For two months we have been waiting for a good rainstorm. Not a misty, cloudy day that Fanch says is “just enough to grow moldy potatoes”. No, what we have needed is a morning of downpours, an afternoon cloudburst. The kind of deluge where if you are one of the unfortunate ones caught outside your sweater is soaked through in seconds and puddles seem to appear instataneously to soak distracted socks and sneakers as they run for the nearest awning.
We finally received one such storm this morning, while I was at the market with Fañch’s brother Julien. Luckily, he had arrived an hour before me and everything was already set up, including the soon-to-be indispensable parasol. Within a half hour the sky had transformed into one continuous unending blanket of gray, with no hint of sunlight poking through. A pre-rain stillness settled around the merchants as they looked to the sky with apprehension. Not even five minutes passed before the clouds decided that two months was long enough and the rain began to fall.
It continued to pour on and off (though mainly on) all morning. Some of the braver tourists who had come to market stood beneath the merchants’ large white umbrellas, their plastic ponchos and brand-name raincoats dripping. Many of the stands closed up shop before the merchandise had even been unloaded from the vans, as the jewelry sellers and clothing merchants decided it just wasn’t worth it.
At some point, as the wind gusts threatened to blow over our umbrella (as it later did to the strawberry seller next to us), I started to laugh. It was the same laugh that erupts every time I ride a roller coaster, though I have yet to see the correlation between the up and down drops of a Coney Island coaster and the ceaseless drenching rain that characterized our morning.
There is a young fox living at the farm. For weeks the family has talked about how adorable he is, and how seemingly fearless. Jealous of their interactions with the small daredevil, I failed to see him during my various walks around the farm. However, the other day I went to check on the Bretonne Pie Noir calves in the the barn and spotted a quick movement in the the stall on the other side of the building. Sure enough, two small beady eyes and a set of rust colored ears popped up and peered at me from across the barn. Since then, I have seen him nearly every time I return. In the coming weeks I will try and post a picture for up until this point the pictures I have taken have comprised mainly of a blurry bushy tail or a small fox-shaped figure running up the road in the distance. Each time I tried to take one in the barn the lighting wasn’t any good and the curious expression on his face simply blended in with the shadows.
This week the leek seedlings found a new home in the easternmost part of the vegetable field. In a coincidental turn of farm symmetry, I found myself perched upon the ancient creaking iron seat of some sort of planting mechanism. On the same weekend last year I was sitting on the same machine, only planting beet seedlings instead of leeks. Holding a handful of seedlings in our left hands, Fañch and I sat behind spinning rubber disks. As quickly as we could, while still maintaining some semblance of accuracy, we placed the seedlings between the two disks with the roots facing upwards. Then, as Julien pulled us in the tractor the disks spun forward, planting the seedling and burying it in a new row of dirt.
I remember doing this last summer and instantly loving the machine. At that time, I had watched the guys do the work, wishing I could give it a try but still feeling too shy to ask to partake. Eventually they asked if I wanted to try and I eargerly jumped in to help. Something about the simplicity of the machine and the way the heels of my boots nearly dragged in the earth below me as we rattled along caused me to instantly love the entire process.
This last week I found out I hadn’t gotten the job I thought I had but instead of feeling down about it I was secretly relieved. For even though my back ached a bit and my hands were covered in dirt, the leek planting was so much better than an afternoon on a boat with tourists could have been. The entire time I sat beside Fañch in front of those spinning disks I just kept thinking to myself, “I am so glad I am spending my Saturday doing this and not standing with a microphone in front of tourists and their flashing cameras while I scramble to remember which castle is which along the river’s shore”.
So here is to more seedlings, more creaking turns of the iron machine, and more dirt covered hands wrapped around a bundle of leeks.
Exactly one year ago today I woke up in a Bed and Breakfast situated along one of the main roads entering the town of Oxford, England. I had set my alarm for 7am but by 6am I was wide awake and counting down impatiently for the moment my taxi would arrive outside the nondescript black and white brick building.
