On a lighter note…

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I am having a great time. I am meeting so many people whom I genuinely enjoy and already care about. I’m trying not to think about how pitifully I’ll cry when I leave this place; it’s that good. Circles of friends keep intertwining; I meet a handful of people on Aussie day, and get re-aquatinted with them at Laneway Music Festival two weeks later. Or I meet a couple new best friends camping, and meet up again after my farm stay to play beach volleyball. I’ve gone to St Matthew’s church twice with Kristen, Brittany, and my other new friends, and tonight I’m going out to dinner with a few more.

And everyone knows each other. Seriously. You can play seven degrees of separation with everyone you meet.

Tomorrow I leave for a wildlife sanctuary near Albany, which I am obviously stoked about. After that I’ll spend two nights being touristy in Albany before heading off to a vegetarian berry farm in Northcliffe, and from there to an alpaca stud farm in Denmark.

After that, and here is the real climax of this trip, I can already see, I am volunteering at two Christian camps with ANOTHER friend of a friend. I won’t be back in Perth again until April sixth.

I’m so nervous to go out on my own! I’m in another country, on another continent, but I’m actually more anxious about leaving the comfort of this city and the friends I’ve met than I was to leave America.

Weird.

Hope you enjoy the pictures! And seriously, I appreciate you reading this messy, jumbled little blog of mine. It really means a lot to hear your feedback, whether in the comments or privately.

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On hating the helpless

This is another excerpt, written the last day I was at the chicken farm. It’s the one that makes me most uncomfortable and I hope doesn’t lose me the affections of some of you readers. Also, I wrote this in my journal and have copied it verbatim; this means there are more “ands” than is reasonable, and run-on sentences all over the place. I was too distraught for grammar, and too honest to correct it here.

Anyway, here goes.

Feb 9 9pm
I was going to tell you two main things. One is regarding my combative nature* and the other the curious loathing I’ve felt for the chickens.

First things; hating the chickens.
As I’ve said, the hens don’t put up a fight when you take their eggs out from under them. The worst I’ve gotten was that horrible scream the other day. Usually they cluck, and the clucking gets frantic and alarmed, and then mournful when you leave with your bucket of eggs.

And they don’t run away when you’re about to step on them. They just crouch and spread their wings out, almost protectively over nothing, and brace themselves.

And the fact that, rain or shine, starved or fed, cramped in cages or “free-range”, whether they want to or not, they are going to produce an egg every day…they are the easiest to use, most helpless creatures.

And there is something about this helplessness that makes me hate them. It’s been a consistently growing hatred, and I finally put my finger on it today, as it’s been troubling me; I love animals, shouldn’t I feel pity and sympathy for the birds? What’s with this disgust?

I’ve been finding myself antagonizing them, being needlessly rough with them, almost snarling in unfounded anger.

It’s something about their passivity that disgusts me. I want them to fight back. I want some life out of them.

I hate them for being too helpless and stupid to fight back, so I kick them around, I throw them out of their nesting boxes, I shoo them away from my feet when their curiosity gets the better of them. And I feel so justified, because they just take it.

And I see how people with much less anthropomorphic tendencies than I commit absolute atrocities when working in egg factories, or dairy mills, or, (without really needing to say, it’s that obvious) in slaughter houses. You just start to hate them for being so helpless. And it’s easy to hurt what you hate. And psychology says that the more you are cruel to someone or something, the more you hate it.

I’m feel more bemused than ashamed by this.

Curiouser and curiouser. And so troubling.

*this doesn’t pertain to the post, so I’m leaving it out. In short (as, if you know me, you’ve already experienced and I apologize; me and Jesus are working on it) I enjoy a good fight. I like arguing like some people like gossiping. It’s gross.

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Third round of excerpts

Feb 6 8:46pm

And today was a good day.
My epiphany got me going, and Phillip and I picked a ton of passion fruit, tomatoes, collected the final eggs, let the chickens out, picked figs, and we’re shown how the paddock watering system works. That starts Wednesday, on the infamous cleaning of the chicken coop day.
On our walk we saw tons of kangaroos, but our cameras suck. Kangaroos bounding across the road and the fields…it’s the oddest looking animal.
Phillip loves the movie Inglorious Bastards. Heh heh heh.

