This morning I woke up to a donkey braying.
That donkey is Rufus, and his call for breakfast has been my alarm clock every morning for the past week and a half. Before the canned, gentle tones of the alarm on my phone go off, my eyes snap open as Rufus’ call penetrates the thin metal walls of my trailer: the high-pitched “EEEE,” the throaty “AWWW”, all of it surprisingly loud as he lets the farm know it’s time for the morning feeding, thank you very much.
For the past week and a half, I’ve been working on a small farm on Pender Island through the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program. WWOOFers, often young people looking to travel to new places, are matched with farm hosts and provide volunteer labour on a farm in exchange for room and board. So far, I’ve found myself harvesting fresh eggs from underneath chickens, tending to tomato plants, moving hay bales, and squishing thick black slugs in the garden. And, twice a day, feeding the herd: Rufus, four goats, a flock of sheep, and many, many chickens.
I’ve been thinking about why I chose to come to a farm like this one and try my hand at new skills in a new place, and what I’ve learned since I’ve arrived. A rural organic farm is pretty much the opposite world from the one I’ll move to in September, the big city of Toronto, and neither feeding donkeys nor navigating skyscrapers are worlds I know well. But as I compare this experience to other times I’ve picked up and tried something totally different — studying in the Netherlands, for example, or working in Malawi — I’m reminded of the importance of adaptability and being well-rounded.
Anytime you find yourself in a new setting, you need to find a way to deal with the stuff you’re unfamiliar with: weird foods, unpleasant tasks, other people’s expectations of you, your cohabitants’ living habits that may be very different from your own. Some people deal by complaining. Or comparing everything that happens to some idealized version of what they know and are comfortable with. Others deal by bringing a good attitude and realizing that smiles, laughter, and a curiosity about new things can get you through a lot. That is, adapting. For me, working on this farm is another opportunity to practice being adaptable. Sure, I’m not used to living in someone else’s house by someone else’s rules, or to getting up early on weekend mornings. Sure, this amount of animal poop on my shoes and gloves and jacket isn’t something I’ve dealt with before. But I know that by responding to these aspects of the farm in a positive way helps me to be stronger and more resilient, characteristics that are crucial when life throws tough stuff your way.
Another reason that brought me here (and that I’m glad I came) is that I can learn about farming and gardening. Not because I really want to become a farmer and gardener. But because it helps me appreciate the richness of human experience and the diversity of people. I’ve always valued the importance of being well-rounded: not just being good at one thing, school, or sports, or music, but dabbling in a little of everything. It makes you a more interesting human being. And, I’ve found, it allows you to connect with so many different kinds of people. When you know a little about a lot of things, it’s easy to find (some) common ground with others. I like being a generalist, and I’m looking forward to that point some time in the future when I meet a farmer at a dinner party and bond with them about the joys of working in the dirt with your hands.
And of course, another reason I’m here (one so obvious that I hardly feel it needs saying) is my firm belief that if you don’t try new things and get outside your comfort zone, you’re not learning and growing. I think this will be a common theme over the next year as I adjust to life in Toronto. Change is scary, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Rufus is calling for his dinner.