“We’re going to build a publicly accessible bike terrace.”
My mind immediately flipped to concrete and table saws and other things that I knew nothing about. Nice idea. But no way is this actually going to work. My doubts only increased when I heard that the plan was to build all the furniture ourselves from beat-up pallet wood. I kept my doubts to myself, picked up a shovel and started digging. That’s one tool I know how to use, even with my chicken arms.
Task 1: Remove tree stumps. Amish style. Minus Clydesdales. That’s right. About an hour into digging and hacking at roots, Jakob and I started dropping hints about trucks and ropes. Our suggestions were laughed off, so we decided to laugh too.
Production was further slowed when Indi showed up, armed with a plastic shovel and steely determination. She considered the stubborn tree trunk thoughtfully and began attacking with her own strategy. A neighbouring farmer stopped his bike on the road and peered curiously at our slow going efforts.
“I can bring the tractor over,” he offered.
Alef smiled and declined. The four of us, two baffled Canadians, one strong-willed toddler, and an equally determined organic homesteader, continued to work away at the tree roots for another half an hour. Finally, Alef felt obliged to offer an explanation.
“I want Indi to know that things can’t always be solved quickly and easily in life. There may come a time when you can’t just grab a tractor to get the job done. Besides this place isn’t about efficiency or productivity, that’s what the rest of the wold is chasing. This is about teamwork and getting back to basics.”
When we finally pulled that tree stump out with our bear hands, we leapt to our feet in surprise and joy. And Alef’s words started to make a bit of sense.
That afternoon we celebrated the successful clearing of the terrace space with a trip into the village of Muiden for Vlaggetjesdag, which translates to “Little Flag Day.” Yes, the Dutch have a national holiday dedicated to honouring their flag and instead of focusing on the power and strength of their colours, they throw a diminutive on the end and celebrate with seniors’ choirs performing on sailboats. With dirt in our nails, a beer in our hands, and the spunky melodies of Dutch sailing songs all around, we decided we might be able to adapt to this crazy homesteading life.
Task 2: Landscape the area.
The task for day 2 was simple enough. I put my extensive background in landscape fabric to work and Jakob started hauling wheelbarrow loads of wood chips.
Actually the real challenge of day two wasn’t work related at all. Before I explain, let me give you some context. I come from a family where snacks are frequent, every meal revolves around a meat dish, and food selection bordered on excessive. Just ask any of my childhood friends, they will laugh and tell you that it was a dark day in the Horlings house when there were fewer than five types of juice in the fridge. So I’m sure you can imagine that adapting to a porridge breakfast, cheese and bread lunch, and vegetarian dinner took some time.
So when it came time for dinner at Vrede Rust and I saw one pan on the table, I panicked. My first instinct was to compensate for variety with quantity. I’m sure Alef and Lin both made mental notes…no more hosting Canadians, every night they eat like hibernation starts tomorrow.
It took me a couple of days to realize that the simple spread before me was actually ladened with options. Sure the staple was bread, but no loaf was like another. Anise, sunflower seeds, cumin, apples, berries…you name it, Alef can make bread with it. Then came the cheeses: spiced, aged, and smoked; and the spreads: red berry, apple chutney, black berry, peanut butter, and tahini. By the end of the first week, I was looking forward to lunch and dinner, for the calories of course, but more and more for the surprising vegetables where I usually expected to find meat. By the end of the first week, I was delighted to discover that my body could function just as well meat-free as carnivorous. Of course, that doesn’t mean we didn’t jump at the first opportunity to munch on some roasted chicken dipped in peanut sauce and it was all the more delicious.
Task 3: Build patio furniture. This proved to be the most challenging (and rewarding) of our workaway tasks. The project took more-or-less eight days of work. On the “less” days drill bits broke, heads were bonked, screws were misaligned, tears were shed, and we decided to call it a day before noon. On the “more” days, table saws ran smoothly, stain dried quickly, every piece fit perfectly, and we laughed while we worked.
Let me give you a quick step-by-step:
- Pallet demolition
2. Measuring and cutting boards to size
On our last few days we added the finishing touches to the public terrace:
Other projects of the week included:
Painting a sign for the garden entrance
Adding soil to the hugel mound (it’s a German thing, so of course it’s brilliant, look it up)
and dredging out the old rain-water cistern
By the time we said goodbye we could look out over the property and think, “it’s no longer quite the same as before.” I can’t imagine what it must be like for Lin and Alef to go about their days thinking of all of the busy hands and smiling faces that have worked hard to make their home what it is today. What a testament to the beauty of community and the power of teamwork. We can’t wait to visit in a few years and find out who else left a piece of their heart at Vrede Rust.