September 23, 2015

WWOOF 5, Part 2: Allen

Back to South Dakota.
Allen is located on Pine Ridge Reservation, in the pole of inaccessibility, which isn’t quite as terrifying as it sounds, but it does mean that it’s as far away from the ocean as you can possibly get in North America.  This is where, as I understand it, in the late 1800s, the U.S. military kept losing battles to the Lakota natives who lived in the area.  They’d decide they wanted the Lakota land, and then they’d try to take it, and then they’d have a battle and lose and make a treaty and break said treaty when they decided, again, that they wanted the land.  After this happened a couple of times, the U.S. chose playing dirty over losing and massacred the Natives, everybody, including children.  Some of this happened in Allen, so I was walking through a place where a hundred and twenty-five years ago, my people did inconceivably terrible things to their people, and the Natives are still reeling from it, unable to get their feet under them.  And there I was, apologetically cradling my white privilege, so clearly an outsider.

Here are some stats on Allen, provided by Wikipedia and Martha (more on her later):
  • According to the 2000 census, it has the lowest income per capita in the entire United States at $1,539
  • The unemployment rate is around 80%
  • The life expectancy is 47 years, the lowest in the developed world
  • The alcoholism rate is at 60%, which contributes to the average life span as many of its residents are killed in drunk driving accidents
Tell me that these figures aren’t due to the horrors the Natives faced, the horrors directly inflicted by the white people, and I will tell you that you are wrong.

Exiting soapbox.  But – the stage is set, yeah?
I got to Allen on a Saturday with the sun in my eyes, that early evening, pre-dusk sun that no visor or sunglasses or squinting can dilute.  A black pickup with Alaska plates followed me down the gravel road to the American Horse School where Martha (the girlfriend of Luke, who I'd been in contact with about WWOOFing) had suggested we meet.  When I turned my car around, a short woman with brown curls, about my age, jumped out of the truck.  "I'm Martha," she said.  "There have been a few... updates, which I'll fill you in about at the ranch.  Just stay close."  At this point I’ve learned that in WWOOFing, of course there are updates.  I was apprehensive but unsure of exactly how apprehensive to be.  Worse than being locked in with a sixty-year-old who kept hitting on me?  Worse than beans and rice four meals in row?  We caravanned the couple miles to the Livermont ranch, leaving clouds of blackish dust in our wake.
As soon as I got there, three dogs jumped up to look inside my window.  They were Bounce, Boone, and Selkie, who were each so unique and precious in their personalities.  Bounce was the brat, the tagalong.  He was the only dog on the ranch who was still intact, but he was also the smallest, besides Bobby who didn’t even count, and it gave him a sort of frenzy to keep up with the big kids.  Boone was the star football player.  He was handsome and brave and athletic and everyone wanted to be him, especially Bixby.  Selkie was a beautiful wolfish dog with mismatched eyes who, according to legend, turned into a horse mermaid at night.  She was elegant and confident.  She and Boone ran the show.  It was especially hard for Bix to have such a helicopter mom this week.  Because of the horses and cattle and rattlesnakes and cats and who knows what else and Danny (to be explained later), I didn’t let him off leash 99% of the time we were there, and he so desperately wanted to pal around with Boone and Selkie.  (Not Bounce.  Never Bounce.)
Anyway, we got there, there were dogs, I got a quick tour of the main house and then Martha and I moved my car out to the camper where I’d be staying, and that’s where I got the lowdown. 
The number one update turned out to be the ex-meth heads who were staying in one of the campers that dotted the Livermont landscape.  Murphy was tall and muscular and Lakota.  Vicky, his girlfriend, was skinny and blonde.  They were both perfectly pleasant/ambivalent towards me.  Vicky even called me a pretty girl, which made me feel a little parrotish, but that’s better than terrified.  “You might want to lock up your bike,” Martha warned.  I found out the next day that "ex" was a sort of relative term when it came to their meth consumption.  "They were WIRED yesterday," Danny said Sunday morning.  "They told me they were clean, but I can tell, cause yesterday they were wired and today he's done some work, so I can tell."  It was true; Murphy was working on some sort of addition to the house, and Vicky was baking a molten chocolate cake, or she was going to once she found her glasses (to my knowledge, she never did).  They left Tuesday morning after a rambunctious night of, apparently, Coca-Cola and crystal meth.  I was happily oblivious, asleep in my camper next to a very protective dog, a couple of knives, and a can of pepper spray.
Let’s move on to Danny.  Danny was an Italian New Yorker who had only been on the ranch, on any ranch, for a year, but had a natural talent for the horses and cattle.  He showed us a feral horse he had been training, bridled and saddled him up and walked him around the yard.  I'd been warned by both Luke and Martha, separately, that he was a teaser, and true to form, he told me he'd shoot Bixby if he went after the cats or the calves.  "He's joking," Martha told me each time Danny stuck out his index finger and thumb and pointed at Bixby.  The next day he announced he'd discussed it with Larry, and they'd agreed he wouldn't shoot Bix, although he then encouraged me to let Bixby off leash around the horses and, after I refused, told stories of dogs who'd died or nearly died after getting a hoof to the head.  But Martha and Luke had caught him talking to the calves and feeding them canned peaches by hand, so I knew he was a softie.  A hardened, Italian, New Yorker softie, sure, who had rested his hand on his pistol when confronting Murphy about a stolen saddle.  Murphy said, "I ain't scared of your gun," to which Danny replied, "It ain't the gun you should be afraid of, it's me."  I wasn't present for this, I heard about it later from Danny, so who knows what actually happened.  Danny also reused his pot bag as the cheese bag and had to pick a bud of marijuana out of the parmesan one night before dinner, but by that time, I couldn’t do anything but laugh.  He won me over when he chased me down in the mule to tell me when dinner would be ready.  By the end of the week, Danny and I were totally good.
Larry was Luke's father, and mostly all I knew about him was that he was high half the time but you couldn't which half.  He was friendly enough, and people called him Cotton because even though he was part Native (mostly not), his hair was white.  He was quiet and kind of gruff, but all in all perfectly nice. 

