30 September 2010


I manage to catch some Z's on the bus, and arrive in the Monticello bus station to a farmer in dirty Carrhart overalls and sun bleached hair. He's about 40, stands almost 6 ft with a protruding belly, and speaks with a soft effeminate voice. When I walked up to him with my suitcase, expecting a warm welcome and a handshake, the man just stood there with his hands in his pocket, smiling and looking at me. I reach my hand out to shake his anyway to avoid more awkwardness. Ok, a little strange. But I did all my research before coming here and everything checked out. His reference even said that they were welcoming and made her feel at home. So I reserve my judgment till later.

We get in his car, and I smell the familiar scent of hay mixed with dirt mixed with body odor. Not my favorite, but at least he is the farmer he claimed to be. Loading my bags, I'm reminded of the summer I spent volunteering in France, hopping from one organic farm to the next. In light of this strange quiet man, I start to miss the people I stayed with. Working a few hours a day in the perfect July weather, we always ended the day with delicious food and wine. I remembered their kindness and the nights we spent sharing stories about each others' lives, but this is no time to reminisce.

It takes about 30 minutes to get to his farm, and the whole ride was equally uncomfortable. I made a few attempts at starting conversations and getting past the surface talks before just giving up. I can carry a conversation and even start one when needed, but this is just too much. Fine, let's just sit in silence.

On top of the uneasy introduction, I realize halfway there that I've lost any cellphone reception. Was I scared? Maybe a little. But mostly I can sense that the situation is more awkward than creepy, as is the man. Through bits and pieces, I learn that this farmer used to be a free-roaming traveler as well who spent years "bumming around" Europe, where he met his wife.

I used to hold travelers in the highest esteem. To my young impressionable self, the world was split between those who lived monotonously inside cubicles and those who lived exciting lives trekking the world. At age 13, I knew I wanted to be the latter. Of course with age I also learned about the others who lived fine lives outside of cubicles, who worked in restaurants, libraries, schools, and even farms. My childhood dream always followed me though. It wasn't until I went to Iceland, where I worked at a hostel and got to meet many travelers, that I realized my presumptions of travelers was far from the truth. Some people, I'd come to learn, see a world as a place to conquer, a checklist to complete. They travel to climb the tallest mountains, to dive in the deepest seas, to step on every continent… Maybe adolescent rebellion really got to me, but I was never interested in seeing all the landmarks. What appealed to me most about traveling was the experience of living somewhere else among the locals, sleeping when they do, eating what they eat, working among their people. I wanted to really experience the culture. That is why I went to a small village in Iceland for four months, and also why I came to work on a farm in upstate NY. Neither of these are your typical vacation plans, but that's the point! I wanted something different, something I couldn't learn from a book and have someone tell me how to feel about it before I was even there, something refreshing from my robotically comfortable city life routine.

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