WWOOF Day 16: Four Elements

All of my days have been starting before the dawn recently, but today was because of a different reason.

The sensation of crawling woke me up several times throughout the night and eventually there came a point where going back to sleep was no longer worth it. After I was done meditating, I could hear commotion happening outside of my tent in a mixture of English and Spanish. The day laborer Randy hired to get his home farm in order had already begun working and Randy, face comedically covered in sunscreen and his working gear on, was clearing the field of weeds which would become a tomato bed. Randy told me to get ready and outside and although he allowed me time to make breakfast, I decided to just drink a hastily prepared protein shake and fill my water bottles. About five minutes later, I was outside and ready to begin what would be the most physically demanding day yet.

I was extremely accustomed to pulling weeds, having spent months in AmeriCorps and a good deal of my time WWOOFing doing so. These plots were thick though and we were using gardening forks to try to eliminate the bush like spawn that overtaken the neglected land. My methodology was not up to standard, as always it seemed, so I received another tutorial on how to pitchfork as quickly as possible. We piled the weeds away from the work area and once they were ready, forked them in to the truck to be moved to a compost pile. It took me by surprise, but it turns out that I would be in charge of driving the farm truck and structuring the pile.

The farm truck was a dirty mess, covered in spider webs with a door that didn’t latch shut. The keys probably hadn’t been removed from it since Randy used it for his handyman business, probably before I was born. When I turned the key in the ignition, it snapped off. The majority of the key stayed in the ignition though, so it still turned off and on regardless. I had become so intertwined with Murphy’s Law in my interactions with Randy that I no longer bothered being disappointed in myself or the circumstances.

I drove the truck to unload the piles and (poorly) backed it in to the bottom of the plant bed so the next load could be started. About an hour after I had begun working, a Lexus hatchback pulled in to Randy’s driveway. It was a new WWOOFer and his name was Scott. Scott was about 6’2 and in his mid thirties. He was a well-traveled and strongly built man with receding blonde hair hidden by a fedora style sunhat. Scott had the appearance of someone who could potentially be capable of doing anything he set his heart on and because of that, he pursued many different avenues that seemed rather arbitrary at first. Through conversation with him, it was evident that his potential was overwhelming, but he knew exactly what he was doing, or at least could amalgamate himself to his circumstances. He is a traveler, but in a different regard than me. He goes from farm to farm evaluating their practices in hope to get enough experience to become an agricultural consultant. While working together, I discovered that his plan was to help conventional farms transition in to organic practices.

With Scott around, work went much faster. I was able to bounce my ideas that I had learned from studying gardening manuals on him, who had direct experience with the newer permaculture techniques that I was interested in. He had an objective view about them, compared to my somewhat optimistic one, and he denied anything that wasn’t properly implemented, learning both sides of the debate before moving forward. For the rest of the day, I mostly worked with Scott turning compost, digging and planting transplants and laying down irrigation hose. Most importantly, I got to hear his wild stories about managing his own skate business, meeting Hollywood types and his excitement and eventually disillusionment with the whole ordeal.

When I was alone that day, Randy quizzed me on the “four elements,” plants needed to survive. I thought from a more scientific standpoint, food, water, air and light. These weren’t elements though, so although true, it wasn’t true enough. The four elements essential to life are the same that have been prevalent in spiritualties worldwide: “Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.” These had to be aligned for proper plant growth and health. Randy later caught me working the compost with Scott and quizzed him on the elements necessary to plant growth. When Scott didn’t get the answer correctly, responding with one much like my response, Randy told him the three essentials of water, heat and soil. This was a more appeasing answer to Scott and perhaps Randy chose his modified answer intentionally.

Later, Scott joked about the four elements, almost repeating verbatim what Randy had told me earlier. I had begun to sense a theme for how my day was progressing.

Work wasn’t over until the day was, but we managed to fit in all our tasks in the proposed agenda.

Thinking back to the four elements Randy mentioned, I had realized that there was something that he had forgotten, something pivotal to all life in this world. There is a fifth element, one essential to plant, human and spiritual growth. That element is void.