Kent was Larry's brother, and his hobbies included going into town to mess with people.  "He'll probably mess with you," Martha said.  "And he doesn't mean anything by it but he doesn't really know when to stop."  He never did though, except once he told me Luke wasn’t back because he didn’t like WWOOFers and was avoiding me.  At least I think that's what he said, he could be a little difficult to understand. 

Kent and Larry's mom lived there too, and all I know about her was that her name was Caroline and she had an obnoxious little skittish dog who play wrestled with the cat, but I love her because my first night there she stood outside her back door, holding out an extension cord like an offering to the gods.  She's the reason I got electricity in my little camper, and for that she is my hero.
Martha was the most normal person by far, the eye of the Livermont hurricane.  She was twenty-seven or so and had worked as a WWOOFer in California and on other farms too for money, Florida and Pennsylvania and Vermont, and some non-profit start up that backfired in Colorado.  She’d met Luke via the internet somehow, and he’d come to visit her in Colorado, and then she’d gone to visit him in South Dakota.  When she tried to leave the first time, she got snowed in, and when she tried to leave a second time, she hit a deer in Hay Springs, Nebraska, totaled her car, and had to be towed back to Livermont.  All of that led up to her sort of accidentally moving out there with him.  That’s not even the punch line.  She was already working remotely, so when she moved into a camper in South Dakota, she continued to do so.  She’d be announced as Martha from Colorado, and she’d wave and say hi, and then one day a coworker asked, “Are you... in a camper?” and she had to fess up that yes, actually, she was in a camper in Allen, South Dakota, eight miles from the actual ranch even, and plugged into a telephone pole with stallions fighting outside her window.  Martha was quirky and fun and witty and reminded me a little of Ellen Page.  She was Livermont’s saving grace, and I would have hightailed it outta there on day one if she hadn’t been there to show me the funny side of things and share her six-packs.
I never met Luke.  I can’t be sure he’s real.  If we’re doing analogies and Martha is the eye of the hurricane, Luke is the center of the spider’s web.  He held everyone together, the pothead father and the slightly creepy brother, the kindly grandmother, the meth heads, the nutty Italian New Yorker, and Martha.  And yet, he wasn’t there.  He was in Fargo for a wedding and had told me he was coming back on September 15 but definitely didn’t.  Hitchhiking went poorly, and the bus took 24 hours, and other stuff that I don’t even know about.  I got sporadic updates from Martha on his whereabouts.  “He sent me a photo of a plastic mold of his face.”  “He’s approaching Sioux Falls.”  “He’s not approaching Sioux Falls.”  “He’s hitching.”  “He’s taking a bus.”  And on.  Luke was elusive and flighty.  His last name on facebook is Journeyman, not because that’s his last name, but because that’s what his last name “should be,” and that tells you a little about Luke.
I did almost no work while I was there.  That was Luke's task, to manage the WWOOFers, and after Larry told Martha that the couple hours we spent hacking at weeds and gathering hay could have easily been accomplished using the tractor, I did no work at all.  I ate their food and slept in their camper and lived with the craziness.  One night I disposed of a mouse that had died under my bed.  I checked underneath it each night right before I slipped into the blankets, and even after I saw it that’s what I did anyway, telling myself I’d take care of it in the morning.  I couldn’t do that, of course, couldn’t sleep with something dead underneath me.  With lots of moral support from Sarah, who had dealt with dead mice before, God bless her, I found a spatula, scooped the poor mousey’s corpse up from the carpet, draped a Wet Wipe over its body, and tossed it and the spatula unceremoniously out the camper door.  And you know what?  For all the weird noises we heard during the night, the coyotes, the owls, even the resident cats and dogs, nothing came and took that dead mouse away, and the next morning it was still laying in the grass.

