Gone Awhile

I haven’t written since June. In the past, neglect of this blog has been the consequence of a daunting environment, or a vibrant one. Motivation has been stripped by lethargy, dull routine, and 40 hours of drudgery per week. Then, when plunged into the world of travel, motivation was again swept away by a deluge of new ideas and meaningful insights. I was filled to overflowing, yet I couldn’t tear myself away from fear of leaving something undiscovered.

The last few months were different. I was not hitchhiking the Eastern edge of a foreign continent. I was not surfing thundering swells in an island nation. I was not absorbed in the mania of dancing and drinking, smoking and fucking. I was not straddling a steel horse beside reeking pig trucks. An abundance of experience did not bury me.

Nor was I shackled to the grind of full-time employment. I was not trapped in the cycle of tedium and release. I was not burdened with the impossible balancing act of satisfying work, improving quality of life, and progressing toward a noble goal. Ennui wasn’t a stifling influence.

This time the job was an act of devotion towards a calculated end. I committed 60 hours a week for 24 weeks as a means for continued travel.

This job took all I had to offer. Contact with friends and family dried up. Hobbies and interests were shelved. Love vanished. Not a creative word was written. But in exchange for six months devotion, I saved enough to travel for two years. And that at twice the budget of my prior year travelling. It was time served for unbounded freedom. I knew what I wanted, I needed cash, and I leveraged all I had to get it. That is why I did it.

Here’s what my life as a blueberry farmer meant to me.

Finding work for work’s sake is a dice roll of fate. You knock on doors, create online profiles, reply to listings. When someone calls back, you take what you can get. At the end of the day, you have little control over where you end up and what you do.

My first job was to assist a wretched man harvest Sandalwood. He was coarse, abusive and bigoted. The pay was meager, the hours long, the expectations unreasonable. His miserable existence stood on the broken trunks of virgin trees. The world, both natural and human alike, would be an objectively better place had I dropped a half ton of rusted steel on his dopey felt hatted head. I had the opportunity and let it pass. I’m sorry world. Then when he refused to let me eat, I tore into him with every articulate condemnation I could muster. That job lasted 6 days.

Then, on an autumn day in Queensland, I was in the right place at the right time. I replied to a job listing only hours old, and shortly thereafter the SunnyRidge fruit farm invited me to help out on 18 hectares of Blueberries. So I drove 1600 km to begin working.

That job lasted 24 weeks. In that time I worked 1425 hours, and banked over $20,000 AUD after taxes and expenses.

I started off spending days riding a mower through tunneled rows of blueberry trees. I wound up running the $1 million a fortnight harvest. I did everything on the farm but pick & pack. All season we moved a quarter million kilos of fruit. It was the hardest, and most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

I grew a conviction of my own work ethic. No one can ever convince me I’m lazy ever again. I know what I’ve accomplished now. I know what challenges I can meet. That confidence is just one mighty gem I’ve mined from these months.

I remember how content I was riding through rows of blueberry blossoms on a wake of fresh cut grass. The thrum of clouds of golden honey bees overhead. Sunrises and sunsets signaling clock-in & clock-out. Wild hares ambling about at dusk. An endless choir of birds. Snake tails vanishing into tall grass. Big spiders embarrassed to be spotted. Icy wind cutting through hot sunshine. Nature in its full variety throbbed from every corner of that farm. I felt blessed every day for the opportunity to earn money amongst it.

I lived simply, spending the first month living out of my van. Coffee & oatmeal brekkies, Vegemite & butter sandwiches for lunch, and carb & protein dinners. A boiled kettle, a bar of soap, and a big bucket was my shower. A bar of chocolate was my luxury. After the first month I moved into a caravan on site for free. I was laughing for months.

I remember dried, cracked hands from mixing fertilizer. Fingers cut, palms blistered. Sore arms, and back, and legs, and abs. And restful nights with ten hours sleep.

The first month I was alone with my Sri Lankan supervisor. The two of us took care of the blueberries pre-harvest. How marvelously advanced technology is that two people can maintain 18 hectares of crops. And we were minimum wage workers with no benefits. How corrupt our economic institutions are that an absent owner reaps value from fruit trees half a world away, with no input effort.

I remember the season starting. How naively in awe I was seeing a bucket full of blueberries the first day, little knowing I’d soon be moving thousands of times that daily.

The pickers were Malaysian. I’d picked up some of their language on my visit to their country, so I was able to build a friendly rapport. They lived in a small house on the property beside me, and over the next four months I subsisted on their hospitality.

I remember the three British backpackers who joined up for the harvest. Struggling together through eleven hour days, devoted to a common goal, forges friendships far surer than diluted pints in a dim lit bar. Elis you’re a legend and I love you forever.

I remember equipment breaking, pipes bursting, problems arising, and having to fix them. Other things that existed in a precarious state between broken and operable. Tape and farm debris can restore a tractor axle with the proper application of desperate need.

I remember standing in the icy belly of an industrial refrigerator the size of house, in front of twenty pallets of blueberries neatly stacked and taped into massive cubes. That, after sweating to lift and load and transport them over a twelve hour day, is sweet, sweet satisfaction.

Equally dear are the sublime moments of utter peace and the ones full of rage and frustration. Equally dear are the skills learned and the friendships fostered. Equally dear are the day to day accomplishments, the week to week ones, and the life chapter as a whole.

When the cosmic spin guided our lovely star to sweltering arcs, and all that was left to do was spray poison beneath its vicious blast, it was time to cash out.

So here I am now experiencing a new found sense of freedom I’ve never felt to this degree. Now I float in the blank space between where one chapter ends and the next begins. I am filled with an imperturbable sense of calm empowerment. I can do anything I want, go anywhere I want, learn anything I want, accomplish anything I want. The world is at my toe-tips.

I am free!

Thank you for reading.

-C

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