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The indestructible spirit of the WWOOFer

A little while ago, I wrote an article for a magazine few people would get to read. It’s the WWOOF Ireland’s official magazine. I walked into the kitchen just the other day to find my own face laughing up at me. A goofier photo of me would have been hard to find! The photo was taken by a fellow WWOOFer, a lovely German girl with an bubbly spirit and a camera attached to her arm. She was relentless and the tiny hedges didn’t provide enough cover for me to hide behind.

Indestructable spirit of the wwoofer article - Corrianne sm

It was with mild surprise that I found they’d published my article. The article in question was inspired by news of one particular WWOOFer who’d moved on from the farm we were at, but it brought to mind many others I’d met and some of the incredible tasks they did with smiles and a healthy dose of fun.

The indestructible spirit of the WWOOFer
by Corrianne Lasevicius

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Long ago, when my friend suggested we try our hand at WWOOFing, my perception of WWOOFers was, at the very least, enormously different from what I have come to know of them. She described them as mostly young people who help out on farms. My imagination filled in the details of sun-kissed youth singing and chatting their way through apple harvests. Now, it’s not as though that never happens, but reality has painted a rather different portrait in my mind. We’ve been WWOOFing for just over a year now. The farms we’ve worked on have varied greatly, as have the hosts, but this article is about those busy ‘worker bees’ who flit though Ireland’s fields and gardens.

My thoughts go back to a German chap who was working with us at one farm. He had just left, but as happens among WWOOFers, we kept in touch for a while. He arrived at his new host, keen on the experience he’d be getting on that farm, as it was very different to the one he’d just left. The morning after his arrival, he went downstairs for breakfast to find the place empty. A note had been left on the table. The family had rushed in to hospital with the host who had suffered a heart attack after finding one of his sheep had been killed in a rather grim manner. The sheep had left behind a new-born lamb, which our intrepid WWOOFer had to care for and care for it, he did.

In what other field would you find a pair of young girls hauling logs that would make many men consider using machines and chains; all the while practicing their song they’d learnt for the local craic? There was the team of 3 who were instructed to empty the ancient glasshouse beds, the thin layer of soil hiding mostly very large rocks, then to fill them with the same plus a generous helping of manure and compost, only to be told to empty them completely for restoration.

Mud, mud, glorious mud! It isn’t just hippo’s that enjoy wallowing in the mud. Ask any Irish farmer and you’ll hear about last year’s rains. WWOOFers waded through it, turning the soil, planting, weeding – an especially delightful task in the mud. None of that came even remotely close to the sheer pleasure of chasing stroppy pigs through mud. For some reason, the same mud that sucks your wellies off has no effect on a prancing pig! We strongly suspected that the pig was enjoying watching the tiny band of WWOOFers struggle through the mud to get to her, knowing it was a futile task and we’d ultimately resort to bribery with juicy beets. Still, you’d often find the WWOOFers stealing a few moments to chat to the pigs or feed them tasty treats from the kitchens.

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In keeping with the theme of Irish weather, the story must be told of the team of WWOOFers who were digging out an entire formal garden to be replanted. In the space of an hour, the weather changed dramatically every five minutes, quite literally. One enterprising WWOOFer decided to time the changes. In that hour, the ever-creative Irish weather threw sun, rain, hail, wind, then more rain, sun, hail and wind at them. It was a source of great amusement and entertainment to that team of workers.

I watched a diminutive Japanese girl overcome her horror at picking sawfly larvae off thorny gooseberry bushes to the extent that she eventually made it her personal mission to eradicate every last one of them. As she went to war on the sawfly, her attacks grew more creative. She bore her scratches by the gooseberry thorns with pride. You have to admire the spirit of the two Italian boys who dug a trench the entire length of a field with trowels. No, we don’t know why they chose to do it with trowels, but we do know that they had plenty of energy to go hiking afterwards.

One of the reasons we opted for our current farm was the goat milking. Having worked with goats before and loved them, sweet darlings that they were, I was keen to befriend another goat. Wait! This one has horns and knows how to use them. If just the right leaves from her favourite tree aren’t offered, she’s likely to use the horns on you. I learnt that the hard way. Day one left me with bruises. Day two left me without milk in the bucket, though the dogs enjoyed the spoils on the floor. I’m pretty sure that it’s the WWOOFer spirit that drove me back to her side for another go on day three. We’re friends now… at least, on days when all the stars are aligned.

Is there any other ‘career’ where the workers drag themselves home at the end of the day, exhausted and bone-weary, but rise to go back to the same work with a spring in their step, chatting and singing all the way… voluntarily?

Indestructable spirit of the wwoofer article - photo 3 small

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Farming, Garden, Ireland, Writing

 

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The Hermitage

Today, I truly feel like a farmer’s wife again. As I sit here, I have a pot of Hermit Soup (a name I’ve just given it… for fun) on the stove – to be served with buttery slices of crusty Killruddery cheese bread.

hermit soup

Jurgis is snoring in front of the fire, sinking ever lower into the couch. We have spent the dark afternoon time watching videos on permaculture planning and design, drawing up elaborate plans involving chickens, vegetables, fruit trees and forests. At this point, I’m relatively content.

