one year later

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 Less than an hour later, the blue sea below me having been replaced by green fields and a black tar runway, the plane made its bumpy landing and rolled to a stop.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.

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