Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Outside of Walls

It is difficult to farm entirely under Mother Nature’s rules. The very act of tilling up land to plant vegetables or confining animals involves a departure from how things would be left to their own devices in the wild. But we do our best. We do what we can. Of course I’m thinking what you’re thinking. We all have to eat, right? And these are ‘domestic’ plants and animals anyway – they are here because we put them here. But as farmers we have choices and I figure if these beings are going to give their lives to nourish us, we might as well make their living conditions safe, healthy, happy and nutritious.

This season marks the 20th anniversary that I slept outside in a tent for the first time. Incidentally, I learned to pee in the woods at this time too. What is so special about learning to sleep or pee outside, you might ask? Or how is it possible that a girl could continually find a washroom for 20 years without fail? How could she have gone that long without ever once pitching a tent for her slumber?

I remember the day I arrived at a tree planting camp with my white and pink hand-knit sweater, freshly washed hair and glasses that were getting annoying specks of rain on them. The other folks on the crew had also just arrived and it was time to set up camp. We were going to be at this remote site for a month so it was necessary to build a kitchen, outhouses, and a mess tent, and create our own living areas out of tarps, tents and clothes lines. (Most of the crew had bets that this city girl would quit - but because of the physical work, the surroundings, the friendships and the adventure, I returned for seven years).

After a couple of hours on that first day, I had my tent all set up but I really needed to go pee. I recall looking around and wondering exactly how this was to happen. How could I be absolutely sure that nobody would see me? Were there certain spots that made more sense than others? Did I need to go off the path? Bury it? I was so out of my element that I decided to actually wait for the outhouses to be dug. I waited another hour or so. I dared not tell anyone that I did not know how to pee outside.

That first day in the woods was the beginning of a new life for me. It was the awakening to the difference between one plant and another, knowing soils and weather as I know my best friends and having an eye for an animal or a plant hidden in a field. What I saw, smelled and heard in nature was a complete shift from what my senses knew for the first 20 years of my life. My body and mind came alive in this environment. I continued to live my life centered around the outdoors for work, play and adventures for each day that followed.

There was a time that I knew only the feeling of heat reflecting from concrete. I did not notice the smell of exhaust. I existed under artificial light. All of the plants in a field looked like a mass of indistinguishable green. The bird songs melted together with the sounds of crickets or frogs (or traffic for that matter). I took refuge every night under the cover of four walls with windows closed. I did not know what it was like to sleep under the stars. I did not know the sounds of the night. I did not know that sleeping in fresh air, preferably slightly chilly air, gives one the best sleeps ever! I never imagined that I would soon cross paths with a moose, a bear, a porcupine, a beaver, a cougar, a killer whale, an elephant, a gorilla, a wolf eel and many other wonders in their natural habitats.

I learned to wake up at exactly the same time of day without an alarm clock (6:02am). I could walk barefoot anywhere and preferred to have the different textures tickling the bottoms of my feet. I grew immune to mosquito and blackfly bites (but never the sound of them buzzing around my head!).

This journey into awe was complete without the influence of any mind-altering substances, I might add. I am far too much of a control freak to have fit in that way.

It was my brother who inspired me to move from the city of Montreal where I was living and working at the time to the great west coast of Canada to plant trees. As a disgruntled person wanting to get out of the fashion business I was ready to repel myself anywhere that would give me a new, fresh start. My parents were concerned that this was a bad decision for me. THey saw that my ability to be civilized was in jeopardy.

I want to go back and tell that terrified girl who had to pee like the dickens that its all gonna be okay. That everything will work out perfectly. To go into the great unknown as that is where she will find her new home.

I believe that the best places in the world are the ones that don’t have walls. The best places to sleep, eat and be are all outside under the great, big sky. And the farther you are away from those walls, the better it seems to be.

Today I put my pigs into their outdoor pen (including a shed for cover). They are ten weeks old now. When I let them out of the barn, they ran excited circles around each other in their yard of mud, sand piles, grass and straw. I don’t know much about what it is like to be a pig. But now they have the choice to sleep and pee outside in the grass. And they do.

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