Oak Center store by highway

As the early morning sun filtered past the ears of the llama, staring implaccably down at me from atop a large mound of manure, its expression at once penetrating-sincere and comical, I felt a deep sense of wonder and satisfaction. Yet, the journey which led to my staring up towards llama-nirvana began more than a year ago… on a city bus.

I have a deep fondness for hiking backpacks. My fondness stems not from their sometimes numerous pockets (though this is a fine quality), nor from their many long, dangly straps (a bit of detraction, really), but, rather, from their hip belts. Yet, most people I meet are using backpacks without hip belts. Poor. Foolish. People. As a result, when I meet people wearing hiking backpacks, I like to compliment them.

Such was the case one day on the Minneapolis city bus. I found myself standing directly behind a girl wearing a larger red hiking backpack. After I compliemented her, she explained that it was for grocery shopping.

And that would have been the end of it, but a few weeks later I found myself complimenting the owner of a different backpack. The same owner. Beth, it turned out, lived just down the road from me in Prospect Park and, when I found she was also searching for an improvement on her housing situation, I suggested she try to get into the house I was moving into. Despite some initial fears about cat allergies, it worked out, and the adventures we had there are detailed elsewhere.

It was sometime in March that Beth first told me about her plans to go WWOOFing during the summer and suggested I come with. Under normal circumstances, this would have been quite unlikely as summers are my time to wander and travel to far away places, but my sister's wedding had thrown all into disarray and confusion such that it just might be possible.

Eventually, I agreed.

Beth and Alina seated on floor working on computerBeth spent Sunday saying "maybe" every time I said I was going, as if to emphasise the extremities of my unreliability, though we both knew that I was under tremendous pressure to work on my senior theses. Still, there was the thought that I could use evenings at the farm to get work done, and the truth that I hadn't found a good place to do work yet, though I'd been through many different living situations so far this summer. Beth told me if it didn't work she'd get me back, though I did want it to. So we found ourselves with Alina planning a route out to Oak Center in Lake City, MN.

I drove Beth's mini-van out through hours of darkness where we missed several little signs that would have saved a lot of time. Eventually, we pulled out my GPS, headed to the highway and, a few minutes later, pulled the van to a stop next to the Oak Center General Store.

Inside, there was no light switch, so I couldn't see anything beyond a few worn wooden steps leading upwards into a void and dusty floorboards stretching out to the side. But I could smell and somehow sense what was around us and it reminded me strongly of New Mexico. It was another of those moments where you know that you're right where you should be.

Picture of seats covering concert hall floorSince then, I've been living in the dance/concert hall above the store. I sleep on a tired old matress-tongue of a worn couch, but at the far end of the hall, there's a baby grand piano and, when I sleep, I can see dancing in my head.Picture of my bed in concert hall

Not that there's too much time for that! I wake up between six or seven every morning to do "chores". A quick breakfast is followed by doning of big rubber boats and walk out behind the house where the chicks begin to make peeping noises when they hear me. I wash out their water bowl, fill it, and fed them, then continue down to the barnyard. The horses see me coming, and go into the barn where I tie them down and feed them. By this time, two goats and a sheep have found their way into the feed shed, where I lay out buckets for them to eat from, before locking them in. The pony follows me over to the other side of the barn where I leave it in a large stall with its food. I drop by the chicken coop and extract their water containers and then feed them, different feeds depending on size. I drop by the turkey coop, extract their water dishes and feed them. I drop by the duck pen, extract the three water dishes. I heard the geese into the duck pen and feed them. I clean all the water dishes, including several lying around the yard at random. I let the geese go. I feed the ducks. I return the water dishes and fill them (requiring many trips with a five-gallon bucket). I collect all the hen's eggs. I let all the animals go, and go back to the store.

Whew! That might seem like it would take forever, but it's only an hour or so, sometimes less. Things run a little slower if the geese don't want to be herded. You can't get within twenty feet of them without the whole flock moving away from you. The first few times I went through this process Beth was helping and it was quite a challenge to get the geese in. After she left, I was worried I'd never be able to do it. Amazingly, though, I managed to get them all in in just about three minutes.

There are other things. Yesterday morning, something changed about the farm. I was throwing a water dish over a fence when suddenly my entire field of vision turned a salmon colour with flecks of blue and yellow. I came back to reality, still standing, to hear Beth asking me if I was alright, which is the moment when I realized that fence, which I'd been consistently bumping into, had become electricified and I'd taken a shot to the left side of my forehead, somewhere above my eye. This left me wondering, naturally, if all overloaded optic nerves see salmon.

I've also learned how to candle eggs, which come in white, brown, yellow, and blue. After collecting them, we set them atop a bright light and the egg lights up with stars and constellations. Cracks appear as glowing rifts which widen when you squeeze the egg. The cracked eggs end up in my breakfast and the good eggs are labeled and packaged for farmers' markets.Picture of egg being candled

Picture of backroom of store
I candle eggs at this table

It seems as though each day is filled with a small host of minor discoveries. I'll try to delve into those, as well as the characters of this story a little more next time.




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