While it wasn’t penciled into my itinerary, I’m glad I took the time to stop by Petrified Forest National Park on the way to the Grand Canyon. I gained an hour moving north west after Roswell, and swung into the park office to see what I could accomplish as quickly as possible. Fortunately, most of the scenic areas of the park were on a large driving loop, so I was able to crush the north half of the space in just about an hour.
There were a few interesting points along the drive. You hit the highest peak, accessible by car pretty quickly in the drive, though when I pulled up there was an enormous swarm of flying ants making the overlook inaccessible, unless you wanted to inhale a little extra protein for the afternoon. Along the same northern loop was an outpost built by Fred Harvey and renovated Mary Coulter. There was a bunch of information about Harvey and his enormous sprawling hospitality industry. To briefly introduce the man, he built a fortune around early american hospitality in the midwest, as transportation and tourism began to bring mass anglo populations westward. This included fine dining establishments called Harvey Houses, a near monopoly of dining services on trains, and my favorite enterprise, Indian Detours, which my family owned from 1926-1968, a story you Must hear in my series of posts on my time in Santa Fe.
Travelling south from the upper loop, you pass a site of historic Route 66, and over the Santa Fe railroad, both of which were extremely significant to Harvey’s regional dominance (clearly so excited to tell that story). Eventually you come to Newspaper Rock, a pretty incredible petroglyph collection scraped and chiselled into the side of boulders just down from a small outcropping. While you can’t get close to them, you can make out some of the symbols with the naked eye, and the park provides moderately helpful binoculars. It was wild to be faced with a form of symbolic communication and storytelling from 2,000 years ago.
“The petroglyphs were created by ancestral Puebloan people living, farming, and hunting along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago. Some of the ancient artists may have lived at Puerco Pueblo, located less than one mile north of this site.” – National Park Service
Since I only spent an hour here, I’ll leave a deeper consideration to the space to someone who was more dedicated to exploring this space, but will say that what I saw contributed greatly to the transformation and of my perspective on this beautiful world of ours.
Once I was able to pry myself out of the iron grasp of Santa Fe, with which I have totally fallen in love, it was time to start making my way to the Grand Canyon. Rolling hills with adobe abodes gave way to wide expanses of arid desert terrain with the occasional rocky peak jutting out of the earth like a knife cutting the crust from beneath. While it wasn’t on my itinerary, I started seeing signs for Petrified Forest National Park, and since I gained an hour by crossing the last westward time zone of my trip, I decided to swing in and get my eyes on the space, if only for an hour. I have a few words and images from my literally one hour stop there in my Park Tour 2K16: Petrified Forest National Park blog post.
My arrival at the Grand Canyon continued the trend of rolling in after sunset, completely unable to see anything, and meandering around until I found a place to stay. There’s a big commercial blob right outside of the park, with golden arches, tourist shops, and theme restaurants lining a main drag that led Right up to the entrance to the park. These blobs… they’re everywhere. I think the largest one I’ve seen was outside of the north entrance to the Smokies. They pollute the air, the light pollution is pretty disastrous, and they preface human exposure to some of the most beautiful vistas the world has to offer with the distraction of neon lights and one last opportunity to practice our consumer addiction. That said, I hypocritically car camped in the parking lot of a nice hotel nearby, rather than bumbling around the nearby national forest in the middle of the night. I would have definitely gotten a much better night’s sleep if I had taken the advice of the ranger with whom I spoke en route and made camp off a dirt road not 5 miles south of town.
Morning came and before the sun rose I was getting ready to escape the toursit trap and get as deep as possible into this insanely powerful gorge in the earth. This being the Fourth of July, and given my past experience with national parks on national holidays, I decided to get in as early as possible, before families, and children, and tourists, and folks who habitually overestimate their endurance and underestimate the disruptive power of their howling voices, crowd the trails and veil what could be a more meaningful, natural, and solitary moment of recording, reflection, and introspection. I parked, prepared water and food, and took the blue line to the red line for about an hour trip out to Hermit Trail on the West end of the South Rim. I shared the bus with one passenger, and the driver, with whom I had some really interesting conversation about the commercialization of nature, population flow into parks on holidays, and the way vacation decisions might trend with the economy – all topics I would love to loop back around to when I pursue a more academic evaluation of this larger journey.
“Hermit Trail descends 7.8 miles to the historic site of Hermit Camp, a popular destination for early canyon hikers. Hermit Trail intersects the 80-mile Tonto Trail. A spur trail from Hermit Creek Camp follows Hermit Creek an additional 1.5 miles to the Colorado River at Hermit Rapid.” -National Parks Service
7.8 miles in the Grand Canyon is not a walk in the park. I’ve been hiking double that distance in 7 hours, but a trek that long, with intense elevation changes, and given the difficulty of the trails, is an overnight backpack. I also had to drive to Phoenix, AZ after whatever hike I did, so I landed on the 5 mile round trip hike down to Santa Maria Spring and back up to the trailhead. This was a 1,680 ft descent over 2.5 miles to the site of a spring and little shack for rest and shade… and then 2.5 miles right back up.
