Friday, October 29, 2010
Cheers, Thanks: A Fantastic Farming Weekend with the Fellas
G’day mates! Greetings from down under, I hope life is treating you all well. Here is a recap of an amazing farm getaway spent with good friends:
My American buddies Kelly and Andrew, as well as my basketball playin mate Blake and two of his best friends, all headed out for a relaxing weekend on his farm. The bustling city quickly faded as we sped out of Fremantle and the landscape continually changed until it seemed that we were coasting through vast, endless rolling hills; it was interesting watching the scenery undergo such radical transformations. By the time we reached the farm, we had completely abandoned all resemblances to civilization and we did not see any signs of human activity for miles and miles. The first thing we did once we arrived was drive around Blake’s ENORMOUS property, checking out his sheep (including several tiny, adorable little lambs that had been born only several days earlier),
having our first run in with the dangerous Australian wildlife (I’ll explain more later), and admiring the infinite emptiness that stretched for as far as the eye can see. It is hard to properly convey the feeling of sitting out in the middle of that vast property and closing my eyes and experiencing complete, utter, beautiful silence. Not a sound. Extraordinarily peaceful. Once I opened my eyes, I could spin in a circle, see hundreds of miles in each direction, towards the endless gorgeous green hills spotted with trees, and not spot a single other sign of human existence. A powerful feeling to say the least. The complete removal from all other humanity was easily my highlight of the trip, it felt so strange yet wonderful to be so far away from everything I know and simply live fully and completely in the present moment. Let me assure you that is absolutely impossible to not feel completely at peace and not feel utterly relaxed when you are surrounded by such a pristine, gorgeous, empty, and peaceful environment. The way Blake talked about how much meaning this place had for him definitely reminded me of my sanctuary back home, Priest Lake. Although the two locations are entirely different, they both have a profound effect on you as soon as you close your eyes and listen; once you open your eyes and survey your surroundings you feel like you’re in heaven. For anyone who has experienced the wonders of Priest Lake, you can surely relate to the magical atmosphere and resulting feelings that I just described. Both locations invoke deep personal introspection and are profoundly thought provoking and reflective to say the least.
Enough of the mushy gushy stuff, because in addition to the fun activities, drunken festivities, and our amazing surroundings, another incredible aspect of the trip was the friendships that were formed and strengthened. I cannot begin to tell you how many inside jokes arose from this trip, nor would I expect anyone else to think that they were at all funny if they were heard out of context, but we spent the entire weekend laughing our butts off and enjoying each others company. One of the first inside jokes came from our dear friend Kelly, a New York city boy who prior to this trip had never been camping in his entire life. When we first arrived and he learned that using the indoor bathroom is a seldom available option, he was confused and befuddled. Blake then proceeded to clarify the situation by taking his arms and motioning towards the vast emptiness in reference to excellent locations to urinate. This seemed to click for Kelly and he understood, but he looked at us with a puzzled look and said, “wait… you mean we can pee ANYWHERE????” At the time, it had us all rolling on the ground laughing hysterically. Another inside joke came at the expense of us Americans as well. Apparently, we made the mistake several times of saying “cheers, thanks” as a method of declaring appreciation. However, Australians consider this redundant as cheers and thanks can mean the exact same thing! Good to know for future reference, I can only imagine how many times I’ve looked like a blundering boulderbrain to local Aussies when trying to express my gratitude. Whoops.
Anyways, on to some of the highlights of the weekend. Blake had a primitive gas grill that worked beautifully for our meals (I warmed up many a delicious pre-made francake on it!) and we spent our mealtimes sitting outside, enjoying the peace, quiet, and company. As the day turned into evening, following yet another spectacular sunset, friendly card games and copious drinking commenced. We began bonding the moment the trip began and I believe that although the alcohol provided some entertaining stories and laughter, it was not the reason why we became so close.
Anyhoo, after several hours of friendly gentleman chatter, we made our way to the middle of Blake’s paddock to observe the full moon and beautiful night sky full of stars. Blake then instructed us to partake in a fun activity that is a longstanding tradition of his; screaming the most vulgar obscenities at the top of our lungs. We just stood there, howling at the moon, perfectly content knowing that not another soul could hear our shouts, for what seemed like hours. Once our voices had been throttled into submission and we were all completely hoarse, we sat in silence and let the magical wildlife play the glorious musical soundtrack of the great outdoors.
