a dropping on newspaper, you should see it as the watery “wet bit” around other 2 parts.” Well. Now you know. Anyway, after feeding I began the glamorous task of shoveling out the poo, replacing the cage with fresh wood bits.
“You know it’s just going to get dirty again.”
I continued to aggressively scrape at the chicken shit stuck to the floor, feeling a weird sort of satisfaction as it dislodged before I glanced up at the other volunteer.
Seriously? No shit. That’s where the whole concept of ‘cleaning’ comes from. Things are clean, then things get dirty, and you clean them. Your clothes get dirty. Should you never wash them, on account they will get dirty again? Why do you shower? Is it because you are dirty and you smell and you want to clean yourself, even though you know you will need another shower in the future? THIS IS THEIR HOME, DAMMIT! And it smells like urine! Do you enjoy walking around in urine and shit?
That’s what I wanted to say.
I’ve been on the farm for almost two weeks and within a day it became painfully obvious that the other volunteer and I had completely different priorities. He is in Norway to learn the language in hopes of eventually landing a job in shipping (or something), with no desire to work with animals (he told me he specifically did not check the Animal Care box on his Workaway profile — why on earth he would choose to come to a working farm with so many animals is beyond me), but instead work on other “projects.” I am well aware farms have no shortage of projects. Farming itself is a 24/7 “project.” And maybe some projects don’t involve animals. But so, so many do.
Me? I am not looking for employment, or trying to learn the language to the point of meaningful communication. Actually, I am not trying to get anything specific out of this arrangement, though undoubtedly I will leave with so much more than I came. The whole point of quitting my job was to stop getting and start giving. I am simply here to help with whatever needs helping, whenever the helping is needed. I will pick stones from the field to get it ready for planting. I will nurse baby lambs if their mum will not (I am currently the proud mother of two). I will feed the ducks, the chickens, even Mean Goose and Badass Turkey, and yes, I will happily scrape chicken shit from the coops, even if it has to be done again in a few days. And what’s more, I will enjoy it, and not only because of these sweet new farm muscles it is creating. I love everything farms are about, and I love being a part of one.
I grew up with a father who is whatever the exact opposite of lazy and complacent is. You never made the mistake of telling him you were bored. If you did, it wasn’t a mistake you made again. On the inside of the front door of the small house I spent most of my childhood, was a worn piece of paper that said something like:
Are not words
My father was born and raised on a farm and eventually became a dairy farmer himself, and I was lucky enough to spend the first four years of my life as the farmer’s daughter. Farmers have this unparalleled work ethic, this quiet drive, this knowledge that there are things to be done and this awareness of how to do them. And my dad is no different, on and off the farm. He saw the dirty dishes in the kitchen, why couldn’t you? He saw the yard needed to be mowed. He saw your room was a disaster. You shouldn’t have to be told to do these things. You should just know to do them. Look with your eyes. That’s what they’re there for.
A couple of days ago we were asked to dig up berry bushes to replant in another location. I was eyeing up the four short rows of bushes and cringed when I heard the other volunteer complain to Kai, “But that is going to take all day.”
Did he really just say that? Out loud? Clearly, he did not grow up in the Kowalski household. Because in the Kowalski household, you don’t complain. If you forget where you are and a complaint squeaks out, whatever you were complaining about just got worse.
There is a place for speaking your mind and giving your opinion. This isn’t really that place. Not when you are living in an amazing house in a beautiful country, and being served delicious home-cooked Norwegian meals every night, all in exchange for five hours or less of manual labor. I mean, that’s kind of what we – or at least I – signed up for. I have no idea what he thought he was signing up for.
But I’m not sure he’s cut out to be the farmer’s daughter.