The hike down was demanding. I’m used to a descent coming at the end of a long day hike, and even then, depending on the state of the trail, I’ll usually run most of it to cut time back to camp. Not the case. Not it at all. Each step was at least a foot down from one rock or log to another, and usually onto loose shale. My pace was slow, my eyes were down, constantly scanning for my next foot placement. I stopped frequently so as not to miss the view of the canyon, growing more impressive as my perspective changed after every switchback. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get down to Santa Maria Spring, putting my pace slightly lower than 1.5 mph, a full mile per hour lower than my typical trail speed.
The site of the spring was beautiful. A much needed reprieve and rest stop exactly halfway through my trek (obviously, since the second half was the same trail back up). There were two log benches and a large adirondack chair, along with a ‘survival box’ that also had trail logs for hikers to record a thought or two about their experience. I wrote a Happy Independence Day message, and a little bit about the trajectory of my summer national parks adventure. Then on the last page, I recorded my horrible paraphraseing of my favorite quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I also took a nap in the shelter. A half hour nap in the Grand Canyon. So dreamy. I awoke to two international travellers settling down for lunch, with whom I chatted about all the national parks we’d been to. They were as impressed with Bryce and Zion as I was, and had also hiked the Angel’s Landing trail – my last national holiday/national park romp.
I took a moment to hydrate and prepare for the hike back up the canyon, imagining the enormous steps I would be taking up the manufactured and natural rock staircase leading 1,680 feet back up to the trailhead. Expectedly, the second half of this hike took significantly longer than the first – 2.5 hours for a 2.5 mile climb, dropping my pace by 1/3 and requiring a lot more water. Thankfully I was prepared with enough food, water, and had stretched enough that when I got back up I was in decent shape, if not slightly more drenched than I had expected.
This trail was everything I needed. I ran into a total of about 10 people the whole time, and was only frustrated by the obnoxious howl of one large party, which I passed and left in the dust, intentionally escaping their noise. The views were spectacular. The morning was spent in the shade of the canyon with the north face illuminated brilliantly by the rising sun. Stripes of layered sediment, cut into by millennia of weathering, exposed countless colors, and brilliantly framed the distant canyons of this massive system of gorges, basins and outcroppings. Occasionally I hit parts of the trail where red rocks hung overhead, giving you a heightened feeling of being encapsulated by the earth. Lizards scurried across the path as I approached their morning sun bathing rocks, and one father and son pair even pointed out a scorpion to me as we passed each other. There have been few spaces where photos even begin to convey the titanic landscapes, or the feeling of comparative insignificance, and the Grand Canyon was not an exception to that trend. The few meager offerings in this gallery will give you the roughest of ideas about what it’s like to hike into the canyon, but to feel the power of this place in your bones you really have to get there and test yourself with a trek down the side, perhaps in the off season, and with a bit more time to explore – remember this is only one trail on the enormous South Rim, and from what I’ve heard the North Rim is the place to be.
Overall this day was a great success, and I was able to get myself out of the park by 1 pm, giving me plenty of space on the road, and all the daylight I needed to get down to Phoenix – my next stop on the way to San Diego. Trail hiking alone is fun, but I also can’t wait to meet up with my friend Maia to hit as many forests and parks between San Diego and Santa Fe – namely Yosemite – in the week+ she has to visit.
Hello friends near and far! I’ve picked a few of my favorite pictures from Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas to share with you. This breathtakingly surreal display of towering mesas and mountains, surrounded by lumbering hills in all directions gave me chills at every turn of the trail.
The Chisos Basin campground was my home for two nights. I rolled in – as has been the trend of late – after sundown so I couldn’t see Anything around me and was in for a jaw dropping sunrise the next morning.
I spent two days hiking and exploring some of the best of what the park has to offer. After collecting the advice of adventure bloggers and the all-knowing park rangers, I decided to hike the 15 mile South Rim Trail – where the majority of these pictures are from. The trail brought me to the highest peak in the park, Emory Peak, which was a difficult ascent and then a moderately strenuous rock climb for the last 20-30 meters or so. The resulting panoramas, surrounded by sheer cliffs are permanently emblazoned in my mind, and I hope they appear for years to come in my dreams.
The gallery concludes with a few images from the Santa Elena canyon, where the Rio Grande has carved its way down leaving an winding, watery trail, mostly inaccessible by foot, but beautiful and awe inspiring nonetheless.
Capstone is a small non profit that has taken previously blighted or vacant lots in the Lower Ninth Ward and developed them into productive gardens and orchards. Located in part of a food desert Capstone grows and provides food at no cost to those who need it. We also assist others in start their own gardens or allow others to garden on our lots as we have space available.
When I reached out to David Young of Capstone Community Gardens about potentially spending some time with him as a WWOOFer this summer, his response was intense and momentarily derailing. 2 weeks, the timeline I had allocated to each work exchange arrangement, was well below his advised threshold, and for reasons that I have since integrated into my overall approach to communities, and most importantly, the lives of which they’re composed.
While he was willing to work with my timeline, his advice was centered on the folks which his organization serves. A stay as short as 2 weeks can be perceived as a disingenuous attempt at connection, potentially self-serving, and ultimately it denies both the community and the volunteer the powerful experience of seeing the work of your hands come to fruition. Bottom line, 2 weeks is not enough time to make a substantial impact, and does not allow the important questions, and more meaningful work of community development to rise to the surface and take hold of all parties involved.
I agree whole heartedly, and while I paraphrase what was actually said, the attention and care he obviously had for his community was refreshing and inspirational. I responded accordingly, requesting that we make a simpler arrangement and just meet for one day to try and get some exchange going without making commitments that neither of us were interested in. And that was the ticket. I kept in touch with Dave and worked with him to arrange a site visit and morning of volunteering with some of his regulars.