Oh, and I asked for soy milk.

Feb 8 6:37am
“But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, this love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of these sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”
-C.S. Lewis

    Mere Christianity

    1:45 pm
    Chicken coop cleaning is the most disgusting job I’ve ever had to do. Seriously. The smell would make a corpse appealing in comparison.
    First you have to carry the sick perch things out, which is nasty enough on its own with the coating of chicken shit. Then you shovel the chicken shit cement into a pile, and then fill, yes, FILL a wheel barrel with it. Neither of us complained except to sarcastically swoon over the nature of the work. I’ll be smelling that gunk for days after leaving this place.

    Ok, where does this woman buy her other eggs? She comes to the farm sometimes with the back of her car filled with trays of eggs from somewhere else, and we put them into cartons bearing her farm’s name. So who’s eggs are they? Are they “free-range”, too?

    Phillip says he’s not eating chicken anymore.

    After dealing with free range hens, I am certain of veganism*. Except, maybe this is what God intended when He allowed an animal to be domesticated as an egg-layer for human consumption? What is, actually, the evolution of the chicken? What’d it start out as, and has man taken it too far and ruined it?

    Feb 9 6:32am
    Its our last day! Woohoo! Jubilee!
    Phillip was asking if being vegetarian was as hard as trying not to eat sweets. I said definitely not. You abstain from sweets for self-centered reasons (health, looks, etc.) while you abstain from meat for reasons outside of yourself (animal welfare, the environment, other people). And, with my background…this sort of relationship with food is very, very healing.

    *Gah! I said it! The V-word! In BROAD DAYLIGHT!!

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Second round of excerpts

Feb 5th 1:43 pm
Chicken farming is overrated.
I wonder if I’m uncomfortable, or feel so convicted, about how these hens are kept just because I don’t like the work. The obnoxious work of stepping around clucking chickens, buckets in each hand, toward the coop. The foul air, the feeling under their warm bodies for eggs. And stealing them. They don’t put up a fight or anything, but their clucking gets frantic and even mournful when you leave. One today literally sounded like she was wailing.

Every hour on the hour I’d be back in that coop, stealing. And thinking. Lots of time spent in thought today. I thought about the morality of using animals, of eating any at all (I suppose this is something I should be in prayer about, not just trying to figure out and decide on my own) and what I will do when I leave Australia.
I kept the radio off mostly. Learning to be silent.

Feb 6 2 pm
I don’t know what to do. Don’t know why I’m in a funk today. And yesterday. I suppose you can’t stay in the new-traveler honeymoon stage forever. I need to make like a yogi and not judge the way I’m feeling. I need to just feel it.

It’s difficult to realize how loosely I hold my ideals. When things are not convenient and easy, I temporarily stop believing in them.

Take cows’ milk. I do not believe, and evidence suggests, that humans should consume dairy. Especially straight milk. I believe it’s bad for us.
Its also undeniably cruel to the milking cows. I know this. But, shoot, I’ve got to have my coffee and I’ve got to have it creamy.

And I’ve been so reluctant to give in that free-range is bullshit, and that these hens are in no better conditions, but what do you do when you see, smell, hear and feel it all day? How do you reconcile what I’m experiencing with a taste for omelets?
And these are treated well! Best of the best! If you’re going to support an evil, it ought to at least be the lesser evil.

The question is, why support an evil at all?

Cognitive dissonance. I’m convincing myself the hormone-injected, cramped, terrified cow robbed of her offspring is not as real as my need for creamy coffee. I’m convincing myself the eggs I ate for dinner two nights ago tasted good enough to justify the stressful, dirty, cramped living conditions of their producers.

So maybe my loathing of this work The last few days is sprouting from my lifestyle choices being so irreconcilable with my beliefs.
And are they truly beliefs if they don’t change your lifestyle?
Melancholy. I feel cynical out there weeding with Phillip and brooding in here trying to read.

