Archive | April, 2013

A Pause

21 Apr

I want to take a break from writing about my travels and take some time to reflect.

I want to go back to a hot summer’s day about three years ago. It was family reunion time for the Weaver household. As it often goes with families, we spent much of the time joking and telling stories and reliving the past. The adults consumed lots of wine and I, the youngest and only teenager, looked on with the skepticism only a 16 year old can impart.

Weaver Family reuion circa1960

Family reunion circa 1960

Most of that long weekend was a loud, raucous and mildly stressful blur and the tiny beach side rental cottage was usually filled to bursting, but there was one afternoon when the heat and humidity got to be too much for the majority of the family. The house was silent except for the buzz of flies and hum of fans. Family members sclathed themselves over sofas in a sweaty stupor. While the “grown ups” sat about, my brother Will, my cousin Jack and I decided that it was the perfect afternoon to go adventuring.

As you know, one cannot go adventuring without provisions, so we made greasy fried onion and cheese sandwiches wrapped ’em up in newspaper and plonked ’em into a knapsack along with a couple of cold ones (for the legal drinkers only, of course). With that done we were ready, and so we set forth, prepared to conquer the wilds of Rhode Island. As we walked the three of us joked and teased, completely comfortable together. Despite the fact that I was (and still am) younger by 5 years, and a girl to boot, the boys treated me as an equal, a partner in crime. We were united, facing the world head on together, like the three musketeers. We clambered through dry, thorny brush and over piles of rubble; ignored the “Private: do not trespass” sign nailed to a tree and finally plunged through a wall of honeysuckle out onto a grassy, hedge lined pathway. Sucking on honeysuckle blossoms, we meandered on, waiting to find the magic that one expects to find on adventures.

Nature's candy

Nature’s candy

Just when we were about to give up, we found it: we found our magic. It was a small grassy oasis surrounded by a sea of shrubs and vines and there, spread out before us, was the actual sea, glistening in the afternoon sunshine. We plopped down in the shade and marveled at our luck. As we chewed our sandwiches and sipped our beverages we contemplated life and laughed about our family and told stories from our shared childhood. It was as if space and time slipped away, it was just us, in a beautiful place, sharing each other’s company. We lay there for hours, sometimes chatting and sometimes just enjoying the silence together.

As the sun started to set, we headed back home to our family. I felt as though we were co conspirators in our adventure; it was an experience that was just ours. A moment of perfection that no one could ever take from us. As we strolled through the evening air, I felt closer to Will and Jack and a feeling of pure happiness surrounded me. Every time I relive that afternoon, and I do quite often, I am filled with that same happiness and serenity, despite the bittersweet quality of the memory: almost exactly two years ago, my wonderful cousin, Jack, died and this is one of my last memories of him.

the Three Musketeers

the Three Musketeers

Although I can’t see him or talk to him anymore, Jack lives on. He is in every incredible thing I see: the view from Notre Dam at sunset, the rolling, wintry hills of Scotland and the ragged coast of Ireland. He is in every breath of wind, every ray of sunlight and every drop of rain that falls. It is Jack’s passion and ‘live life to the fullest’ attitude that inspires me everyday. I want to, like him, find adventure and wonderment everywhere I go and to not waste a moment that could be spent experiencing this wonderful world that we live in.

Here’s to Jack, one of the greatest people I will ever have the fortune know.

End with a smile

Can’t help but smile

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Vacation within a vacation

15 Apr

After our traumatic experience with the chickens, Bridget and I decided we needed to take a break from farming. So we took a week off to see a bit of  Scotland. We started off with four glorious days in Edinburgh. The first thing we did after checking into our massive hostel was to climb up to Edinburgh Castle.

