I have yet to figure out most things in life, as 21 short years is not nearly enough experience to be absolutely certain about anything. But one cliché that I have learned to trust is that nothing is ever what it seems or turns out how you imagine it will. As a person with a planning-type personality, this is current that I have been swimming against for a while; always making plans and ideas based on what I think will happen next. Finally I am realizing that life is much easier and more enjoyable if you go into new situations with a blank mind, no expectations or preformed notions about the situation, because that way you notice and learn so much more. This is the mindset with which I came to Australia, and I can say without hesitation that this has been one of the most interesting months of my life.
I can not decide if I learned more from my actual work or simply from living with the people I was working for during my WWOOFing internship. Every day for 3 weeks I woke up at 6:00am and started my day with one hour of attacking invasive species that were growing on the property. On this particular farm, they had issues with 3 different invasive plants, guinnea Grass, paspalum, and sensitive weed, that have been slowly coming in and spreading for years, taking over their native trees. Although pulling out different grasses can get very redundant after a while, I’m so glad I did it because now I can spot any of these 3 invasive plants from a mile away. It’s wonderful to be in a brand new environment but still be able to look at my surroundings and know which plants should be there and which ones shouldn’t (or at least some, I think I have a long way to go to really learn them all).
In addition to this helpful skill, my very knowledgeable host family spent most of the day filling my head with an impressively wide range of endless ecological facts. This included information on different farming techniques, human interactions with the Australian landscape, water conservation problems, tree identification, animal pests and helpful animals, solar energy use, and environmentally friendly building just to name a few general topics, but the list could go on for many pages. I did my best to absorb as much of this information as possible and write down what I could remember but I’m sure some of it just went in one ear and out the other. I was very lucky to find a host family that was not only extremely intelligent, well-informed, world traveling environmentalists, but they were also unimaginably patient and loved to teach. As I could not imagine a better situation academically, I decided to stay with that family for the whole 3 weeks instead of moving around to other farms as most WWOOFers do. I might have been nice to experience multiple farms and hear the opinions and thoughts of other local Australian farmers, but I felt that I was learning so much from my current family that I couldn’t get myself to move and risk getting a new host that was not as excited about teaching and sharing.
During non-working time, their constant teaching continued but the topic changed. Not only were they ecological experts (or a least appeared that way to me, although I probably would have believed almost anything they told me) but they also had very interesting hobbies. One of the men in the house is extremely into aboriginal culture and has a didgeridoo business. In my spare time he would take me up to the workshop and show me the whole process behind the production of each and every didgeridoo he made (which is much more than you would think, trust me). He also taught me about the history of the instrument, when they were traditionally used, and even gave me some lessons on how to play them. He was a very good teacher but let’s just say didgeridoo playing is definitely not my calling.
After the initial adjustment period, I ended up really loving the people and the lifestyle that I stumbled into. I never could have seen any of this coming and probably would have closed my mind to some of it if I had tried to figure it all out. So in the end, I am now sitting in a hostel with a bunch of traveling people my own age, from all different countries, all wearing clothes and using shampoo and deodorant and all those things (thankfully), and I can’t help but think the last 3 weeks was all a dream. But as you can tell, even if it was a dream, it was surely an unforgettable one that I will take lessons from for the rest of my life.