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First round of excerpts.

First night; feb 1st
Ah, so excited to wake up on a farm tomorrow! And what a great first farm! An Irishman, a German, and a Japanese guy. Chickens everywhere, sheep, pecan trees, my own room, two little blonde kids to love on.
The boys are learning Japanese and cracking themselves up next door. Tracy Chapman’s on the radio. They’re learning (and exclaiming) “fuck yeah” and “shit” and cracking me up, too. When I walked past their room earlier they were all standing on their beds with rolled up newspapers like fly-killing warriors. So funny. I wanted to join them but wasn’t invited. You need to be invited.
Gah, this is such a cool experience.

Day one; feb 2nd 7am
You know what? I don’t even like cherry tomatoes in the real world, but here I love them. They* said its because they’re allowed to ripen on the vine, whereas grocery store tomatoes are picked green and ripen en route to the shelves.
I want to be an organic farmer. You can glorify God and be happy, right? Maybe C.S. Lewis knows.
Live simply and tread lightly on the land.
I’m actually WWOOFing! Really doing it!

Day two; feb 3 1:15 pm
Go ahead and add “free-range” to your list of words that are meaningless. There are not, as stated in the WWOOF book, 500 chickens here, but the couple hundred that are here are only “free range” for four hours in the afternoon, and that is only half of them. The other half, the younger hens, are kept in an enclosure that includes a “garden”, which somehow qualifies them as free. They are all dirty, many missing feathers around their necks, chests, and anuses, some of the skin raw and red.
I am disillusioned.
Phillip was actually the one to bring it up this morning.
But technically they are. Just as to be labeled “organic” only a percentage of the product must be organic. It’s really a bunch of bull shit.
Also, when the hens are past their prime they are culled and their used-up bodies burned. Which, you know, is normal and economical and everything, it just sucks. I’d imagine they’d at least be fed to the farm dogs or donated to a wildlife sanctuary to feed the carnivores. It’s just so wasteful. They’re hardly treated differently than the unfortunate hens in factories.
They’re just products./em>

We go at eight to collect the first round of eggs. It’s disgusting. The smell in the coop is suffocating. You reach under these hens, sometimes multiple ones in a single box, and pull the eggs out to put them in a bucket. You rarely get a protest, they’re so used to it. Then same with the next enclosure of younger hens.
We bring them into the cleaning shed where there’s also a cooler and wet-wipe all the eggs clean, putting them in cartons. We count how many eggs from each enclosure and write it on a sheet of paper, then tally them up.
Then we sort them, which is really a lot of guess-work. Big ones are separated as jumbos and especially small ones as smalls, and they go on a separate shelf in the cooler. The average-sized ones are boxed and put in there as well, then sold in the markets for five dollars a carton.
So many eggs.

I barely slept last night for some reason, and I’m feeling it today. So drowsy. So easily annoyed.
Ah well. I’m learning how to do repetitive tasks, like dead-heading the roses (which I hate more than stealing the hen’s eggs – and it is like stealing. Often you take an egg and she’ll stand and stare at the pile of shredded newspaper where it used to be, clucking deep in her throat as if she’s really very confused and maybe disappointed…as if a chicken could be disappointed…) and wiping the eggs, with care and mindfulness.
Even in this groggy state.

Feb 3rd 7:30 pm
Feeding the chickens is insane. One of us (me) distracts the flock away form the coop while the other (Phillip) literally runs inside and carefully slams the gate, closing it off to the mob. He then slices a hole in the bag of feed and pours one and a half of them into four feeding troughs. Then half into the younger hens’ trough.
We then open up and the chickens rush inside, pecking the shit out of each other to get to the food. I feel really badly for the unlucky weakling who can’t fight her way in. There’s hens on top of each other in desperation for food.
Maybe I’m hopelessly naive, but is there not a better way to do this?

Feb 4th, 3 pm
I’ll probably never be at that mythical weight where I feel at home, and it’s not a thing to have some junk food every other day or so without thinking about it. And yet, I keep striving. I keep thinking about it.