I arrived in the Lower 9th Ward one very rainy Saturday morning, and met two folks from the church with which this operation is affiliated. We got right to work bottling about 50 lbs of honey from Capstone’s many hives spread out amongst the neighborhood lots. I was used to the process after doing similar work with Suzy at The Feral Woman’s Garden, so we made quick work of the batch and had a nice time sharing stories and bonding over mutual interests like travel and local New Orleans culture.
Once the honey was bottled and labelled, Dave’s guests left which gave us some time to get better acquainted. I got the tour of the house including the truly amazing, and extremely well organized aquaponic system he had out back. The property, as small as it was, was a fascinating example of polyculture in practice. He had chickens and goats beside this beautiful aquaponics set up, and then quite a few bee hives behind all that. The plants in the aquaponic system seemed to be thriving, being fed nutrient rich water from the pond which was filled with koi and sunfish. I got to dig into financial matters, which I won’t share here in case of inaccuracies, but it gave me a new level of confidence to find a person who had dug deep into the process of building, found ways to save and get financing, and turn that hard work into a sustainable operation.
After the tour of the house we loaded into his truck and left on a drive by of some of the vacant lots he and the community had worked to convert into gardens. Some of the spaces are featured in the gallery below – the quantity isn’t huge as I was engrossed in conversation and deep in observation mode rather than documentarian mode.
Beyond observing gardens, and learning a bit more about how to build an aquaponics system, I gained a sincerely humbling perspective on the restoration of the Lower 9th Ward. This community, ravished by hurricane Katrina, is still struggling, in a big way, to get back on its feet. It’s been a decade since the disaster wiped peoples’ houses off the face of the earth, taking with it their livelihoods, savings, and stability. So much of the area is still empty, with past residents unable to afford building a new home. The fractured area is seldom featured on the news; as a nation, we’ve left the Lower 9th to hold itself together. It’s difficult to express the gambit of emotions this solemn vista brought up in me. Disappointment at a system using so much money and time to fail so many people so utterly. Grief for the loss of life, confidence, and stability that the individuals and family units experienced, and continue to experience. A longing to stay and contribute my time and this massive pool of positive energy I’ve been building within myself. Reflection on a decade’s old urges to come down to this place, especially in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane… urges that were pushed aside to pursue the educational prescription that was laid out before me. These feelings ran deep; they remain in me weeks later, and I imagine will be metamorphosized, refracted through the lens of experience through time. I will remember forever my first time driving down streets speckled with houses destroyed, homes rebuilt, brand new buildings with grand intentions supported by flimsy execution and follow through – a food desert all around, doing everything it can to stand back up despite continuing waves of struggle and hardship.
How fortunate this community is, then, to have a force like Dave and Capstone working to provide a source of stability, a glue (like the honey he produces) that is persistently working to bind people to one another and to the land. Seeing a small bounty rising from the rubble of old vacant lots illuminated the gradual process of rebuilding the region. Like the plants growing in the soil, the dynamic people tending them need multifaceted attention and partnership that extends beyond writing a check, or building financially unsustainable housing projects. The gardens Dave runs are helping people in the short term by providing them space to produce for themselves and their families, and are also doing work in the long term. This gives parties involved something to be proud of in times when pride and confidence have been shaken, they contribute to the building of self sufficiency in a space where aid has been insufficient, and put the land itself, which was viciously wiped clean of homes and livelihoods, to work to rebuild a community more secure in its food sources, and ultimately more connected with itself.
Dave works not only with residents directly, but also serves as an educator to large groups, especially when universities send their masses on alternative spring breaks. Experience has sculpted this leader into an exceptional source of information and knowledge, capable of shaping hearts and minds, and extending the range of his influence outside the Lower 9th and back into the communities of those who come to learn and grow with him.
I hope one day to look back on my life and achievements and say that it was put to good use. That my time was spent healing, building, growing, educating, (insert any number of positive feedback inducing verbs). While I didn’t get to spend too much time with him, Dave’s dedication to the community, to which he is such an amazing steward, allowed me to look a true leader in the eyes – someone who stands by and protects the work they’re doing, and proves it through years of intentional and fruitful service. His advice about thoughtlessly engaging with a community, storming in with big ideals supported by shaky foundations, did not fall on deaf ears, and I’ll continue to apply that insight for years to come.
Two weeks in Louisiana at Vinny Mendoza’s farm ‘Super Natural Organic Farms of America’ taught me a Lot about the resilience of the human spirit in light of extremely challenging circumstances. The Mendoza family farm was struck by fire earlier this year, destroying much of their structural achievement on the property, and Then wiped out by a flood a few months later. You’ll see some of the results in the first few pictures of this gallery. Rather than ruminate on what was, and the hand they’d been dealt, this family has done an admirable job of maintaining a positive, forward looking demeanor, something which Vinny and his wife Estella contributed to my overall growth trajectory on this journey. They’re in a period of rapid rebuilding and expansion, which I’m glad I was able to contribute to, if only in some small way.