Another thing I did was explore the graveyard.  Maybe three-quarters of a mile from the ranch, there was a church with metal grating on the windows and a big, fenced in graveyard.  The gates weren’t locked, so I swung one open and Bix and I walked through.  The names were amazing – Iron Cloud and Black Hawk and Charging Bear.  My favorite was Theresa M. Imitates Dog, who shared my birthday (although not year) and had died on August 5.  The dirt on her grave still rose up in a mound, and it was covered with all kinds of colorful trinkets.  There were other graves like this, some with large, ornate headstones, some with small wooden crosses.  One grave had a cowboy boot leaning against its marker.
My second to last night there, I got a call from Martha, which hadn’t happened before.  She told me about a baby coyote she had seen, covered in mange, possibly rabid, very much dying.  “You want to drive to the gas station and get beer?” she asked.  “Luke isn’t coming back until Friday.”  I said yes.  We got in the Subaru and drove half an hour to the gas station, where she picked up two six packs, a gallon of ice cream, and a lot of bacon.  The clouds were gorgeous on the way back, and we talked about how that was just because of the dust South Dakota kicked up, about The Golden Compass, about the White Stripes.  She told me Jack and Meg White were not siblings, as they led people to believe, but divorcees who had decided to make music together anyway.  We took the six packs to the field and climbed up on hay bales with the dogs, sat cross legged and talked about Jenny Lewis’s song “Pretty Bird” and its ties to the Lakota people as storm clouds rolled in.  “It’s not gonna rain,” we said, as it rained on us.  We could see lightning in the distance, clouds dumping precipitation miles and miles away, and we talked about boyfriends and ex-boyfriends and sort of boyfriends and how they came to be, and the clouds danced closer and the sky grew darker and all of a sudden we couldn’t deny it anymore, it was raining, and we slid down the hay bales and took off running through the weeds in the dark and the rain.  Larry looked up when we came in.  “Raining, huh?” he asked.  We ate dinner together then, and Larry and Martha talked about the price of hay while I swam in the backlash of it all.  And that – that long moment with the hay and the rain and Jenny Lewis – that is what I want to remember about South Dakota.
You go west for the black setting sun
You go south to the white spirit world
You go east for those real green eyes
You go north, walk the good red road

September 22, 2015

WWOOF 5, Part 1: Badlands

The Badlands get their very own post, because a) there is very little to do in Allen, South Dakota so I wrote it already and b) I had so much to write that including it in the general South Dakota post would make it the biggest blog post ever and we all know those can get boring.
So this is embarrassing, but ever since I saw the Badlands on the Bachelor (Farmer Chris’s season, duh), I’ve desperately wanted to go.  I distinctly remember Ashley I. pouting on top of a mesa, false eyelashes fluttering in the breeze.  I wanted that.  And here I was, an hour and fifteen minutes away with absolutely nothing else to do.  So Bix and I hopped in the car and drove over the hills and dales and past the cows on the road who were accompanied by a concerned-looking cattle dog and into the itty bitty town of Interior, Pop. 67, for provisions.  I stocked up on Pringles and expired baby carrots and a Snickers bar that melted very quickly but skipped over the apples that were, for whatever reason, being sold for the outrageous price of $2.65 while Bixby waited patiently in the car.  (Did you know that tiny convenience stores in South Dakota sell liquor?  I didn’t buy any, but I could have.)