Feb 5th 6:40 am
I didn’t even explain about Kuru! She is the kelpie locked up all day because she terrorizes the neighbor’s chickens. I’ve let the boys walk her and said nothing, no input on their…technique. The technique of being pulled all over the road, legs flopping everywhere.
I took the lead last evening though and the first fifteen minutes of our “walk” was Kuru and I getting aquatinted. I yanked her back and forth across the lawn until she kinda figured out that she belongs on my left side and is to sit when I tell her, and we don’t move forward until she does so.
The walk took a good forty minutes longer than usual, as I am (pardon me Phillip) a nazi about dog-walking. I determined to make Kuru a good dog, at least while I’m here.
We saw more kangaroos.
When we got home I emailed the woman taking care of my Kira asking how she was. Kuru, but for the discipline of me, goes Kira.

*I am certainly not planning on slandering the farm I stayed at in any way; it was a perfectly adequate farm, and the chickens were in fact treated better than factory-farmed chickens. They are very good to their WWOOFers as well. I am omitting the family’s names, however, because I do not agree anymore with the sketchy practice I feel that “free-range” chicken farming is. I do not wish to offend the farmers, but not everything I have to say about my experience there is positive.

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First week of February

Hey everyone, I still exist!!

It has been a whirlwind of a last week and a half. I really don’t know where to start, and I have so much I’d love to tell you. I think what I’m going to do, as there are too many topics involved in my nine days at the chicken farm, is present excerpts from my personal journal. That way I save myself the overwhelming task of chronicling the complexities of last week, and you a long, rambling post. There are probably better ways of organizing, but I am back in Perth, and there is coffee to be had at Voyage and snorkeling to be done at Mettams.

And at this point, Livingitup>blogging.

I left last Wednesday for a free-range chicken farm in the Kalamunda Hills. The farm actually overlooked the city, which was breathtaking after Phillip (my fellow WWOOFer, hailing from Germany) and I had locked the chickens up for the night. The Hills are different from Perth though. While the suburbs are characteristically beach towns And the city is…like every other city in the world, the Hills are the country. Everyone is a farmer, or at least a gardener, and life is nicely secluded and quiet. It is foresty and there are kangaroos hanging out in the fields every evening, and cockatoos all over the trees then and the rest of the time.

I don’t want to bore you withe details of my arrival, but know that is was a fiasco, complete with a broken-down bus and mis-communications with my angry host. I think what I’ll do is have a post specifically for all the misadventures I keep having. (Starting with my initial flight out of Burbank being cancelled…did I not tell you about that?)

Once at the farm, I met my three co-WWOOFers; the aforementioned German, a Japanese guy named Taku, and an Irishman named David.

(unrelated side note; I am pitifully and noticeably enamored by Irish accents. It was embarrassing. Thank God he left next morning.)

The farm work included collecting, cleaning, and sorting eggs every hour from eight am until noon, and then again at four when we let the hens (well, half of them) out of their enclosures to free-range for four hours. We also collected the passion fruit that had fallen to the ground, fertilized pecan nut trees, watered the sheep, plants, chickens and dogs, picked tomatoes and peppers, and the like.

We also did the dishes after every meal.

The farmer was a middle-agreed widow who’s son and his family were staying at the house until there’s was free of tenants. She was what old westerns refer to as a “hard woman”, but as I was soon to discover, the sort of work chicken farming incorporated would make anyone mean. I’ll show you.

David left on Thursday, and Taku left a few days, later, so Phillip and I muscled through the work together and became buds. (We had planned on going to Fremantle together today, but those plans fell through, as I was at a music festival until midnight and because public transport is a laugh out here, did not get back to Kristen’s until two am. I awoke at 10:33 today, and you know what, lazing around the beach sounds better than Fremantle’s markets today. Flake alert, for sure.)

With all that as the backdrop, I hope you enjoy the next few journal excerpts and find them as entertaining and thought-provoking as the thoughts that initially provoked them…

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