The Castle

The Castle

It was one of those rare Scottish winter days when the sun was shinning and it wasn’t freezing cold. Actually, for that whole week the weather was incredible, our guardian angels were looking out for us. Despite my hatred of climbing hills, I enjoyed the hike because the view was stunning. We could see the whole city spread out beneath us. Thankfully that sight of the city made the climb worth it because entrance to the castle ended up being ridiculously pricey, what poor backpacker can pay £15 to see a castle?

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

It so happens that when you are travelling you start off wanting to go to every historic site and into every famous museum. This desire wears off very quickly. So by the time Bridget and I wound up in this city so full of amazing museums and cool sights, we were done with days packed full of “culture.” It is not as if we spent the entire time sitting around doing nothing. We walked all around the city and got in some superb people watching (my favorite activity). In the evenings we entertained ourselves with sangria and a relaxed game or two of Jenga (4 glasses of home made sangria for £8, now that’s one delicious deal).

Scrummy Sangria on a Budget:

1 bottle of very cheap wine

1 bottle of very cheap “sprite” soda

2 oranges (on offer), I squeezed, the other sliced (decoration!)

1 punnet of strawberries sliced

mix it all together and enjoy!

yup

yup

Just walking around a city can really give you a sense of the place and even though we didn’t do much besides walking I was able to fall in love with the city. It is just the right size, the architecture is incredible and the people are friendly. One day I will be back for the music festival.

The monument

The Edinburgh monument

We said goodbye to Edinburgh and headed to St. Andrew’s: the home of golf and more importantly where Wills (Prince William) met Kate (Duchess Katherine).  If you ever go there I advise that you don’t stay too long. We were there for two days and we were super bored by the end (no offense people of St. Andrew’s). The town is so small that even after just an hour of walking around we were recognizing people. Despite it’s small size and lack of things to do, the town (village?) is really cute and the seaside is lovely.

The ruins of a cathedral, spooky

The ruins of a cathedral, spooky

We enjoyed an afternoon sitting in Starbucks (horrible, I know) and had a great time making up stories for the passersby. By the second day however, activities were running low. There is only so much time you can spend reading self help books on the floor of the local bookstore. So, unless you are a student or a golf fanatic I wouldn’t recommend staying more than an afternoon in St. Andrew’s.

Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Scotland: Dundee, known for two things: Jam and Jute. We met up with a friend from Paris who goes to the university there and let’s just say it was a bit of a crazy weekend. Also, if you are a little hung over, don’t climb up Dundee Law, even if the view is incredible.

Was it worth it...?

Was it worth it…?

We left Dundee a little worse for wear. I was so tired from a week of too much fun that I fell asleep on the floor of a bus station. For some reason I got lots of dirty looks… Although it was a great week, we were glad to be on our way to Willowford farm and our next WWOOFing experience.

Next up: I finally get to experience caravan life!

home, sweet home

home, sweet home

I would like to finish this post with a request: After the recent bombings in Boston, I ask that we all send our thoughts and prayers out to everyone affected. I hope that in the future we will not know days such as these.

“Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” 

-Elie Wiesel

Chicken Run

12 Apr

Have you ever been in the same room as 2,000 chickens? You probably haven’t; I would count yourself lucky. It is a terrifying experience.

At Overlangshaw farm in the Scottish borders, where I spent 3 weeks in February, I got my first experience with dairy and chicken farming. The first thing I noticed when Bridget and I arrived at our second WWOOF spot was the view. It was one of the most stunning views I have ever seen, and I got to watch the sun rise and set over the magnificent vista everyday for 3 weeks. Every day the sky was different- filled with unique beauty. It was one of those sights that seemed to make everything better and always filled me with an intense feeling of peace.

lovely.

lovely.