The farm still has a beautiful hoop house full of Moringa, one of the world’s most valuable super foods. There is also a chicken coop which I’ll call an aviary sanctuary due to its diversity of residents. In the back of the property is a guest house / cabin which has been used by WWOOFers in the past, and which I made my most time consuming project during my stay. I love leaving a place better than I found it, so check out the progression of the stucco work I did on the exterior. This project had me utilizing the available resources around me, forcing a bit of ingenuity and certainly a lot of patience. Within the first 4 nails, the nail gun broke, leaving me with about 1,000 more to hammer in by hand. Stucco concrete mix usually takes quik crete, fine grain sand, and water, but we used moderately sifted driveway sand which had a bit of gravel mixed in making it difficult to apply to the metal wire frame. Step by step I got closer to the finished product, spending a few hours each day (that it wasn’t raining) carefully working out the most efficient procedure for the materials I had to work with. Eventually I got the walls looking damn fine, if I do say so myself, as even as possible, nice clean edges and concrete pushed neatly into the corners… and then came the paint. Another instance of working with what we had, a 5 gallon bucket of baby-blue and a little less than a gallon of a grey. You can see the results in the gallery. I think with a bold complimentary trim it will do. The next step is up to whoever the next WWOOFer is.
I had my choice of housing accommodations. A loft above the tank house for the aquaponic system that was too low for my 6’4″ frame but had wifi, the cabin in the back of the property which did not have wifi, or the trailer-camper that we used as a base of operations, and had excellent wifi. I opted for the trailer, and was very comfortable there.
I spent a lot of time alone on the farm. The family would arrive in the morning, we would all work on various projects throughout the morning and afternoon on different parts of the farm, meet back up for a late lunch and then they would head back to their house in New Orleans usually before dinner time. That gave me a LOT of time alone actually. Definitely too much for my hyper-social personality to deal with. I spent my time reading, trying to keep up with writing, working out a bit, and mostly making some extra money to stash away using Amazon Mechanical Turk. If you haven’t heard of MTurk, it’s an online marketplace where businesses and developers can post tasks, usually things that AI is not capable of handling yet, and workers can complete them on their own time, for a small reward. Most of the work I was doing was transcribing audio for a company called Crowd Surf Support. Not the most rewarding work, but at least it’s predominantly current affairs, so I got to listen to and type out sound bites from vlogs, the US Open, graduation speeches etc. I made about $100 in two weeks… again, not a great way to make your millions, but when the goal is to work remotely, at a slow pace, and with little effort, MTurk is an interesting little option. Shout out to Ryan Keane, who I became friends with while working for Amazon in Pittsburgh for turning me on to the service.
There was one aspect of this stay I could have worked harder on, and that was providing some feedback or input on a project that Vinny has had in the works for a few years. At his request I won’t go into details, but this wonderful idea has been worked on by WWOOFers and professionals alike, all contributing to the growth and diversity of something that will hopefully come to fruition soon – a work of social entrepreneurship that has potential to help a lot of people. Vinny asked me to look over it, which I did, and the work I could see myself contributing reminded me a lot of the strategic planning I tried to do in my (too) many campus activities in undergrad. I know there will be a time in the near future when I’m comfortable adding my insights to such an endeavour, but at the time I was still forming my understanding of organic gardening/farming, and developing perspective on the intersection of agriculture and community development, the vein in which the project lies. Inserting yourself into a space in which you aren’t comfortable can be a fantastic growth experience, but also brings with it potential to skew and damage a mission if that insertion is premature. This is a lesson I’ve been learning at every stop, and one you can read more about in my Capstone Community Garden post. Contributing to this wonderful effort would have been moving beyond the learning phase I’m in, and into application too soon, and I’m glad that after discussing this with Vinny, he understood.
This stay taught me a lot, and allowed me to slow my pace and consider my place in this world of small scale agriculture I’m working on entering smoothly. The story of persistence in the face of great turmoil that I found at Super Natural Organic Farms of America, and also in the surrounding region, shook something in me. It reminded me that every challenge we face in life prepares us to handle all future challenges with greater poise and fortitude. We all experience an endless journey of soaring peaks and sunken valleys from birth to death. The valleys take a combination of faith that there will be brighter days, and active contribution to the course of our lives to move through, and the way we navigate those spaces tells a lot about the strength of character, and resilience of the human spirit. It was moving, uplifting, and educational to find two wonderful humans navigating one of those times with a grace and dedication that will bring them many brighter days to come.
We all have horror stories about the worst sickness that ever befell our poor unfortunate selves. Mine happens to be my Junior year of undergrad when I got Mono and Strep at the same time and lost 25 pounds. But, how often do we really hear tales of triumph over vicious maladies, folks cheering “I kicked bronchitis to the curb!” It feels like the archetypal image that comes to mind when we think about being sick is a sweat drenched human, coughing up whatever yellow creature is sitting on their chest, wrapped in blankets, on the couch, chicken soup in hand, and a bucket at the ready. Well, I’m young and vital, and ain’t nobody got time for that. My vitality, however, was put to the test when I was diagnosed with the flu One Day before leaving my first WWOOFing stent of Summer 2016. This is a tale of triumph against great odds (at least that’s what I’m telling myself while imagining some shining night hero self-image), and of how the use of a little known herbal remedy crushed the flu in 3 days.
