The taxi driver—a middle-aged woman with a friendly smile and a strong handshake—met me at the St. John’s airport yesterday with the comment, “Are you the Come From Away, headed to Points East?”
“Yes. Yes, I am!” I responded enthusiastically. A Come From Away is a person not born on the rock. I may not have been born here, but I feel already as though I belong.
When I left Toronto yesterday morning, my prayer to the universe was simple: just surround me with things, people and tasks that are needful, things I require and that give me a sense of contributing to a greater good. Needful things. The universe, I felt, could take care of what that meant.
On my arrival to my farm (Points East), a neighbour took me to the Anglican church hall, where the town of Pouch Cove was holding their second annual Heritage Festival. Outside the hall, I met Elke Dettmer with her three goats, two of her chickens (along with three of their chicks), and three young WWOOFers. The WWOOFers were Keelan from Montreal, Sabine from Germany and Thomas also from Germany.
The livestock and I got on like a house on fire. There’s Jenny the alpha goat. She’s the largest, and the darker brown shade. There’s Alice, a more placid goat who likes head scratches. And there’s Alice’s baby, Jill. Alice had two kids, named Jack and Jill. Jack has been sold off. “The male goats are trouble,” Elke explained.
Then, there’s an unnamed mother hen and her chicks, which are still quite small and therefore live in a cage temporarily so they don’t get trampled by goats or teased by Nina the dog.
Elke is probably protective of these chicks because of Tai Chi, the three-month-old, one-legged chicken.
Tai Chi got her name because she had an accident the day of the town’s tai chi event. Tai Chi was accidentally trampled by a goat. This is one social chicken. She let me hold her, pet her, tell her my travel tales. Tai Chi then reciprocated by sharing some of her own stories. Here was my first needful thing. Alternate life forms and I have always had an understanding.
Once home last night, I noticed herbs drying from the rafters, and racks of bottles and tins with spices and herbs and teas. The yard includes several garden beds with greens and roots and squash growing all over the yard. Currants, gooseberries, blueberries, strawberries, chestnuts. At once, I tucked in to the berries and the leaves.
Across the way is a field of stinging nettle, dandelion, yarrow, mallow, wild aster, all ready for harvest. As I walked, I tucked in again. With this ready feast, I realized this was my second needful thing: to be able to feed myself spontaneously on something green and healthy.
As well as Nina the dog, there are also three barn cats, all very social with anyone who wants to share the sunshine. The cats protect the chickens, from weasels and the like.
At bedtime, one of the young WWOOFers showed me to my room, a large space with a bed and a couch, a dresser and a chair. The view overlooks the cove, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. This morning I awoke (from the most amazing sleep I’ve had in two years) to a spectacular sunrise. You can’t just laze in bed when you’re faced with a needful view.
“Yes mom,” I told her. “I promise not to fall off the side of the country.”
There’s a small building out back of the main house, what Elke calls the Sauna. On the oceanside, there’s a deck. There, I got on my knees and laughed in pure happiness at being near goats and chickens, cats and dogs, people cooking hearty and sensible food, being able to harvest off the land, to share community naturally and kindly. I laughed that I felt at home.
After breakfast, one of our WWOOFing duties involved the compost pile. Elke had started a pile last fall and wanted to move it over a few feet. There’s a lot of stinging nettle (which I assure you does sting, having trampled through it too much last night) on the property and her thought was to cover some of it with cardboard and then shovel some of the compost over top. Half an hour into the task, the day was beautifully hot. I rolled up my pants and tore off my shirt, leaving only my small light top. Keelan followed suit. Thomas and I loosened the compost with pitchforks while Keelan and Sabina shovelled the rich soil across to the other pile. Elke threw lime on, between layers. When Keelan commented on how drawn he always is to the life-giving properties of a compost pile, I joked that he and I were probably going to live to the ripe age of 115 just by standing in the soil with our shirts off.
When our task was complete to everyone’s satisfaction, we headed to the goats, now tied to picnic tables in the yard. We’d found some wild wheat near the compost, which both the goats and the chickens eat as a delicacy. Alice and Jill both welcomed it; Jenny was less excited.
Beside the goats, Elke was hanging out the laundry. While in Mississauga, one of the small pleasures I’d wished for more than once was a clothesline. I had two clothes racks, but the wind doesn’t go through those the same way, and they’re prone to collapsing and falling over. Here was yet another needful thing. I’ve come to realize that, while both the universe and I agree that I need these things to feel myself, we don’t always agree on the timing. A clothesline for the fall is a welcome addition.
Today we returned to the Heritage Festival celebrations because there was to be live music, including a traditional band called Foggy Dew. We arrived to a packed house of locals listening to this band, which consisted of a guitar, a banjo, a bass guitar, a fiddle and an accordion, as well as vocals. With the first few notes, I realized this was the music I’d cut my teeth on as an adult. My guitar, mandolin and fiddle teachers, Greg and Ginny, had been married in Newfoundland, very likely in St. John’s. I knew some of these catchy tunes and was picking up the lyrics to others.
An hour later, the recently elected mayor was invited to sing. He did several unaccompanied songs, including I Had But Fifty Cents.
At the end of the event, Foggy Dew returned to the stage. Patrick Moran, the fiddler, stood up to the mic and sang I Had a Hat.
With a little luck, I’ll meet some locals who are willing to occasionally accept a hack into their jam sessions, and I’ll be back to playing The Red-Haired Boy and Smash the Window, among others.
And tonight, with no prompting to the universe at all, I’m sitting in bed with the window open, listening to waves from the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the shoreline on a peacefully calm evening. I know that tomorrow I will be greeted by roosters, chickens clucking to protect their peeping chicks, friendly goats, a dog begging for a hike along the shoreline, farmers eager to work the soil and share a life-giving harvest with an uninitiated by entirely enthusiastic Come From Away. I can’t wait.