As I drove closer to the arching rock structures, I pictured myself trotting up and down the plateaus, ruler of the Badlands, queen of South Dakota.  It wasn’t quite like that – far too hot, for one, and also too cactusy and friendly towards rattlesnakes.  I’d gone a bit overboard with the trails too, because when I asked the ranger what her recommendations were, she said she didn’t give any since it really depended on what you wanted to do.  “I like to hike,” I thought, “I can hike,” and I decided I’d do all of them.  I nearly did, too.  We started with Notch Trail, which had a ladder, so I wasn't sure how far along we'd get.  Bix beasted the ladder, partly because he is a beast and partly because “ladder” is sort of a generous description.  It was more like round wooden stairs laid on a steep hill, spaced awkwardly and held together with a metal chain, but I can see how that might get tedious to write out.  We did trot nicely along that trail, we were fresh and it hadn’t yet reached the 96 degrees the rangers promised.  We met a family with southern accents and another dog that had also climbed the "ladder" and this guy named Abi who was moving from Madison to San Francisco and stopping at national parks along the way.  He and I wound up hiking together for half an hour or so, because we both knew that solo traveling can get kind of boring, and besides, he shared his chocolate.
Here’s the thing: the Badlands are spectacular.  They are harsh and beautiful and utterly bizarre.  The word that comes to mind, pretentious as it may sound, is arresting.  I felt like I’d been picked up off the earth and dropped onto a grassier version of Mars.  The sun is insanely intense and unless you’re on the right side of a rock formation at the right time of day, there’s absolutely no shade.  Nothing is soft or comfortable, it’s as if the whole place is mad at you for stopping by, and the only water sources we saw were sad little puddles glazed over with mud.  As I’ve been traveling east to west, I’ve pictured the pioneers discovering the places I’m discovering, and the Badlands must have absolutely knocked their socks off, and killed a good deal of them too.  I had an overwhelming sense, with my red hair and pale skin, of not belonging.  And of course I didn’t have enough water.  I don’t know that you could have had enough water.  The recommended amount was a gallon, but I had five water bottles, four of which were completely full, in my car, so that’s what I brought, under the assumption that there would be a water fountain, or at least a vending machine, at the other end of the hike. 
This was my plan:
Notch Trail (1.5 miles round trip)
Castle Trail (5 miles out)
Fossil Loop at the end of Castle Trail (.25 miles)
Castle Trail/Medicine Loop/Castle Trail (a little more than 5 miles, which would take me back to the car)
Door Trail (.75 miles round trip)
Window Trail (.25 miles round trip)

This way I was only skipping the closed Cliff Shelf Nature Trail and one called Saddle Pass that sounded extremely steep and fairly redundant since I’d be walking past its summit when I did Castle Trail.  So I’d done Notch Trail, and since Abi was planning to do a section of Castle Trail as well, we set off together.  We talk mostly about our favorite Netflix shows, since we were both deprived of Netflix and couldn’t actually watch them.  When we reached Old NE Road, Abi turned back and I kept going, following Castle Trail.  Bixby and I stopped to eat lunch, and it got hotter and hotter, and I played “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen on my phone.  I was having a fabulous time.  I stopped having a fabulous time somewhere after the intersection of Castle and Saddle and Medicine, where there wasn’t another soul to be seen, except probably rattlesnakes, and I kept wondering if grizzles came this far south or east.  The views were magnificent, so there was that to appreciate, but I was worried about water since we’d easily gone through three of our five bottles and I wasn’t sure if there would be any water once we reached the other parking lot.  

