I am in Wangapeka, the outskirts of Karamea, where I will be WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) until the end of November. As I write I am sitting in the garden, in between rows of salad mix and white chard, overlooking 15 raised beds, fields, and trees. Rose and Gary, my WWOOF hosts, are reclaiming the land from bush and transforming it into an orchard. While the fruit trees take root and mature, the garden supplies produce for the markets.
On Tuesday, our first day of work, we weeded some beds and planted 70 alder trees, which have a deep tap root and will protect the fruit trees from wind. (This area of New Zealand get so much rain that the trees don’t need to have deep roots, making them more vulnerable to toppling over when big gusts whip through.) It feels good to be back on a farm and feel the soil work its way into my skin. After three days of weeding, my fingers are beginning to look like a farmer’s again: nails tinted brown near the cuticle and tip, dirt ingrained into the crevices of skin along the sides of my forefingers, and callouses thickening on my palms from digging, hoeing, and raking. Even though I worked on a farm this summer, this is a whole new experience. Yes, they grow kale, chard, garlic, lettuce, rhubarb and strawberries, and calendulas line many beds, but they also have kiwis, tamarillos, bamboo, and giant fern trees. Aside from working on a growing orchard for the first time, I am surrounded by tropical plants and new birds, and I am feeling the springtime sun move into summer as October passes into November.
There are so many kinds of life here that I have never seen before, and each unfamiliar leaf, birdsong, and smell excites me and fills me with curiosity. At the same time that I am bounding with energy to learn it all, I am also calmed by the familiarity of the garden and the interplay between the land, plants, insects, animals, people and elements. I love how it all works together to find a balance, and how I am part of the circle and not the end of a line. I do not feel far from home in these surroundings, and even though I am missing autumn in Vermont, it comforts me to know that I will see it again because the cycle always continues on.