Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stories From the Ranch, January 5-16

As you already know, I spent the last two weeks helping out on a ranch just outside of Laz Paz.  I found it through WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an international organization that connects prospective farm volunteers with prospective hosts.  Generally volunteers work in exchange for room and board; specifics of work hours, equipment, and accommodations are all up to the specific farms to work out with their volunteers. 

With all that I devote to food in time and money, and the proven importance of good nutrition, I know so little about where my food comes from and how it's grown or made.  From this ignorance came the impetus for WWOOFing: to lessen the gap between me and my food.  The ranch at which I worked for these past weeks did not grow food, but I learned a whole lot about caring for goats, cows, and chickens, not to mention about the processes of cheese making and generally running a ranch.  My daily duties involved milking the cow and goats and taking them out to pasture, as well as helping out in whatever capacity I could.  Sometimes I cooked, other times I constructed, and other times I organized.
Helping the goats reach some yummy branches

Since none of the above is terribly interesting, I'd like to share just a simple story about one day's foray into the mountains.  Background: I or another volunteer hiked every day into the hills with the female goats, 33 of them in total.

From my journal:
1/13? Tuesday
Hiking with Tomas and the goats.  Instead of going up an arroyo (a dry streambed with many trees and plants), we followed a ridge.  The vegetation was sparser for the goats, but there was always something leafy to eat.  It was a narrow and steep pasture, tough going for us two-legged creatures.  Finally we topped out on the main ridge.  The hills opened up to sky in all directions; I could see for miles, and it was now apparent that the main ridge, which we were now on, continued far up into the high cliffs, a buttress for the crumbling pink bands.  Tomas said he was fine alone with the goats, so I set off solo, just for a bit, with only the little dog, Chiguil, coming along. I walked all the way up until I could go no farther, surrounded by desert and wind and streaking sky and thinking that ridge-walking is my favorite kind of walking.  When I finally reached the wide band of pink conglomerate that turned vertical to mark my point of no return, I stopped and sat for a bit.  In front of me, the shore just a few miles away, was the Sea of Cortez, a shimmering jewel, blue under the pale sky, with rugged, untamed islands poking up out of the surface in the distance.  From my vantage point, perched way up there, it seemed as if the bay were a shallow tongue of the larger expanse, extended temporarily and kept there by the thin line of white along the edges, the caulk holding the pure sea desperately to its blotched, undeserving brother, the land.  If I should watch for long enough, maybe, with a great, churning roar, it would slide back into its greater self again.  
But my eyes had other things to see.  The cliffs, the cliffs!  The pink band near the top, so interesting looking as to draw me in from afar, was cut and eroded with huecos and fins, large and small, poking out here and intruding there into the seemingly solid mass, everything curving and fluid, solid and smooth, arching and flat, everywhere, all at once.  It colored the mesa for miles, a life-sized ribbon to my right and left.  Below were a series of ledges replete with boundless gems to equal or surpass the brilliant ocean beyond: lupines and asters, yarrows and others, a lively contrast to the xericity of the stark, vertiginous walls and the surrounding desert.  And, as if all this weren't enough, the sibilant notes of the canyon wren filled what little space was left around me, the perfectly tuned whistles cascading and dashing off the walls and into my ears.  After a minute I saw the curious bird bouncing and flitting around from place to place, room to room, in its majestic home.  Then down I went to find Tomas and the goats, enriched in mind forever by experience.

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