The second week into staying at The Feral Woman’s Garden, I started feeling a little slow, a little achey, and sore all over. I thought it must just be my body adjusting to the long, physically demanding hours of farm work. But after a couple nights of stretching before bed and throughout the day, eating the most healthy, hyper-local, organic produce I possibly could, I started to consider the unhappy alternative – that I could be coming down with something. Suzy and I got pretty concerned after discussing the possibility of these being Lyme symptoms after I had to pull a single tick off of my neck the previous week, and quickly looked up the nearest Urgent Care to send me on my way to get checked out.
The Urgent Care in Watkinsville diagnosed me with the flu with great expediency and overwhelming pride in ANOTHER successful flu diagnosis by the sole house doctor. Apparently, the Atlanta Jazz Festival I was at that weekend was a seething pit of influenza, and I was one of hundreds of recipients of its draining, exhausting kiss. Gross. I left with a script for Tamiflu, Tylenol with Codine, and a Z-pack – the grand total for which, out of network, would have been $300.
Checking the considerable privilege I’ve known in my life, my present circumstances allowed me the space to consider what it is like to be faced with the imminent physical onslaught of the flu – the nausea, vomiting, fevers, aches and pains, and not have the disposable income to prevent, or even shorten the duration of such a dismal immediate future. The thing is, this happens to families every day. Hard working folks who, despite consistent hard work and saving, could be completely derailed by something as small, yet fearsome, as a virus.
My budget is tight. My budget does not have wiggle room, let alone a $300 chunk for one time use items like pills and syrups. I quickly accepted that things were about to get very uncomfortable for me, and that I needed to consider my timeline, my options, my upcoming obligations and commitments. I left the pharmacy counter with nothing but the script in my pocket, feeling like my body was a castle about to come under siege and I was saving up all my reserves of physical, mental, and emotional strength to weather the night.
It didn’t take 2 minutes after I got back
to the farm for Suzy to recommend an herbal remedy, the praises of which she had been singing since my arrival: Andrographis. Now, she described this as an antiviral, antibacterial, fungicidal, heal all, with an ancient history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. This stuff is heralded as the ender of the flu of 1914, and a safeguard against the plague in eastern countries. She gave me a heavy plastic baggie of the tablet form of the crushed plant, and advised that I take 2 tablets every 12 hours for the first two days and then reduce to 1 every 12 hours after that. She also noted that the nickname for this plant is the King of Bitters, and that I should not prolong contact in my mouth or I’d be met with a most regrettable bitter taste.
That night was rough. I had fevers, and woke up sweating so many times, despite the light covers and air conditioning blasting cold air right onto my weak body, begging for sleep. The following morning was departure day, as I had committed to being down in Louisiana with Vinny Mendoza, my next WWOOF host in 3 days. My plan had been to head back into Atlanta, check out the Botanical Gardens and Fern Bank Museum, and bop around parks and breweries… but I looked and felt like death, every pore of my body was sweating, and it took everything I had to slowly lug all my possessions to the car and get on the road.
I started to make my way toward Atlanta, on the off chance that I might find some swell of energy and accomplish my goals for the end of my stay, and that’s when things got really bad. I started getting nauseous, and unmanageably tired. I had sweated through my shirt with my AC on high. All signs pointed toward hazard and I committed to stopping. I pulled off the road, and called home for a little help focusing my thoughts around posting up in a hotel because this wretched body would not carry me any further. Within an hour I was comfortably on a king size bed at a Quality Inn, to the tune of $150 flying out of my pocket.
That $150 bought me a safe place to stay while I slept and hydrated, but the real hero of the story is the Andrographis I continued to take through the duration of my stay. It’s the only “med” I took, the whole time I was focusing all my mental and emotional energy on recovering, and recovery happened Shockingly fast. Yes, I was nauseous a couple times but never actually got sick. Yes, I woke up with fevers in the night and drank tea and loaded up on blankets to sweat it out. And after 2 days of being Very still, and watching a Lot of game of thrones, I was feverless, feeling stronger, back on my feet, and just barely ready to get in the car and make the 7 hour drive down to Louisiana to rendezvous with Vinny before my next 2 week farm stay.
I continued taking the Andrographis for a couple days, and those few days of crippling illness faded into memory as I continued waking up early, and putting in long hours of project work, weeding, and animal care on the farm.
I’m going to continue to take this fantastic supplement, as needed, and with consideration of use guidelines, and Highly recommend you check it out for yourself. It saved me a Lot of money, and helped me recover from what could have been a wicked flu when time was of the essence.
Here’s a link to Andrographis on WebMD because let’s be honest you were going to use WebMD anyway. And Suzy, who, remember has been using this stuff for years, recommended at one point referring to Gaia Herbs as well.
Be well and stay healthy!
I present a week in the life of a WWOOFer at Suzy Compere’s 8 acre organic farm in Bostwick, Georgia. This space has been demanding and enormously rewarding, and I’m thrilled to look back on one week’s worth of accomplishments and growth. The prevailing theme of these entries is the passing crisis moment during which the urgent dominates the important. For those without the attention span for this post here’s a brief video recap:
A cloud of dusty red sand followed me down the road as I approached my first WWOOFing venue of the summer. Suzy’s property shares a driveway with some colorful neighbors, who I met as a result of passing her front gate. When I made it on to the property I was greeted by 4 moose-sized gentle-giant Great Pyrenees dogs, and a big hug from my host and her new employee, Katie.
A brief tour ensued. Up to the raised bed gardens to taste some of her outstanding herbs. Stevia, mint, sorrel, and then this incredible arugula with the most intense vegetal heat. I’d heard about the arugula on the phone, but to experience how unique it was in person started to conjoin the image and expectations I had for this place with reality. Brilliant.
