I slept soundly and deeply in my little cozy caravan, weighted by the cocoon of a comforter and two woolen blankets. The birds, singing new songs I have yet to identify, the light gray sky of an early morning, and the patter of rain drops on the tin roof I woke to surrounded me in peace. I slept the whole night through, without having to stumble back into clothes and find the outhouse in the middle of the night, and felt completely refreshed. Throwing the bed covers back, I felt the chill in the air, the damp moist coming in through the open window, and so quickly I jumped out, rifled through my backpack for the “warm” clothes, put on my rain jacket, winter beanie hat, and Timberland boots as if it were an average fall or winter day instead of mid summer.
I was to meet M. over by the goats in the shed for their milking, at 7, as agreed upon last night, and so with some time before that, I left the caravan in the rain and went to the barn for a morning coffee. I passed the goat shed along the way with no sighting of M, the goats just looking at me with a “Can I help you?” glare, and went over to the barn to check out the caffeine supplies. There seemed to be no coffee around, although copious amounts of all sorts of tea, and what do you know, a canister of very old looking sugar. Wondering whether I should return to the caravan to retrieve my bag of emergency, finely ground coffee to accommodate any machine, pan, or water source, I decided the rain, which was falling heavier now, was menacing enough to restrain me to a cup of black Welsh tea.
Sipping strong brew, I got a good look around the barn, kept far more tidier than the homestead. Pots, pans, dishes, cups, silverware all stacked neatly in cupboards and drawers; a table covered with oilcloth and four simple wooden chairs, a gas stove, a hot and cold water faucet, and a separate drinking water faucet. The space was large and void of clutter. An open throughway lead to the rest of the barn, an unfinished area with a dirt floor and ladders to the lofts on either side. From the looks of things propped up against the walls and tools along the bench, posters and flyers on the walls this was his scythe workshop, the chairs arranged in a semi circle fashion indicating the places for participants learning this ancient skill. The hay for the goats was off to one side, which M had just come for. After functional morning greetings, she dug her arms into the hay mound, grabbed a mound bigger than herself, and together with her, I left my tea, and walked to the goat shed, where she dumped it in to keep the two milking goats happy during milking.
I got a quick how-to from Michelle, who milked the more feisty goat first. Her adept fingers squeezed out the milk at a rate that would have modern milking machines crying. In less than two minutes, 2 liters of warm milk steamed from the pot and into the cool, damp air. Then it was my turn. Despite following instructions on proper hand placement and squeezing, there was very little to show for it; actually, a few drops only after several minutes of effort. By then Heather the goat was getting restless, so I deferred the task back to M. who continued relieving the goat of her full utter to deposit an additional 2 liters into the family pot, leaving enough milk in the utters to keep the three kids content (the goat kids, not her kids, although I suppose without pasteurization requirements you wouldn’t have to walk all the way back to the kitchen if you were out in the fields and were thirsty).
We walked back to the house, where P. was stirring the simmering morning porridge on the one electric hot plate stove. I turn to the corner the bookshelf and scan the encyclopedias on plants, harvesting, planting, animal husbandry, a few memoirs written by people who went off grid living, books on crafts and projects, scientific journals. A few catch my interest. A memoir of a woman my age bicycling through Pakistan and India. A woman giving up her job in London and buying a run-down fixer-upper on a Skye Island. M. says I’m welcome to take any of them back to the caravan.
E. is called to breakfast, the late sleeper and night owl, but F. has been up since the crack of dawn, occupying one of the other corners of the cottage, and avidly following an Australian family and their humdrum life in Australia on a Youtube video. We all sit down to a presentation of porridge (cooked to a refined consistency to resemble cream of wheat) with raspberry preserves and pear bits and another type of small, round, red berry, which must be the kind I see ripening outside my caravan door. “Do you like porridge?” F. asks me. “I love it!” I exclaim. “Good! Our last workawayer was gluten intolerant and we couldn’t have it for two weeks.” Everyone dug in to their wooden bowls with fervor, I included. Yet here again my tastebuds balked: without a pinch of salt, honey, raisins, bananas, left it rather … well, austere, save for the sporadic tartness of the berries. This lack of sugar this morning left an interesting wake in my stomach: I was neither hungry nor sated, yet neither satisfied nor still craving. Despite the generous portion, I felt as if I hadn’t really eaten. I can’t say this is an interesting mention, but rather a peculiar one: is it the salt and sugar we crave that drives an appetite? Have our conditioned tastebuds wreaked such havoc on our signals for food?
P. doles out what he believes are appropriate portions from the pot into wooden bowls, and one of these is placed in front of me. Surrounding my bowl are little jars of homemade dye, an old trophy of P.’s when he won 4th place in a 2017 scythe competition, tea cups from this morning, an empty milk liter, liquid craft adhesive, and Eva’s flower press.
Because of the ongoing rain, I’ll be working under cover, and this had me in the wood cutting shelter off the barn. For several hours I sawed through tree branches to stockpile their winter store. I forgot what physical labor felt like. Lifting long, thick, heavy branches required some strength, and sawing through them, turning the branches when the saw became stuck at a certain depth, sawing again, and listening for that moment of ease, when a complete break has been reached, was gratifying. I carried the logs, stacked them by the duck shed, walked back to a different shed where the branches were stored, pulled another onto the sawing block. I was called in for lunch at 1 pm, where for the family of 5 (including me) a two duck-egg omelette with goat cheese was waiting, from which we all got a piece of. A slice of bread, made from a sourdough starter, ground whole wheat flour from a miller on the coast, a few nuts and fewer raisins. By this time, I expected no salt and was delivered its promise. I took my time in tasting every bite; I wouldn’t eat again until 7, and I wanted to give every solemn chew the recognition it deserved despite the absence of its ancient side-by-side, secret ingredient companion. The impact salt has made on humanity and civilization since humans have followed the animal routes to natural salt formations around the world shaped the very world we live in. The word salary is derived form the word salt, as is salad and salubrious. Discovering why this particular table chose to go without it except for the drying sausages strung up overhead might be my new mission.