Painting the Barn Red

On Monday morning, I officially began work as a WWOOFer at Points East. My duties for the next two days were not arduous and I really love learning. Almost everything I was tasked with was either outdoors or in the kitchen, so I was delighted.

Before anything else on Monday morning, we moved the goats from the barnyard to a pasture area, where they could forage on wild grasses all day long. The only thing goats can’t eat is goldenrod, so I removed any of that within reach before we tied the goats up.

These goats are very friendly, and because the neighbours come to feed them scraps often, they’re used to having their heads scratched. Female goat personality is interesting. They’re insecure animals, and like to travel as a pack. When you approach the barnyard, they back away immediately. Elke takes a cup of food with her to attract them. Then, we worked as a team: Elke harnessed Jenny, Thomas took Alice and I took Jill. As one, we led the goats down to the grazing area. They drag you urgently ahead, as if there’s a fire behind them, once they understand where they’re headed.

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Goats are also suspicious of anything new: because we later left our ladders against the barn in their yard, the goats refused to enter the gate at the end of the day. They raced to the gate even more urgently in the evening, and then halted dead when they saw the ladders.

With the goats out of the barnyard, Thomas and I pulled out paint cans and brushes and proceeded to paint the barn red. We could see immediate results from our work, which made us both giddy. The forecast for the Monday – Tuesday was clear skies, so we painted like madmen. I even climbed the ladder and did the west-facing wall while standing on the roof. There is something honest and true in manual labour, especially when performed on something as conspicuous and accepted on any country landscape as a barn.

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After lunch, I followed a trail north from our farm that wound through wild roses, pine trees and the biggest patch of wild blueberries I’ve ever seen. Behind me was the ocean. I’ve promised Thomas and Elke a blueberry pie.

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Once home with this treasure, I hurried to a small community garden that Elke has begun with the neighbours. Her own plot has been a little neglected with many summer visitors, so I agreed to harvest some kale for pesto. Most of the larger leaves are already half-eaten, so I cut those off and threw them into the barnyard for the chickens and goats. Then, the smaller leaves came home with me.

These leaves, blended with oil, walnuts, fresh garlic and parmesan cheese was still very bitter. Thomas tasted it and agreed it needed something, so I added some honey. His face lit up reassuringly when I handed him the second spoonful.

Just before dinner, Elke herded us all into the car and drove us to a quiet trail on the edge of town. Hiking for ten minutes took us under a stand of fir trees in a bed of moss. Rolling stones may not gather moss, but I assure you that moss under fir trees often gathers chanterelle mushrooms. These were plentiful and our arrival was perfectly timed for gathering one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever foraged. Now I can honestly say I’ve gone mushrooming. Elke pointed out several poisonous varieties, but the chanterelles are quite distinctive. This experience made me relatively confident of my new-found abilities. Yay!

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Elke cooked them with onion and a little broth, and laid them on a bed of quinoa. Chanterelles rule.

On Monday evening, I was joined by Montana the tabby cat for a few moments of warm company on my bed. Nina the dog slept on the couch downstairs, awaiting more adventures. The stars out my window were exhilarating, but not enough to keep me awake after all that work.

Tuesday morning, Thomas and I slopped out the barn. While this wasn’t our favourite duty, we both saw the need for it. Elke has it done every couple of months, apart from in the dead of winter. She lays down sawdust and then hay, which slowly mix with the chicken and goat manure to make a thick and rather coarse carpet. I teased Thomas that we were in the wrong line of business, that we should start a business selling environmentally friendly carpet, marketing it as cheap but durable (it was almost impossible to break up, even with a shovel), has a pleasant countryside odour (until you break it up, and then the ammonia smell is overpowering), and can be added to your compost pile in the spring (which was where we hauled several wheelbarrows full of it). It seemed like a brilliant business plan to me, but Thomas was less enthusiastic.

In the afternoon, we harvested rosehips for some magical recipes Elke has stored in the back of her brain. She’s been saying all week that the rosehips that grow around her property—and there are legion, believe me—are not very good quality. The wild roses growing in the pasture next to her home bear bright red rosehips, plump and inviting. We drove to a friend’s home near Flat Rock, where the rosehips are purported to be better. Better is the wrong word to describe these astonishing creatures. They’re prodigious in size. Jumbo rosehips. Amazonian, even. And when you bite into one, it’s juicy and sweet. I tried making rosehip tea once, but my experiment was disastrous. I have a feeling Elke’s mysterious recipe will be anything but.

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After lunch, I sat down in the yard with my guitar. It was time to attempt to serenade Tai Chi the one-legged chicken. Elke had written to me that Tai Chi sometimes sings along with a CD of guitar music, so I was hoping that live music would have a similar effect. I’m afraid I had disappointing results. Tai Chi looked up from behind the herbs, ascertained that it was me, and went back to cleaning her feathers. She’s not into Stan Rogers and Bruce Cockburn. Maybe I should try something more traditional.

For a break from our labours yesterday, Elke took us on a short trail hike near Flat Rock. On the shore is a distinctive outcrop called Red Hat (not the Linux variety I’m used to).

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Elke is partly responsible for getting some of the best hiking trails (known as the East Coast Trail) I’ve ever enjoyed, all along this section of the coast. We hiked to a beautiful waterfall.

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The land is quite rocky, so the trail builders took advantage of this fact to create an interesting and safe path. The trail can also be very slippery, so the catwalks are covered in chicken wire to give additional grip. And because the trail follows the hilly terrain, the wooden steps are cross-hatched, again to assist with grip.

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For dinner, Elke prepared a huge pot of pear soup, a traditional German favourite. It includes potatoes and carrots, smoked ham, and whole pears. We ate the soup with a big basket of garlic bread. Pear soup is now one of my favourites, too.

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After the table was cleared and the dishwasher loaded, we all retired to our respective rooms, totally beat. I slipped into the kitchen an hour ago to make a pot of tea. Elke’s light was still on, and I happened to glance into her room. She was reading a book. Nestled beside her on the pillow sat Tai Chi the one-legged chicken.

For those of you who take working for a living for granted, I’ve discovered today that there’s nothing more satisfying than a day of good, honest labour, regardless of how you’re reimbursed. Three square meals—often hearty German fare but also sometimes my own French-Canadian recipes—and a warm bed with a view of the Atlantic, are the best compensation for a day’s work I can imagine.

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