I met her hilarious and hard working goats, a couple of very vocal guinea hens, and some beautiful chickens – all of whom contribute to the success of this thriving organic system. And then…
Then we went down to the permaculture beds. Now, I knew they were there, but had no idea how extensive they were. 9 sets of burms and swales in all, each of them roughly 100 feet in length. It was love at first sight and I decided this would be my largest undertaking while here. For those that aren’t familiar with permaculture I’ll throw together an intro to permaculture post but for now they’re a series of trenches (swales) and mounds (burms) which, when built and maintained properly collect rain water as it runs downhill and can provide a theoretically endless bounty. It’s multi-generational sustainable growth. Yes please. They haven’t been maintained for a couple years so it will be an uphill battle to revive them, but one that will give me valuable exposure to one of the coolest methods of organic farming out there.
My first meal was two poached eggs on avocado toast… so basically my last meal on earth choice, after which I spent the afternoon and early evening deep cleaning the back deck, a huge 3 tier space, my new shaded workstation and siesta lounge.
We ate dinner together, as we have every night since, and stayed up chatting and getting to know one another until around midnight when we finally realized that time had escaped from us and we needed to hit the hay. Fantastic to find a great conversationalist with knowledge and experience in this field that interests me so much.
Tuesday: Pump Problems
Tuesday started out easy enough. I was tasked with sealing a set of wooden swinging gate doors with a mixture of tung oil and food grade citrus oil (works Super well!) and this wonderful gem, who we’ve been referring to as the goddess:
In the afternoon we all made our way down to the permaculture beds to come up with a game plan. And while Katie and I moved around pieces of the drip irrigation system that was installed by a previous WWOOFer, Suzy used the bush hog (tractor mower) to clear out some brush until… She hit the main electrical line line providing power to the pump house, which was supposed to be buried by contractors ages ago. Chewed up, severed, and splayed across the path, the utterly destroyed 220 ultraviolet shielded wire brought temporary drought to The Feral Woman’s Garden. This folks, is a day stopper at a farm that gets All its water, house and otherwise, from a well.
For the next hour, she worked her local network of handymen and plumber/electricians and I worked my YouTube iOS app searching for DIY videos for splicing underground wire. Between the two of us we gathered enough knowledge to feel just ever so slightly more confident about tackling this issue ourselves and restoring power to the pump and water to the farm. Granted, it did not help that both of us had limited experience with electrical work and a predisposition to fear it, but we loaded ourselves into her car and went to Home Depot to pick up some waterproof materials to splice this baby and get back to business.
Tucking hesitancy and images of frying our hair into dark places, we shut off and completely disconnected the breaker to the pump, peeled back the ultraviolet resistant casing on the wire, matched up colors and applied the little knobs to rejoin them. After a few attempts at restarting the pump it came back on and Suzy and I, in a moment of triumph and jubilation, had a well deserved high five and large glass of water.
These things happen when dealing with such a complex and diverse system as a farm or homestead. The urgent gets in the way of the important and everything gets put on hold until the problem at hand is resolved. Truly a life lesson, the acceptance of which can surely lead to calmer, more rational approaches to the many challenges we all face. It didn’t leave much room in the day for anything else, but I learned a heck of a lot alongside someone just as committed to accomplishing the task as I was. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Wednesday: Fences and follies
Katie and I put up a mesh fence over the existing wire one near the back of Suzy’s raised bed gardens this morning, then released the goats to go to town on the bamboo Forrest that had been invading the space. Then we turned outer attention to a little logging project. Katie hauled a bunch of tree limbs down to the burn pile in the north of the property using the riding mower. Until… Another ‘crisis’ moment as Katie ran over a hidden log in the brush of the back yard. It got lodged between the front axel and belt and took a Lot of disassembly, a brief dance with a saws-all, and once again all was right with the world.
I also hung the wooden doors I had stained on Tuesday behind the house and I do say they’re looking pretty fine 🙂
Thursday: Bees and Berries
Thursday started with a 3.5 mile sunrise run. Because duh. It was perfection embodied, and an excellent departure from the laborious days I’d been having. I got to work out some of the feels I’d been having about being so far away from home and what the next 3 months hold for me. Something about a good run really helps to clear the mind and center before a day of very hard work.
So on top of being surprised with 9 outstanding permaculture beds, Suzy also has several bee hives. Go figure, another one of my rapidly growing interests got to be fed and informed in this educational space. So I built a tier of a hive, attaching wax combs to wooden frames, which we’re still waiting to install due to some technical/ equipment difficulties.
Another plumbing issue arose today and I had to make a trip into Rutledge Hardware Co. about 8 miles down the road. I picked up a new faucet to replace a leaky old one on the exterior of the house, and this shop was outstanding! Very small local store with literally everything you could ever need. Curated by a man named Paul for 17 years, it was in a building which I believe he said was built in the 1800s.
I spent my late afternoon deleting fire ant hills from the permaculture beds and collecting the first blackberries of the season along the Entire perimeter of the property, which put into very sobering perspective the size of this operation and got me thinking about the size of staff and operational expenses it would take to fully activate the land. This lifestyle, this profession, is noble indeed and takes a Lot of human power.
