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.