Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Indie Travel - The Perfect Day

Travel helps us better appreciate the present moment instead of always looking to the next thing. Describe one perfect day you had while traveling this year. Where were you? What were you doing? And what made it perfect?




That day would be today.

There was no indication upon arising this morning, that I would spend the afternoon helping to move chickens in a pen that slides around on plastic pipe, or that I would gingerly step over the 6KV hot wires that constitute a pig pen, or watch as a dead chicken was tossed out the bed of a truck into the woods for the foxes.

It's been a perfect day.

The plan back in September, was to spend the month of October driving to and experiencing the hardwood forests of the east coast in the fall. Then go to Boston for the month of November on a WorkAway gig (WorkAway.com) to help a lady with some painting and cooking. But alas, the Boston gig didn't work out, and I had to make other plans.

I had contacted Nitya at Woodsong Hollow Farm near Allentown, PA, way back in the spring, and as it turned out, they still had a need for a Work-Away-er, so here I am. Their website:    Woodsonghollow.com



It's a small farm that raises livestock naturally, mostly chickens and turkeys, goats sometimes, and pigs. It's November, and Saturday is butcher day. Fortunately I'll be gone by then! My role is to help out while Nitya and the other helper, a darling young man named Keenan from Atlanta, GA, paint the barn.

Tonight we feasted on leftovers from Keenan's culinary efforts earlier in the week: goose and vegetable soup, risotto with mushrooms, and home made apple pie with ice cream. It was delicious. He'll be a hard act to follow....

So, what, you might ask, was the deal with the dead chicken? It turns out that last week's snow storm ended up weakening a few of the chickens who didn't have the sense to huddle up with the others under the tented top of the chicken pen, so eventually a few of them died. Nitya tosses them into the woods, many yards from where the pens are in an open field, so the foxes and racoons can eat them, but not be encouraged to eat the penned ones. She also had a lame chicken next to the barn along with a lame turkey. She's hoping they'll live long enough to go to the butcher on Saturday, otherwise they'll end up in the woods too. I asked why she didn't cook them. She said it's too much trouble to set up to butcher, pluck and prep a single chicken or turkey. And the breed she buys for meat are bred to grow fast and sometimes their muscles just don't keep up and the legs give out. They're still good to eat. However, it's not healthy to eat one that's been dead for a while, like when they die overnight, hence the toss into the woods.

Farming is sure different from the days when I was a little kid and went with my Grandmother to her parent's farm in Ohio. Families sometimes forget to tell little kids important stuff, like who people are and how they are related. I smarted off to the grizzled old guy sitting on the porch and he swatted me with the flyswatter. Incensed, I ran into the house crying and told my granny that old man who milks the cow swatted me! She burst out laughing, much to my horror, and then told me that old man was her father!! I guess it never dawned on me that my granny had parents, it was hard enough to grasp that she was my mother's mother or that my formidable mother had once been a little kid.

the portable chicken coup
At their farm, now a shopping mall, they had chickens in a hen house and it was my job to go in there and get the eggs. I remember it being dark and stinky. Yesterday Nitya and I hunted for eggs and found one. The hens are molting and since the days are shorter, it seems to take each one a couple of days to lay an egg whereas in the summer, each laid an egg a day. Hunting for eggs is a misnomer. The chicken coop is a covered wagon on wheels with sides that lift up. The 'nests' are sawdust filled boxes easily accessed from the side. In this 'free-range' farm, Nitya just moves the henhouse to a new location and puts up the plastic netting fence around it to give the chickens plenty of outdoor room. Since she has regular egg customers, they get the eggs and the family eats any left over. Lately the household has been on an egg-free diet.

That fence presented a problem to me. It's taller than crotch height but flexible so you can just step over it. But I got my boot caught in the netting when I didn't lift my leg high enough so I fell, pulling most of the fence down with me. It was pretty funny except the muddy ground was damp and cold and I'm sure the butt of my pants is just lovely to look at now.

My room here is tiny, as are all the rooms. It's a very old farmhouse. There's just enough room for a single bed and space to walk past it. At the foot of the bed is some space to access the door to the attic. And there is a small closet and chest of drawers. Many WorkAway helpers and WOOFers come here so it's more than a guest room, this is true co-housing. There is one bath across the narrow hall, and without much said of it, we each use it when it's free and shower when we're dirty instead of all at once in the morning.

A neighbor named Caroline stopped by. She was raised in this house. Her parents raised three kids here, and back then, what is now the kitchen was a porch, so it was even smaller than now! It has a basement where Nitya keeps some freezers for the meat from the various animals she raises. Caroline sold the place to Nitya and Jeff about nine years ago, and lives a few miles away now. She stopped to report that an older neighbor had passed away. This rural community seems to be very tightly knit and friendly.

I suspect that tomorrow will be equally perfect. I'm scheduled to pull up potatoes in the garden and do some garden chores like pulling out the brussel sprout stalks, cook a meal and maybe paint one of the barn doors. I might slop the hogs (there's a bucket for garden scraps the hogs will eat) or feed the chickens (another kitchen bucket for plant foods and nut shells the chickens will eat) or some other fun farm chore. I wouldn't want to be a farmer, it's very labor intensive, but for a couple of days it's like being a kid again, I get to do grownup work.

Nitya painting the barn.

At the end of the perfect day.....