By midday I was on a plane, picking up speed as the tiny aircraft rattled down the runway. Less than an hour later, the blue sea below me having been replaced by green fields and a black tar runway, the plane made its bumpy landing and rolled to a stop. A quick pass through customs, where the customs agent hardly glanced at me before handing back my passport with a fresh stamp inked inside, and I was in Brittany.
When I exited the baggage claim and saw Fañch walk forward to greet me, I had a completely different idea of how the following year would play out. Today I find myself looking back over the last 365 days and being stunned at where I am now versus what I had envisioned. I had been under the delusion that the French bureaucratic system would not be nearly as terrible as the rumors made it out to be, that I would have my apartment after a couple weeks, my residency permit by September, a job by October, and be making steady student loan payments while going to school. I figured I would spend weekends either at the farm or in Brest with Fañch and maybe go back to the States for most or all of this summer.
Instead, the first six weeks went by before I even visited an apartment, preferring to discover a little bit more of the farm each day while quickly becoming closer to Fañch’s family. I certainly had not counted on the fact that some weeks my Master’s program would consist only of 6 hours a week of unorganized and inconsistent class time. After months of waiting, exchanging emails, making photo copies, and assembling documents, I finally had my residency/work permit…at the end of March. And while I found a few hours of work a week as a nanny starting back in March, it was not until this weekend that I found a full-time (albeit seasonal) job.
However, despite all the unforeseen challenges, changes, and kinks in the original plan, I would not want to be anywhere else, doing anything else, than where I am right now (though don’t get me wrong, there are moments I would give anything to be in Decorah, at the co-op, listening to Andrew Bird while waiting for the café to finish cleaning before locking up).
When I was in elementary school my mom would have to wait for me at the bus stop on the last day of school each year. After the yearbooks had been signed, desks emptied, and final hugs with the teacher had been given, I would clamber down the bus steps in tears. Simply put, I loved school so much that the reassuring “don’t worry, you’ll be back again in a few months”, did nothing to assuage my feelings. Fast-forward twelve years or so and while I had cut back on the tear output, the end of the academic year always made me sad. So, when I decided to study anthropology I said to myself, why not just stay in school forever? First step Luther, next step grad school (maybe a Folklore Degree from Berkeley?), and finally, return to Luther, but this time as an educator.
Instead, here I am; sitting in front of a computer in a farmhouse whose foundation dates to the 17th century, having just come inside from herding 60 cows in from pasture for their evening milking. You can ask my freshmen year roommate, the 2014 Iowa State Dairy Princess, and she will assure you, those are certainly not words I would have ever foreseen myself saying.
During the last year I have tried two different programs at the university, searched for jobs in the thriving tourism industry here, and grappled with the question of “what do I want to do with my life now?” Seeing as the university system here left me disillusioned with a future in French academia, I had to figure out a new plan. As weeks went by and I continued to tell myself that tourism was surely the place for a bilingual expat like me, I found myself feeling less and less excited by the idea. Instead of reading about art history, I found myself waiting in a barn for four hours stubbornly refusing to leave before I saw my first calf birth. Rather than write my 63rd cover letter for a job posting that elicited an apathetic shrug and a “why not?”, I spent the morning filling a crate with fresh-picked green beans to sell at the market.
Now here I am, more sure than ever that my future ultimately involves me living and working at Enez Raden, a farm whose Breton name means “Fern Island”. I’m still not entirely sure what my role will entail but for the time being I am more than happy to continue on this path of constant exploration and discovery.
During the earth’s latest rotation around the sun, I have reflected over and over on what I used to want for myself, what I currently want, and what I may want in the future (though as several of you have pointed out, this third one isn’t worth fretting over). All I can say with any sense of sureness, is that I want to be a part of all that happens here on the farm. And while I stumble along, learning more in an afternoon with Fañch and his family than I did all year in an ancient art history class, I will be writing consistently on this new blog. My posts will be about my experience on the farm and all the goings-on at Enez Raden. So while academia may be sliding out of the picture, a new adventure has not ceased to unfurl since last July 12th, when I arrived at Fern Island Farm.