“Did you hear that?” my friend’s uncle, Timmy, says next to me as he jumps out of his pickup truck. He tilts his head like a perched dog, searching for a sound.
“What?” It’s Monday morning, 8 a.m. I had just driven an hour from Upstate New York to even farther upstate. I’m tired, and my senses aren’t fully awake yet. I press the beeper on my keychain to make sure my car is locked.
“That! Did you hear that?” He’s a tall, red-faced man, always lively in his movements.
I hit the button one more time. My car lights flash. “That?”
“Yeah! What the hell is that?”
“It’s my car,” I say, confused by his confusion. “I was just locking it.”
“You locked your car?” He looks at me and laughs. “Zan, we’re in the fucking country.”
It’s my first day on the farm: mid-August, 90 degrees. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a bartender, occasional musician, lackadaisical writer. I used to complain about pulling weeds in the front yard growing up, and now I’ve strapped on farm boots and am wearing the most unflattering straw hat. Somehow this does not compute.
“I live in a city, Timmy. I lock my car everywhere I go,” I say, trying to justify my action. I’m speechless as I watch him throw his car keys on his passenger seat and close the door.
“I’m here for a reason,” I remind myself. After I quit my job as a newspaper reporter nearly two years prior, I followed a then-boyfriend to Iceland to volunteer on a vegetable farm. My first real opportunity at manual labor, and I surprisingly enjoyed it. There’s just something about digging your fingers in the dirt that can make you feel whole. Even so, I did that experience to be with him. Now, alone, I’m proving to myself that I want to do this for me.
I look around. We’re on a hill facing a 134-acre organic vegetable farm. Across the street is a gorgeous farmhouse with cows grazing through endless fields, with nothing else in site except a backdrop of Vermont’s mountains. I still don’t leave my car unlocked, even though I know, as it sits in the grass, no one is going inside of it.
I follow Timmy into the hanger, where he introduces me to today’s staff – farm manager Joanna, and a 15-year-old kid, Ryan. We immediately head to our first job: cucumbers. They’re hidden underneath thick, prickly leaves and even after wearing gloves, no forearm is safe from the scratches.
“We’re looking for ones this size or larger,” Joanna says, holding up a cucumber nearly six inches long. “Cut them at the tip, put them in a pile to your left, and we’ll collect them after.”
A task: simple enough. Ryan maneuvers to my right. He’s quiet, and although I’m only 10 years older, I have no idea how to connect with him. He moves quickly through the patches while I take my time, making sure I get it right. I’m here to clip and pile. We’ve got to package for two major co-ops and a massive farmers market.
I hear Joanna and Timmy start catching up about their weekend. I know Timmy only slightly through my friendship with his niece. He’s a kind man who loves cooking and dirty jokes. Joanna is more or less the same, but with a vagina.
I pause, holding three cucumbers in my hands. One’s small but wide, another’s longer and slimmer, and the third curves a bit at the middle. I lift them higher and notice a highway of cuts down the inside of my wrists. Farming wounds.
“I feel like I’ve seen these before,” I shout across the field, holding them in the sky. Timmy and Joanna look up, roaring with laughter.
Thirty minutes into the morning, and I know this is where I belong.