After traveling with my dear friend Bridget for a little over a month and sharing most of our time and space together, our relationship was a wee bit fragile. Eventually everyone has to learn how to be in a relationship of any kind. Traveling tends to put a lot of extra stress on any relationship, as Bridget and I quickly discovered. All of our suppressed emotions came to a boiling point that first day at Overlangshaw and right in the middle of collecting some 2,000 eggs we had our first ever row. I am the kind of person who tends to shriek a bit when I am upset while Bridget is very good at remaining calm and manages to still sound human during heated arguments. Had anyone overheard our argument I am sure it would have been tremendously comical.  Both of us needed that fight. Although it was unwise to hold in all of our irritation for so long, at least we eventually we managed to air our grievances. After several hours of cold silence pierced only with curt, formal words things went back to normal and for the rest of that stint of our journey we had a tremendous amount of fun together.

We got up every morning just before sunset and after a hurried breakfast we went out to greet the day and our new best friends: the calves. Our first job of the day was to give the 8 (eventually 10) calves their breakfast. I fell instantly in love. Each one had their own distinct personality. Several of them were actually complete jerks and we did not get along, but there were three that were just wonderful. I felt so supremely lucky to start and end my day with some of the world’s cutest/sweetest animals.

the perfect one

the perfect one

After the awesomeness of baby cows our morning took a slight downturn. It was chicken time. First we had to open the chicken houses. There were 2, each the home for 2,000 chickens. When I opened them up a wave of hot, stinky air would wash over me. Next up: egg packing. A conveyor belt would pick up all the eggs, so all we had to do was pick ’em up, clean the crap off  ’em, stamp ’em and box ’em. After a while we got pretty quick and stopped breaking quite so many. It was then that the truly awful part of the day commenced: checking the hen house. Twice a day one of us had to enter the hen house and walk all around it to make sure everything was fine. It was like something out of a horror film. Try to picture a dark, long room, reeking of chicken shit and hot poultry (to a degree in which breathing is difficult). Imagine that you can barely walk what with all the birds crowding around you, pecking and your clothes and when you finally reach the end, you realize you have to turn around and go all the way back… Despite the immediate awfulness, I must admit that I always felt super bad ass when it was over and ultimately I am very appreciative of the whole experience. But now the awful story and the experience that slightly scarred me.

similar to what I experienced

similar to what I experienced

It was not uncommon to come across a lone dead chicken and I could deal with them without bating an eye lid, but there was one morning, near the end of our stay, when I was in checking on the hens and I turned a corner and what did I find? Not one dead chicken, not even two, I was luck enough to stumble upon 154 dead chickens. That is how I learned about chicken smothering. Chickens are very skittish creatures and the littlest thing can send them into a mass of frenzy. In this case they had run out of food, a fact that Bridget and I had failed to pick up on . When something sets them off they basically just huddle into a corner until they smother each other to death. I now have the deaths of 154 chickens weighing me down. Bridget and I both felt sick, sure we didn’t really know what we were doing and no one actually blamed us, but it felt almost like we outright killed them. I think I will forever be extra nice to chickens.

Moving on to nicer things…

best job ever

best job ever

The middle of the day was very unstructured. From 10 until 5 we rarely had much to do. Usually we would make second breakfast, my new favorite meal and then we would watch some tv and bake cakes. We were always asking for jobs, but usually there wasn’t much for us to do, until we found our calling: ice cream making assistants.  We made vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, cheese cake ice cream, maple walnut ice cream, mocha porter ice cream and much much more. Every batch was made with organic milk and eggs from the farm. It was the best ice cream I have ever had and I got to eat bowls and bowls of it every day! If you ever want to gain some weight I recommend eating second breakfast and eating ice cream everyday.

I won’t put this at the top of my WWOOF experiences, but as general experiences go, it was up there. Bridget and I laughed so much that our stomach muscles got sore. We got to live in a place over looking valleys and mountains with incredible sunsets. We learned a hell of a lot about chickens and how not to kill them. And finally we met some really cool farmers and gained a whole world of new experiences.

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Our faithful egg carrier, Landy

Finally, A big thanks to Sheila, Martin, Lucy, the cows and the chickens we didn’t manage to kill, for giving us a great time and teaching us a lot.

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