If you're involved in the international WWOOF movement (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) then I'm sure you'll know what I mean when I say that hosts are often on the receiving end of some far-reaching insights from the young people who pass through their homes, even if these pieces of 'wisdom' have seemingly nothing to do with gardening. I've been thinking a lot this week about Tom, a German WWOOFer whose training was in hospitality and who not only taught me how to make the perfect cup of black tea (an egg-timer was involved) but also a great deal about 'time'.
Winter in The Catlins is always challenging – relentless cold weather with frequent snow and hail showers, and endless downpours of wind-driven rain. It's the time of year when older people in the community get sick and families on very basic incomes can do with a boost. With this in mind, I spent much of the weekend turning out soup, gooseberry crumbles, and vegetarian versions of cottage pies. I enjoy cooking, especially for others, but once or twice I found myself resenting the time involved in digging, trimming, washing, peeling, and chopping before I could finally get around to actually creating the various dishes. And then I remembered Tom.
Tom WWOOFed with us about three years ago. He was a willing soul and a pleasure to host. After a few days of helping out in the garden, Tom decided he'd like to go sightseeing. We arranged with a neighbour who works in our nearest town half an hour away, to take him and one of our mountain bikes with her so that Tom could go exploring the region further north. At the end of the day, he was to meet up with her again and he and the bike would be conveyed back home. Except it didn't happen quite like that. Tom, who was more than a little challenged in the area of practicalities, had padlocked the bike to a fence, gone for a walk, and then lost the padlock key. He phoned from a farmhouse, just on dark, to say that he had missed his ride home and didn't know what to do. I was due to attend a meeting that same evening, and I also had my own family and two other WWOOFers to cook for. Nevertheless, I left what I was doing, grabbed a hacksaw, hopped in the car, and went off on the hour's return journey to rescue Tom.
Perhaps I conveyed just a hint of frustration as I set about sawing through the chain holding the bike to the fence and then loaded the bike onto the carrier because Tom (who was looking particularly calm) said to me, as we drove off, "Diana, time is not your enemy."
I bit my tongue and thought, "Tom, if only you knew what I have to achieve this evening and what your losing the key to the padlock has meant to my state of mind."
But this weekend, as I was making meals for people I care about, from vegetables I had grown, nurtured, dug, washed, and peeled myself, I found Tom's wisdom refreshingly calming. Yes, I could have made my give-away meals in a fraction of the time using store-bought frozen vegetables, canned fruit, and plastic bags of prewashed carrots and potatoes (much of it grown inorganically and shipped halfway across the world) but in the end, I very much suspect that the cost to the Earth would have far outweighed my good intentions to help my neighbours. Provided that I kept in mind Tom's mantra and remembered that 'time was not my enemy', everything was pleasantly, rewardingly manageable.
In the coming months, as I sow and plant, thin, mulch, weed and cook, I'm going to do so with a greater sense of gardening's contribution to the world as well as to my family and immediate community. And if I don't treat time as my enemy, great contentment rather than stress and frustration, will be my reward.