We awoke the next morning to a fantastic sunrise and the mouth-watering smell of eggs and bacon. After filling up our tanks, we set out for a different farm about 30 minutes away, anxious and excited for the fun, new task that awaited us: shearing sheep! While at the new farm, we were taught the intricacies of sheep farming, including the ins and outs of herding, sheering, and caring for sheep, which are the dumbest creatures on earth. The farmers also demonstrated the use of Australian Kelpies, hands down the coolest dogs in the world. The Kelpies are in charge of rounding up the sheep and herding them into the pen. Granted, sheep are mind-bogglingly dumb creatures and are quite frankly hilariously stupid, but the Kelpies are able to completely control these animals with ease and precision. The dogs we witnessed were internationally trained, meaning that instead of responding to verbal commands from their master, they acted based on a series of different whistles. One type of whistle from their master would send the sheep to the right, while a different tuned whistle (not a physical whistle like a referee uses, but simply the mouth of the trainer) would cause the dogs to herd them to the left and so on. These dogs not only had brains, but incredible athleticism; they effortlessly jumped clear over 5 foot fences and ran like Ussain Bolt on all fours. Following their rounding up of the idiotic little sheepies, they would actually jump on top of the giant mounds of fluff and “surf” their way out of the pack. Watching a dog leap on top of a sheep and ride it like a skateboard was not only hilarious, but quite impressive. Once the sheep were crammed into a tight pen, it was our job to go inside and grab them one at a time for sheering. What sheep lack in brain-power they make up for with size; trying to wrangle up the large tubs of lard is like attempting to haul a sack full of bricks through mud. The trick to fooling the dim-witted animals was to bend their fuzzy head one way to distract them, then immediately take out their legs with your other hand. We quickly learned that as soon as sheep are thrown off balance or are not in complete control of their bodies (i.e. standing on their feet), they become completely helpless, limp, and submissive, just one of many examples of their incredible stupidity. After I wrestled up my first sheep, I hauled his fat butt over to the shearing station where I plopped him on the ground and learned how to best position him in order to obtain the most of his precious wool. Although the sheep sometimes struggle if they can find footing, a good shearer knows how to constantly keep them off balance so they can crank out one sheep’s wool every couple minutes. I was not quite as speedy, but I was able to catch on and figure out how to cut the hair without harming the animal, as well as cutting off the maximum amount of hair. One peculiar aspect of sheep is that once they lose their thick coat, they produce a gooey oil that keeps them warm and insulates their body. By the time I had finished shearing my brainless sheep, my hands were coated in this bizarre oil! Needless to say, at the end of the day I did NOT smell like a bed of roses. Once I had finished, I allowed the sheep to get his feet on the ground, where he quickly scrambled (slash waddled as fast as a sheep can) out of the shed. Whew! One sheep had me sweating buckets, it was hard work! Most farmers shear dozens, even hundreds per day, which made me appreciate the extremely laborious, tedious work that they must do day in and day out. We spent the day meeting various farmers, dealing with hundreds of fuzzy, idiotic sheep, and learning new things about farming. It was a fantastic day and quite the experience indeed! I can say for sure I could never spend my life caring for such brainless creatures but it was definitely fun shearing just for a day.
We got back to Blake’s farm only to realize that we had run out of gas for the grill and that the generator that operated the one light within his small house had stopped working. Thankfully, we were able to improvise, cooking dinner over the fire we made and utilising candles to light up the inside of the house. The night was another fantastic evening full of drunken hilarity and good fun had by all!
While exploring the wilderness, we ran into some of the legendary poisonous critters that inhabit the outback. For starters, we found a spider with a red back that apparently has the power to kill you in less than a couple hours. Our second run-in was with a mammoth, hairy, spectacular spider that was the size of my hand and disgustingly hairy. We also came across several large, slimy lizards in our daily wanderings.
Other firsts of the weekend included my induction into the lumberjack hall of fame: I chopped wood for the first time! While not exactly a miraculous event or achievement, I had fun preparing for the fire and chopping wood for the first time was a blast. Unfortunately, I did not escape my wood chopping experience without injury… I actually splintered the wood with such tremendous force (kidding) that a slice of timber exploded off and nailed me right in the foot. It was only later in the evening that I realized that this piece of wood had actually taken a chunk out of my toenail!