And as it turned out, there wasn’t.  There were two unisex bathrooms, although I feel like it’s unfair to call them bathrooms if there isn’t any running water.  They were privies.  Bix and I flopped next to the signs about fossils, and he attracted lots of attention by panting dramatically and I attracted lots of attention by being the color of a tomato.  A couple, bless them, gave us a bottle and a half of water.  A bus drove by and dropped off loads of tourists, which I felt both very smug and stupid about, and I considered asking the driver if he carried water bottles and could spare a couple.  Two Australian guys stopped by to rub Bixby’s head.  They were also road tripping, but in a ridiculous striped van that was only cool because they were driving it.  They’re headed to Denver, same as me, and a loud part of me wanted to jump in their potentially air conditioned van and drive away with them.  I’m sure Bix would have been on board.  But then!  The same couple that had given me water came up to me again and asked if I wanted a ride somewhere.  They had dogs, they told me, so Bixby could ride in the back of their SUV.  It took a minute for me to rearrange the plan in my head, but as soon as I did, I said yes, absolutely, gathered my stuff up and jumped in.  Bixby was overjoyed.  I was overjoyed.  They gave me a Coke, and I was ecstatic.  I asked them to drop me off at the bottom of Saddle Pass, because I couldn’t suddenly cut five miles out of the day’s hike and still feel proud of myself, and they did.  I said thank you a million times, slurped down the Coke, put on more sunscreen, and mentally prepped myself for the mountain in front of me.
It was pretty big.

Mountain isn’t the right word for it, because nothing in South Dakota is mountainous, but it was certainly steep and not too short.  The trail was just a quarter mile, but a lot of that was spent scrabbling up on all fours.  I liked it immensely.  It was exactly the sort of thing we would have done in college, a big gang of us climbing and reaching and offering each other a hand up, the boys intrepidly leading the way and the girls having a laughing attack halfway to the top.  Bix and I did okay on our own though, and it was extremely satisfying to get to the top and look down at the parking lot far, far below us.  To celebrate, I took pictures and Bixby sniffed around for animal poop.
We continued on, this time taking Medicine Root Loop instead of traveling where we’d already been on Castle Trail.  Where Castle had cozied right up next to the rocks, Medicine danced away from them, offering a landscape view.  I imagined Natives stalking through the grasses, wondered what exactly they wore to protect their feet, how they shaded themselves from the blazing sun.  We had a bottle and a half of water left, and I wanted to save the full bottle until we met back up with Castle and the half for the walk back to the car, just in case.  We were both very thirsty, and the hike was uneventful.  My boots crunched along the dirt trail and Bix’s tags jingled merrily as we walked the two plus miles through the prairie.  We didn’t see a soul until we got to the crossroads of Castle and Medicine and NE Road, when we were taking a water and shade break.  A Mustang drove up and the only person in it got out to look at the sign.  We said hi to each other, but that was it.  I don’t know what he was doing, but he seemed lost and it made me uncomfortable, so I took off pretty quickly.  We only had about a mile left anyway, and it was all trail we’d done earlier in the day with Abi, so I figured it would be fairly quick.

There are “DANGER, RATTLESNAKES” signs all over the place, at the start of each and every trail, and Abi had peppered our conversation with talk of seeing one, but I thought our odds were pretty low, and now that Bix and I had about a mile to go out of a 10+ mile day, our odds were even lower.  But of course, exactly in the moment that I was thinking, “Guess I won’t see any rattlesnakes,” a giant hissing came up from the grass, and Bixby and I both jumped out of our skin.  A rattlesnake, not too big but very ferocious, lay pretzeled in the grass just off the trail.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but I am a rational human being that doesn’t want to be found dead the next day with blackened skin and puncture wounds and my eyes rolled back in my head, or whatever happens to snakebite victims.  And I had Bixby to consider, who fortunately seemed about as interested as I was in getting near the snake.  We had to go through the grass, obviously, which was tall and thick and very unappealing, but better that than along the trail, which the snake had very clearly designated as HIS.  (Or HERS, I have no idea.  ITS.)  So that’s what we did, waded through the grass, my eyes darting frantically, hoping not to see any other snakes, hoping ours would not decide to chase us.  It didn’t, and once back on the trail, I scootched very slightly closer to get an awful photo of it behind some grass. 
“PHEW,” I thought, but I shouldn’t have, because almost the very second I turned back around to head further down the trail towards the safety of the parking lot, a Very Large Ram was staring at us from on top of a small ridge, chewing on some grass.  The thing about sheep is that there are more varieties than you think about.  For most people, the word “sheep” conjures up an image of a wooly thing that says baa.  The ram looking contemplatively down at us may have said baa, but his most defining characteristic was the Very Large Set of Horns on his Very Large Head.  I later found out that this particular kind of sheep is called bighorn, and for obvious reasons.  The picture I had of myself dead on the prairie changed from a snakebitten one to a smushed and pulpy one, bowled over by the horns and then pranced upon with the hooves, Bixby barking frantically beside me, only to be met by the same fate.  The thing is, I’m from North Carolina.  I’ve researched how to deal with bears of different varieties and alligators and mountain lions and wolves, just in case, and I can handle meeting a snake, obviously, but I was at a complete loss as to how to react to a bighorn sheep that was significantly larger than me and had weapons on its head. 

