Why is it that when I think of a vampire taking a big juicy slurp of my blood, my pulse races in all manner of funny places; but when it’s a leech from the grassy banks of a mountainside creek, feasting in between my toes, I scream loud enough to cause a landslide and run for the hills?
Paul and I learned a number of lessons during our first WWOOFing experience this past week. As ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms’ we took on the initial assignment as something different, away from the tourist trail, off the beaten track as a way to help extend our working holiday visas in Australia. If you’ve got this visa and you work three months out of your 12 on the land, you’re entitled to another year doing whatever you like, wherever you like, and not necessarily involving leeches (thank God).
It wasn’t all bloodsucking creatures and screeching as we got back to nature at our host’s retreat, out in the sacred land around Mt Warning, just a few kilometres away from Murwillumbah (jn turn, an hour’s bus ride from Byron Bay). We may have been a world away from all forms of communication (bye bye Internet and mobile phones) but we found a place we both forgot existed; a place where it’s fine to believe in fairies, where the power of crystals can change your life, and where a tasty Sunday dinner on a Hare Krishna commune is a regular occurrence.
As we helped our lovely host, who lives alone in a house he pretty much manages and maintains himself, we worked towards building a retreat he hopes will attract artists and similar dreamers in the future. The aboriginal spirits still reign supreme around these parts and the people who live amongst the trees, flowers and wild animals are firm believers that this special place helps assist their own spiritual growth. The neighbours are part of the experience here. We chatted with Hare Krishna dancers in the local supermarket, ate homemade pancakes with an ex NASA researcher who now has a giant, poisonous pet goanna called princess Lea which eats eggs from her naked belly button, and heard stories of dogs sent from another dimension.
By night, after a day’s work (OK, a few hours) collecting stones from the nearby creek in order to line a new set of steps on the property, we sat around a roaring bonfire, telling ghost stories, arguing over what causes crop circles and discussing the meaning of life. I learned that hunstmen spiders are actually beautiful… that leeches aren’t really all that scary and lizards will happily sit in your bra all day if you let them.
We learned how to make a cracking chai tea, how to trust the cockatoos when it comes to predicting changing weather patterns and how to survive with no meat and no alcohol. We learned how to dig a trench, how to seal a dam and how to jump from rock to rock across a creek without slipping, trusting our instincts, placing faith in our inner children; the ones who never really went away; the ones who just got lost in the city, for a while. And most of all, through WWOOFing in the depths of the Australian forest, amongst the birds, bees, critters and fairy-folk, I think we both discovered that having a mobile phone attached to our sides all the time isn’t necessarily what it means to be constantly “connected”.
Sometimes I think, you really do have to switch off, in order to really switch on.