Our last day at the farm included a shooting competition. I was able to walk away victorious after I hit 7 straight targets using only 6 shots (one bullet miraculously took out two of the targets). I’m most definitely going to chalk up my win to beginners luck, and I don’t see hunting as a part of my future (although shooting was flippin’ FUN!). After we had had our fill of shooting, we travelled to a beautiful nearby lake and spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the gorgeous area. As many of you know, I have a HUGE soft spot in my heart for all things lake related, so my first expedition into fresh water (as opposed to the ocean) in quite some time felt spectacular and I fully embraced the wonderful afternoon at the lake. The weekend at the farm was an amazing experience, full of male bonding, new things, and awe-inspiring natural beauty that motivated complete peace and relaxation.
Anyhoo, here are a few other random tidbits about Australia:
-There are cars here that feature snorkels attached to the sides so that they can take a dip in the ocean and ramble across rushing rivers. No joke. Cars with flippin snorkels to allow for them to go for a swim and not trash the engine. Only in Australia.
-Someone pointed out to me the other day how energy efficient Australia is and I’ve begun to notice it in everyday life. The toilets here feature two buttons, one for regular flushability and one for a mini flush which saves water. The outlets also have on/off switches to conserve energy while not in use. Random, I know, but interesting in my opinion.
-As the weather has continued to improve and the temperature has persistently increased, I have made visiting and exploring the various surrounding beaches a regular excursion. Bathers Beach, South Beach, Dog Beach, and Cottesloe Beach are all beautiful nearby options that are ideal spots for lounging, relaxing, and swimming on a hot Australian day.
-I was able to be a part of the canonization of Australia’s first saint, Mary Mackillop. This was a huge deal in WA (Western Australia) and people flocked from all over the country to be a part of the big event. Luckily for us, the festivities took place literally directly outside of the P and O’s front doors, so we were in the thick of all the celebrations. Although I do not know a great deal about his Mary character, she must have been a pretty cool cat to become canonized, and witnessing the live music, hundreds of booth dedicated to her honor, and thousands of excited people cheering for her definitely made me appreciate what a special event it was.
-My excruciatingly tedious philosophy class, epistemology, had a rare occurrence last week. The class usually consists of around 25 students, but when I hurried into class 10 minutes late, I was only the second student in attendance. After several minutes and only a few more individuals trickling in, our teacher decided we would take a jaunt across the street and hold class at Moore and Moore’s, a cozy neighbourhood coffee shop. Now, many of you know that my hatred for coffee and all things caffeine related runs deep in my veins, but as soon as I entered this homely building I felt warmth and comfort flow through my body. The first thing that hit me was the sound of smooth jazz wafting over the delicious aroma of tarts and scones. A guitarist and a saxaphone player were casually plucking out some relaxing blues jams as I made my way through the building, which was half art gallery and half coffee shop. Our class plopped down amidst the relaxing, laid-back atmosphere and proceeded to carry on with our normal discussion. Now, I must admit, class still sucked, but discovering this amazing new local spot definitely made it more bearable. If the weather ever decides to stop being so awesome and I am for some reason unable to study/read/play guitar on the P and O’s awesome Veranda, a nearby beach, or the Esplanade Park, then I definitely found my new hangout spot!
Alas, I must leave you, as I am embarking on an epic journey early tomorrow morning. Myself and 4 of my dear friends are renting a car and going on an 8 day road trip up north, visiting Exmouth, Ningaloo, Kalbarri, the Pinnacles, several national parks, coral bay, shark bay, and anywhere else our hearts desire. This is truly my type of vacation, we have no set schedule or plan, plenty of hiking and outdoor adventuring will be had by all, shinanigans are sure to abound, and we will be simply following our instincts into the great Australian wilderness, camping and staying in local hostels along the way! Should make for an unbelievable experience!
Much Love from down under,
P.S. I received this email in my Notre Dame inbox the other day. Seriously.
On Tuesday 5 October 2010, at approximately 1:00pm, a CAT Forklift was stolen from the Fremantle Port Authority, driven down Cliff Street into Phillimore Street and parked and abandoned on Mouat Street in Fremantle. The police would appreciate the assistance of any of our staff or students who witnessed the incident.
If you saw the incident or have any other information, would you please contact Constable Wesley Hibbitt at the Fremantle Police Station on 08 9430 1222 or by email to email@example.com