(I just investigated: bighorn sheep can weigh up to 300 pounds, their horns making up 10% of that.  Wikipedia later contradicts itself, referencing Rocky Mountain varieties that “occasionally exceed 500 pounds,” and a quick look at the Badlands’ website tells me they reintroduced their bighorns from Colorado.  Who knows how big this dude was.) 

He wasn’t standing on the trail, like I had initially thought, but I did have to walk in his general direction, up the ridge and past him, to continue on towards the car.  Behind me was the rattlesnake, in front of me was the ram.  I needed to take some sort of action because I wasn’t interested in hanging out until he decided to leave and/or gore me, so I started to talk very loudly in a friendly sort of way.  “Hello, ram!” I said, trying to walk confidently.  “We’re just walking up this trail and very soon we’ll be past you.  We’re very friendly and not going to hurt you at all.  It’s just me and the dog.  Hope you’re enjoying your grass!” and on and on, without looking at the ram at all, in case he considered that a challenge, but with my ears in overdrive for the sound of hooves clopping our way.  It didn’t happen, thank goodness, and Bixby and I made it the rest of the way to the car, jittery as all get out, with no other animal encounters except the occasional bird flying up from the grass, making me jump every time.
We still hadn’t done Door or Window Trail at this point, and I wasn’t really feeling up for it, but I figured I’m never coming back to South Dakota, and I may as well get the most out of the Badlands while I was there.  “Alright, dog,” I said to Bix, and he jumped up, ever eager, and tried to chase some chipmunky things across the boardwalk.  I also had an urgent need to tell someone about the rattlesnake/sheep encounter, and fortunately there was an older couple (who had adopted their dog from North Carolina!) at the Window Trail overlook who were completely willing to hear me babble about probably very commonplace wildlife encounters.  

And then I drove home, sunburned, salty, and covered in dust.  The cows we’d passed that morning were still on the side of the road, but the dog had evidently given up and gone home.  Us too, cattle dog.