Suzy’s friend Michael arrived today. Really interesting guy spearheading a meaningful coalition of aquatically inclined volunteers to run clean up and animal rescue operations – The Blue Armada Project. He also manages the website Earth Day Journal and coordinates informative and fun earth day celebrations in this region.
Friday: Permaculture 101
Friday, Friday, today I cleared out the first of the permaculture beds and what a gratifying project. To take a thing with so much potential from inaccessible to plantable with the labor of a day’s work is something I’m truly happy about. These beds were built with intention and to see them workable again, even if it’s only one with a fully functional drip irrigation system, warms my heart.
I gained a little bit of traction on my workable farm skills today when I hopped on a riding mower for the first time. This thing was kind of a beast and had enough power behind it to haul all the logs we moved the previous day. Big feeling of accomplishment making a lap around the property and hauling a pile of logs all my own. Truer words.
After painstakingly scouring the fields for the first blackberries of the season, and they were everywhere, I finally gathered enough today for a full pie. Suzy added in a couple of the first Georgia peaches to be seen as well, making this a Georgia peach and blackberry pie, and good lord do I need to post a recipe because seconds were not nearly enough.
This first week was over in the blink of an eye and left me feeling like perhaps two weeks in each spot is not quite enough. Work was hard and hours were long and I used muscles that I didn’t even know I had… and I can’t wait to do it all over again!
To see the world in a grain of sand,
and a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Listen to the silence of nature and hear your inner voice.
I entered Great Smoky Mountains National Park, established June 15, 1934, at 10:30 pm. Pitch black winding roads led me to Elkwood campground, recommended by a ranger when I called with the National Monument in my rear view mirror. I put my window down and cruised through the site looking for the ideal place to set up camp, and immediately heard rushing water ringing through the trees. The forest was alive with sounds you’ll only hear after a fresh rainfall, and only in these pristinely preserved pieces of the great American wilderness.
Being completely incapable of seeing past about 10 feet in front of me, or generating enough light to illuminate the space, I quickly set up my REI Half Dome 2+ tent, and went to sleep, anticipating the trials of a challenging 15 mile hike in the morning.
I awoke, again to the sound of water, and with the help of the first rays of the morning realized I had made camp Right along a stream. I never would have known it in my night-blind state, but my backyard for the evening was the beginning of a day filled with all the visual and auditory splendor that the Smokies have to offer.
Up to the Rainbow Falls trailhead I went, arriving around 8:00 AM. I was not alone, and encountered some of the folks who hit the trail with me numerous times throughout the ruck. The trail was simple enough in the beginning – meandering paths (all uphill) alongside a stream that would become as much a hiking companion as my on-loan pole (thank you Pat) or GoPro; a few easy crossings on logs or constructed bridges – until it came around a bend to Rainbow Falls.
I’ve included the warning sign as a caution to anyone who may hike this trail and be confident enough to get off the beaten and make their way onto the rocks under the falls. The stones were slick and angles were not forgiving, but standing under those falls was an experience I will not soon forget… 10/10 would do again.
The path between Rainbow Falls and Mt. LeConte was a lot. While the feeling of constantly being surrounded by running water was gorgeous, and cleansing, what it did to the trail was less than ideal… For most. If you aren’t into hiking in water, puddles, and basically small streams, uphill for 6 miles, then maybe choose another path. Meanwhile, I had the time of my life with my brand spankin new waterproof Merril boots, barreling up to that ridge at breakneck pace. I passed a couple hikers, who commented on how quickly I was moving, I wanted this to be a work out, and it sure was.
Arriving at Mt. LeConte, the whole ridge was shrouded in clouds. Clouds above, and below, and in every direction. I – and the rest of the 10 or so people who made it up the incline – was completely encased, waiting for a clear space to soak up the rolling hills I knew were just out of eyeshot. While waiting I met a couple of guys from Wisconsin with the GoPro Hero 4 Silver, which I had a bunch of questions about and was made staunchly aware that the Bluetooth connectivity with your phone and removability from its protective case make the $400 worth the investment. And then it happened, the break we were waiting for. And we all turned. And picture sounds ensued, cameras were tuned to absorb the beauty of the smokies with time lapse, video, and selfies. My GoPro Hero was clipped to a nearby tree working for me while I took it all in. And all was right with the world.
After saying goodbye forever to sort-of-strangers on the peaks I headed back down the slope to connect with Bullhead Trail, which took me down, down, down, like all downhill forever. And I ran. I ran so far away. It might have been ill advised on the pretty wet and kind of narrow paths with thousand foot drops at some points… But it felt so good to open up and carefully supervise my feet as they sped me along for a few miles of the 6 mile passage back to the trailhead.
I highly recommend checking this loop out, especially if you’re in the market for a fantastic workout of a day hike. I was first turned on to it by this Hiking The Smokies blogspot site, so swing over there to learn more and review other awesome trecks.
This hike was as much about the beautiful and affective auditory experience as it was the visual for me and I plan on writing a follow up post on the value of appreciating the sounds around you and also of audio documentation, once I develop a stronger collection of recordings from WWOOFing and hiking National Parks.
