A Google search led me to WWOOF. I was immediately intrigued and signed up to work for a couple of weeks in the late summer on a farm in western Illinois. 

I had no idea that the adventure I was about to embark upon would coincide with loss, pain, confusion, grief, and radical change. In the time since that first Google search, both my parents have passed away. I participated in their final illnesses and in their deaths. At the same time I began a process of separation from my longtime collaborator.

My experience on the farm can only be seen through that prism. Today, I find the work I have done for so many years—reading and writing—immensely difficult. Today, I find peace, experience belonging when I am working on or exploring the land. So I will allow myself the luxury of a disjointed report.

I arrived at St. Francis after a twenty-four hour bus ride, a month and a half after my mother died. I found a place and people that both challenged me and provided solace. That exposed me to new ideas and experiences and allowed me the comfort of the familiar. The pace of life at St. Francis is healing. The focus. The intensity. The connection to the land. The respect for it. The attention to it. I remember a line… in a play? or some movie? “Attention must be paid.” It is.

Then there was… The weird, uncontainable child-like joy of driving the tractor and running the sawmill. What is it about big machines?   The disappointment that I never succeeded in completing a milking. Who knew that milking a goat would use those muscles and that those muscles would simply stop and say “Nope. No more” after just a few minutes?   The conversations! The joy of shared intellectual curiosity while weeding, digging, mucking, walking. The challenge and fruit of the explorations in honesty and communication.

The details of each day, the feel of each day, the fact that each day I contributed something tangible: turned compost, fresh cheese, clover for tea, foraged food for goats and bunnies, hilled potatoes, moved rocks, gathered spring water.

Singing! Something I had not done out loud except on the rarest of occasions.

I recognize that the opportunity to be able to work hard and productively without the responsibility for the ultimate outcome—or the need for a successful outcome in order to survive—is a gift. 

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