September 21, 2015

WWOOF 4: Chatfield

The word for Minnesota is quaint.  It's exactly what you'd expect, a bunch of polite blonde people with weird accents.  They say stuff like, "Have a good day now, ya hear?" and ask if they've met you before.  Growing up listening to Prairie Home Companion was a better introduction to Minnesotans than you may expect; the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.  Well, they got the women and children right anyway – Tinder suggested mixed results for the men ;)  Regardless, I got hooked, more on the farm than anything else, and decided to stay a record twelve days.  Commitment, y'all. 
Let’s set the scene: Andrea (ahn-DRAY-uh, not ANN-dree-uh) was the farmer there, and her kids were Arthur and Celia.  They were twelve and eleven, respectively, and blonde as all get out.  Arthur was clearly the ringleader, and he loved to hear and tell stories about himself, pull pranks, and commit daredevil stunts, while Celia embodied the characteristics of the early Disney princesses: kind and sweet and supportive with a knack for music.  The kids switched back and forth between the farmhouse and the townhouse, where their dad lived, so I really only spent a couple of days with them all in all.  I stayed in the most perfect little cabin one hundred and eighty steps from the front door of the farmhouse (I know because I counted, it gets really dark and reeeeally creepy there).  The cabin had hardwood floors and walls and ceilings and featured lots of windows and a huge bed, literally two twins pushed together and fitted with a king-sized sheet.  I was in heaven.  Andrea fixed amazing meals for the two of us for dinner: Indian food, Thai food, eggplants and peppers and whole gloves of garlic popped into our mouths, which sounds disgusting but it’s not.  It was a good food week, a good bed week, a good people week.
My job at Green Compass was primarily harvesting.  I picked green beans, raspberries, and tomatoes, and then more green beans, and more green beans, and more green beans.  They had a whole tunnel there, a long archway completely covered in green.  I ate an absurd number of beans over the course of the week, and managed never to get sick of them.  If one broke I ate it, if I accidently picked on that was too small I ate it, if I found one that was too big I ate it, if there was one that looked extra delicious I ate that too.  Green beans for days.  And I swear that if you'd sat still and stared at one long enough, you could have seen it growing.  I also cleaned garlic, acres and acres of garlic.  When Andrea told me I'd be doing this, I pictured myself standing in front of a sink for a week.  This wasn't the case, which might be obvious to those of you who interact with garlic pretty much ever, since it’s a dry sort of operation.  You peel at it, pulling off the one or two or three dirt-covered outer layers until you're left with a garlic head that is clean and white (small and bright?), and then you brush at the bottom to make sure you've gotten most of the dirt out, and then you put it in the good bag.  It’s incredibly satisfying, and it was during the garlic cleaning that I got hooked on podcasts.  Honestly, podcasts always struck me as nerdy and boring, but now I am slinking my hypocritical way straight into podcast land.  I started with "Invisibilia," and then I did "Magic Lessons," and then I listened to "Ted Talk Radio," and then I threw caution to the wind and downloaded all of "Serial," and let me just say that if you're in the same boat as I was, swallow your pride and listen to "Serial."  It's good, SO good, I promise, and I am saying this as a very recent skeptic.
One of my earliest nights there, Andrea and the kids and I went out to DreamAcres, which has the only off-the-grid kitchen (read: electricity-less) in Minnesota, or something like that, because every Friday evening from May to October, they sell killer wood-fired pizza.  All of it is vegetarian, but because I’m boring I just got cheese, and I drank my special Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer and watched the sun go down.  We shared a tupperware full of raspberries, and the kids and I got acquainted.  Andrea and I walked down to the creek, which had a multi-level tree house next to it, and down the trail that followed along the water, a rope swing and a flurry of yellow flowers.  I waded in with my Chacos on.  It’s a really beautiful place, incredibly peaceful and down-to-earth.  There was a show that night, but we left before it started.
Every farm I've stayed at has had a defining drink, some beverage I consumed regularly enough to cause an association: Greenbush was cranberry juice, Lewisburg was root beer, and Gosport was lemonade beergaritas.  Chatfield's drink was unequivocally apple juice.  The family had made batches the year before and frozen them, and I drank glass after sweet, apply glass.  Saturday, I got to help make it.  I drove Arthur and Celia there after the farmers' market.  We promptly got distracted by the eight-week jack russell puppy named Lula, but pulled ourselves together after a while and decided to actually be helpful.  What that meant, apparently, was having apples rained down upon us.  A grown man wearing overalls and FiveFinger shoes would climb up into the apple tree and violently shake the branches.  Our job was to hold tarps underneath to catch the apples and try not to get hit without looking up.  (Guess who definitely got hit.)  (It was me.)  We'd then fall upon the pile of apples and chuck the leaves off the tarp and the apples into the bucket like there was no tomorrow.  Celia and I followed these freshly picked apples to the next station: sorting.  Rotten apples went in one bucket, "good" apples went in another.  "What about this one?" we’d ask, holding up a pockmarked apple that a worm had probably absolutely lived in.  "That one's good!  Whatever you're comfortable with!" the woman would answer, and we'd put them in the good bucket and make faces at each other.  The apples were then washed, which I did with Stephen the Intern, who was willing to answer my questions about his own experience staying on a farm in Minnesota and seemed nice enough until he told me he was there to actually learn about the farm and not just use it as a way to travel cross country, and then I really didn't mind when he wandered off.  