Happy trails to you, until we meet again,
What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself
– Mollie Beattie
Director, US Fish and Wildlife Service
The road to my summer of WWOOFing has taken dedication and endurance and I’m ready to share the steps I’ve taken so they can be a bridge for aspiring WWOOFers. Two years ago I started making moves to set myself up for an experience with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in the US. You can catch a glimpse of my mindset in this very brief post. Life handed me a couple lemons that derailed me and drew my mental and emotional energy from this dream in a big way. I’m Very excited to say that after making it through the life-waves that we all face, I’ve picked up where I left off, grabbed this bull by the horns and I’m about to embark on a perspective changing journey all around our beautiful nation.
It’s so very important to me that I share this experience with you, you dreamer, you wanderer, you seeker, so that if entering into a community like this has felt like a hopeless inevitability, the knowledge I have gained and will continue to collect may serve as firm ground beneath your feet. This first post, therefore, is a summary of what it’s taken me to get to this point, the precipice of a 4 month expedition, and humble advice about what I’ve succeeded at and what I could have accomplished more efficiently. So. What does it take to go WWOOFing?
This first step is by far the easiest and involves the least commitment. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a membership organization comprised of willing volunteers and eager hosts all around the nation (and internationally). It serves as a repository of contact information so you can start researching your potential stays, get a little glimmer in your eye when you flip through beautiful pictures of pastures, wildflowers, and happy helpers. Membership is $40 for a year from the date you join and includes access to the online database of hosts ($50 if you would like a printed version of that database).
Next up you’ll want to create your profile. This is important so hosts know a little bit about you and can tell that you aren’t a crazy – many hosts require a fully completed profile for a response, so get on it! Include what you can bring to the table and of course, what you want to get out of the trip.
The interactive map on the WWOOFUSA website has been a joy to use. You can filter by availability, duration, # of visitors, farm type, diet restrictions, lodging type, children and pets, message frequency, spoken languages, and any keywords. I had a few climate/geographic interests and was able to narrow options, and then find farms within those regions that had experience with sustainable gardening practices that interested me, like permaculture and aquaculture.
Clear space and time in your life
Like many forms of travel, WWOOFing requires you to set some time aside. How much time you want to commit is a serious question that only you can answer. There are hosts who are willing to accommodate you both short term (day visits to a few weeks) and long term stays (weeks to months). I’m very excited to spend a few weeks with each of my hosts so I can get a broad experience all around the nation. Making this kind of time also takes active and effective communication with your employer. If you need to take time off, be sure you’re either saving those precious few days, or make arrangements to give yourself some time to breathe.
Traveling for a long period of time like I am also required that I find a subletter. Had I not made arrangements for someone to take over my rent and bills this trip would have cost as much as $2,000 more than it will. I created a detailed post on Craigslist with plenty of time before my ideal departure date – 3 months. Remember to be considerate of your roommate’s needs while searching for your replacement, especially if you’ll be returning to the space.
The hard stuff
Once you have a timeline in mind, start sifting through host options and find one or a few that fit your desires. Do you want an apiary? a fruit orchard? permaculture expertise? hydroponic mastery? proximity to national parks? a beach front plantation? The sky is the limit, but it takes real communicative work to set yourself up for success. Contact your hosts at least a month out, preferably longer, so you have time for back and forth communication. Once you get a response or two, start talking about expectations. Set out a firm work schedule, and be sure you know about sleeping and food accommodations. Those are the bottom of the barrel basics, beyond that it helps to form at least some kind of relationship before arriving. Ask questions, but don’t pry, express your interest and gratitude, but don’t gush. Honestly, just communicate like a human and you’ll be fine.
While most host-WWOOFer arrangements involve an exchange of room and board for 4-8 hours of work a day, this journey, as I’m running it, has not been without significant financial consideration. First, think about how you’ll transport yourself to your host farm. There are plenty of folks out there who would be willing to lend you a hand with a ride from an airport or bus station, but ultimately it’s up to you to make arrangements for timely arrival and departure. If you’re driving, the cost of gas will be one of your largest expenses (mine is going to run me about $900).
Second, consider the supplies you’ll need while working and traveling because being underprepared will not only effect you / potentially harm you, but will create a less than ideal situation for your host as well. I’ll create another WWOOFing Inventory post shortly, but a few obvious basics are:
- comfortable and supportive boots
- seasonally appropriate clothing
- sun protection
- shelter, if required
- personal food stuff
- extra spending cash
Now for a very heartfelt tip. Do not let money stand in your way. I do not take that statement lightly and fully check my privilege at the door while saying it. You can do this, and there are so many avenues for you to achieve your goal. I used a GoFundMe campaign and was overwhelmed by the support of my friends and family. I’m leaving the campaign active through the trip and before hitting the road have raised enough to cover the cost of gas entirely. You could also try and monetize a hobby. I make bath bombs and love helping people relax in my spare time, so I made up a couple batches of fizzies and was able to unload a few to provide some extra pocket cash. Finally, WWOOFUSA offers a multimedia grant to help visually savvy WWOFers fund their journeys by creating video and photo projects along the way. The application process has ended for 2016 but if it comes back for 2017 it is involved and selective, and the payoff for a digital media maven could ring to the tune of $2,000.
That brings me to the beginning of this trip. WWOOFing has been on my radar for years, and I gave myself about 6 months to plan and save for this trip. This very wordy taste of my experience is just the beginning of the knowledge I’m going to share. And if you find yourself in my shoes, seeking a means to explore, learn and grow, then I hope you’ll find this post and subsequent ones useful, and reach out to ask questions and fill in the blanks of this life changing experience.
To taking the road less traveled by.