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It’s out second day at The Cottage in the Wicklow mountains. We woke up to what we thought was a thick frost layer this morning. It was, instead, thin, icy snow and it stayed. Needless to say, I slipped on an icy log. I consider the place now initiated into my stability. No harm was done, though my dignity suffered yet another blow.

I set up the compost bin today and frittered away 10 minutes picking up pine cones, which are now, hopefully, drying out nicely over the fire. If not, they look decorative(ish). Jurgis has started clearing the pine. That will be a major job. We’ll need to get some serious equipment in to clear the part we’ve demarcated for the veggies and fruit trees. Right now, cleaning and clearing is about as much as we can do… at least until we get to see the owner again. He was meant to arrive last night, then today… maybe tomorrow. Time will tell. I have an internet bone to pick with him *Needs Internet*. The cottage is warm. Barring a fairly serious plumbing issue that was meant to be sorted out today (I think the plumber got lost or something), we’re fairly comfortable. It’s a huge change from the ‘palace’, but has its own compensations.

roundwood

So why hermitage? We’re about 4km away from the nearest village, Roundwood, which boasts a population of 800+ and 5 pubs. Yes, it’s like that. We’ve met one of the local population, a chap who came to drop the top halves of a few pines that were threatening to fall on the cottage. He was nice and is now a familiar face. We’re considering a walk into the village on the weekend to see what it’s like and perhaps meet a few locals.

Life, at this point, is pretty good. Now if I could just get online… I’m missing talking to my little girl.

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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in farm, life

 

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Goodbyes are never easy

I think I have too many blog posts around with that sentiment. Some day, we’ll actually be in one place long enough to avoid having to say that. On the other hand, we are making good friends all over, people who find little niches in our hearts and get comfy there. We’re also not too far from Killruddery, so if we have a mind to, we can go back to visit. To put it mildly, Killruddery was a special place with very special people. We will miss it terribly.

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In spite of the heartsore, we left with good ‘vibes’. The Thursday before we left, we went to dinner with Anthony and Fionnuala. It was a relaxed, informal affair where we chatted about our plans, The Cottage, plans for Killruddery and general waffle as conversations go. Friday was the start of the second weekend of the Christmas Fair, so we didn’t really get to speak at length with anyone. Fair time tends to be a crazy headless-chicken run-around for all staff. Saturday was spent in a futile attempt at packing, knowing all the while that there would be no time to pack on the Sunday. I did, however, manage to fit in a little milk tart making!

Sunday morning, I cleaned up while Jurgis chased deer and fed pigs. We had a lunch date with Lord and Lady Meath. Lunch with the Meaths was unusual, especially as we weren’t ‘regular’ staff. They were wonderful! We had a lovely roast beef dinner with wine. I think I have a new alcoholic passion…. ginger wine! Ooh, it was delicious! It reminded me very much of my old favourite cocktail, the ginger square. Of course, it doesn’t take much to get me to imbibe ginger in any form. We chatted about anything and everything, from deer fencing and pigs to trips along the Garden Route to saving tiger turd in Nepal. Warm, and definitely fond on our part, farewells were said and good wishes abounded before we rushed upstairs in the hopes of getting the roast done before our visitors were due.

We had Mirek and Larissa, our Polish and Russian friends, over for dinner, another wonderful couple to whom I owe a debt of friendship…. even if Mirek ate my mushrooms! I did a pork roast and served milk tart for dessert. We drank to everyone’s health with a fine bottle of pro seco bubbly that was given to Jurgis on his birthday. We’d kept the bottle to celebrate the arrival of his papers, but figured celebrating friendship was a grand occasion to open it. As usual with Mirek and Larissa, we laughed a lot in a variety of languages. It was a good evening. Though I paced the floors for hours afterwards, drifting between intense sadness, happiness and frustration over the still-unpacked goods, I knew all was well and would turn out fine.

Monday, all thoughts of ‘turn out fine’ were forgotten in my wailing and gnashing of teeth over cases that wouldn’t close. I went downstairs to say goodbye to Aislin and Cathrine. Gosh, I’ll miss those girls. Of course, we promised to keep in touch. Finally, the last suitcase umphed itself closed and was dragged downstairs. We came up by the kitchen stairs and left from the main entrance… I think that was a fine way to leave! I said goodbye to my portraits and thanked them for listening to my nightly waffles, joys and frustrations. Anthony and Fionnuala were to take us up to The Cottage in two cars, as they were going on a family trip into the mountains at the same time. Fionnuala very kindly packed us a ‘doggy bag’ of goodies, which, aside from being kind, turned out to be a wonderful thing. That night, we dined on reheated sausage rolls with Killruddery Christmas cake for dessert. Not bad for a first meal. Kindnesses and fond memories were recalled as we settled into our new home.

I drink a toast to friendships forged!

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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in friends, Ireland

 

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