After washing was possibly the best part: the apple smashing crashing crushing mushing part.  The job was easy, you threw apples into a tube as fast as you could.  It was a job that took two people and could be done with three.  The tube fed into a machine that was made up primarily of a spinning cylinder filled with screw heads poking out that chopped the apples into mushy little pieces.  Once the barrel that caught these was filled, some of the men would put its lid on and crank so that all the apple juice ran out the bottom, down the planks, and through tiny holes into buckets underneath (the bees LOVED this step).  The buckets were taken to the sieve so that any remaining chunks and bees were filtered out, and after that you could drink it straight.  I acquired a small blonde shadow named Romy during the course of the day when I lifted her up and let her see inside the apple smashing machine.  She followed me the rest of the afternoon and sat in my lap during dinner, although the only thing she said to me at any point was that she ate chocolate chip cookies with whipped cream, which I could have guessed from her face.
Tinder struck again in Minnesota, and this time it was Tinder James showing me around Rochester.  Rochester is where the Mayo Clinic is located, and the clinic evidently has all these underground tunnels connecting the patients and doctors and nurses and everybody from the hospital to different parts of the city.  I didn’t get to explore this though, because James was a lackluster tour guide and mostly interested in beer, but we did go to a couple of rooftop bars and wandering through a mall.  I’m not sure why its automatic doors slid open for us at midnight, but they did, and I felt like a character in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but in a mall instead of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is to say it was quietly exhilarating.  Nothing was open, but we prowled around and looked in shop windows and generally felt very sneaky, even though we really had no reason to. 
What else happened in Minnesota?  I went, boringly enough, to the mall.  They lured me in with their Barnes and Noble and before I knew it I was buying a dress.  C’est la vie.  I finished Game of Thrones number five and read all of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and started Lolita.  I discovered the Trader Joe’s, which just so happens to share a strip with the Chuck E. Cheese (can I have my birthday party there?  Unexpected Cheddar and ball pits, happy twenty-sixth?).  We did the farmer’s market, where I bought a blueberry halfmoon pie and two lamb bones for Bix, which I very unfortunately forgot in my car, and helped sell tomatoes and green beans and cilantro.  I went to a Piyo class, which was disappointing.  After all I’ve experienced with yoga and all I’ve heard about pilates, I was expecting something that maybe wasn’t just aerobics, but that’s what we did.  Effective aerobics, sure, but still aerobics.  Bixby and I went for lots of walks down the gravel road.  We mixed it up occasionally with me on my bike and Bix running beside me, and once we both went for a run.  I found a section of a spine from some unknown creature, probably a deer, on one of these excursions, and now it’s sitting in on the ledge in the back of my car.
Wednesday night stands out in my head because it began and ended driving towards lightning.  I put on my new dress and old boots and felt very pretty about myself, and then I drove to the movie theater, lightning crackling somewhere beyond Rochester, to sit in the dark alone and cackle at two old men hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I arrived half an hour before the movie started.  "One for A Walk in the Woods," I asked.  "Just one?" the girl responded, and I felt very stupid but also like she was very stupid, and I didn't feel at all bad for showing her my old App ID for the student discount.  When that was done with, I went up to the bar and sat in a twirly chair, waiting to be served.  The movie theater, the whole place, was nearly empty, three or four employees wandering around.  My presence at the bar was evidently baffling, and they had to get the attention of all the other employees and wheel an entire cart full of alcohol out for me.  I apologized profusely for the hassle and then for some reason went into panic mode and began to flirt aggressively with both concession managers slash bartenders. They were massive nerds, thankfully, and I stumbled upon a common knowledge of, strangely enough, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. "But have you seen the Christmas special? It has Cher," is something I actually said, slurping on my jack and coke, eyelashes aflutter. The one with the ponytail showed off the lobby dragon, castle turrets, and starry ceiling, and when that was done I swished off to watch my movie. It was very much an old person movie, and I laughed obnoxiously loud at every single hiking crack they made from the comfort of not one but two cushy recliners that really reclined.  Nick Offerman as the REI guy and Kristen Schaal as the know-it-all hiker could not have been more perfect.  I don't miss hiking much, I sort of miss it in a "wow that was a cool thing I did" way, but I do wonder about doing a section of the Appalachian Trail next summer.  I've got all the equipment anyway.  When the movie got out, I went to the parking lot to find it had rained while I'd been inside.  There's a lot of rock in Minnesota, did you know that?  Big exposed rock walls, drilled and cracked to make way for things like roads and office buildings.  One such wall loomed behind this theater, and the air was damp and warm and smelled like rain.  Puddles dotted the parking lot.  I drove home without the GPS, and again, I drove toward lightning, maybe this time out near Preston.
So that was Chatfield.  I left a couple days later, said goodbye to my cabin and to the hills and the sunsets, to the creepy barn and the cats, to the green bean tunnel and to the bags of garlic I’d cleaned and to Andrea.  Minnesota was a good one.