Adriana Duarte is one of those people who has been traveling for her entire life. The child of immigrants from Mexico, she grew up in the U.S. state of West Virginia and spent two semesters and one…
I went on the first run I’ve been on in over a year today. It was pleasant and easy unlike many runs I’ve been on before. It’s been years since I’ve ran competitively or participated in any competitive sport for that matter. It used to compose such a huge part of my identity, but I don’t look back at it as an entirely positive experience.
Today when I ran I did it for myself. I was feeling lethargic and unsettled and needed simply to move. Before I was much more critical. I started out running cross country with my coaches thinking I had a lot of promise, so I tried my best, sometimes not listening to my body for when it was time to stop.
My first two years I was on varsity. By my sophomore year I became quite anemic, needing to take naps during the day and crying when I woke up from them because it was 8 o’clock I had hours of homework to do and I felt more tired than when I went to sleep. I didn’t realize there was an issue till the end of sophomore year. It’s quite common for young women who run and also young women in general to develop an iron deficiency, so if you are a young female runner I highly recommend getting tested for serum ferritin, your stores of iron. By senior year my iron levels were a lot better and I was ready to take on my last season, but midway through I had to stop due to a hip injury.
I tried on and off during college to run but it always ended up being an activity that I was too critical on myself for. I’d go out wanting to run times I had achieved while actually training competitively and judged myself for my body not looking the way it used to when I was in shape. In college I battled with depression. When I was depressed I often sat for hours not moving at all. There was no one I wanted to see, nothing I wanted to do. I was doing my work for school but little else. I spent more time hiding how unhappy I was than I spent actually trying to heal.
Last semester in Freiburg I got into better shape simply because of the amount of walking it took to get most places there. Working at a farm also helped with gaining a little more muscle. People working at the Lebensgarten were very, very in shape, but not because they wanted to show everyone how muscular they were or beat someone in a competition. They just love to be out in the sun, farming and they know when their bodies are tired. They know when it’s time to sit out and drink coffee and when it’s time to call “Feierabend”.
So here I am with a new fit body that for once was gained almost purely by accident in an attempt to achieve something good for the earth, as opposed to getting it by being hard on myself and pushing limits that weren’t meant to be pushed. I hope to approach life in a similar way. I want to stop being so critical, overanalyzing every perceived flaw that I have in order to finally give myself over to something greater, to be in tune with the world around me, to finally love myself the way I show love to the world around me.
As I walked towards the Lebensgarten this morning I could hear bongos and guitars playing in the distance. Clara, Chris and Miriam, as it turned out, had camped out in the garden’s tent so they could be ready to go for the big project of the day, namely driving to Donaueschingen to take down old greenhouses gifted to the Lebensgarten. The work still is in progress. I was only able to go for today, but I’m very excited to see them installed at the Lebensgarten in the coming weeks.
The drive was incredible. I had gone on most of that highway on the way to go snow-shoe walking in Feldberg, but I had never been to Donaueschingen.
When Clara said she had received word that she could take home new greenhouses for free, I never would have imagined they’d be as large as they were.
All eight of us stood in amazement, not knowing exactly where to begin. But like good Germans everyone effortlessly broke into groups, some drawing an architectural sketch of the greenhouses’s frame structure, others devising on the fly a system for labeling each individual metal beam (there were hundreds) so that it would be understood where each piece went in the reconstruction phase.
We had breaks now and then with coffee, pretzels from the local bakery and later pizza and soda. The atmosphere was very relaxed. I notice that the workers in the garden always schedule in breaks, more breaks than I’m used to working in America, but I think that’s an important aspect of the German work culture. When one is working, they are really working, but they know how to rest so they can be more efficient for later.
I had various small jobs throughout the day. First taking advantage of my height by taking down cables. Later unscrewing bolts on beams from ladders and holding down ladders for others. At the end I was assigned to cut the plastic covering so it could be fully removed. Near the beams were strange pointy looking plants. I began to pull them away and found my hand stung despite me wearing gloves and my arm was turning red.
I turned to the person next to me and said, “Ich denke ich bin allergisch gegen diese Pflanze. Was ist es eigentlich?”
He laughed and said, “Alle sind allergisch gegen diese Pflanze. Es heißt Brennnesseln.”
For non-German speakers I noticed I had an allergic reaction to the plant I touched, told the person next to me and asked what it was. He laughed because everyone is allergic to the plant, because it is called Stinging Nettle.
I had heard of the plant before but wasn’t aware it had medicinal properties. Chris said on the drive back that he had used it to heal an injury to his Archilles Tendon. Talk about painful.
I had an amazing day and think everything about the project was inspiring. First of all I am inspired by the incredible teamwork of the workers of the Lebensgarten. Secondly, I am impressed that the greenhouses were given away for free, since greenhouses of that size can cost upwards of 20,000 euros (when sold new I’m assuming, or perhaps even used). Thirdly, because the team had the patience to disassemble the greenhouses because of a passion to recycle something that would have otherwise never be used again. Since they were a little old the plan was either to give them away to anyone willing to do the work or simply get rid of them. Everyone working today shared a passion for nature and for recycling something that could be made new again and I found that to be very exciting.
Thursday I worked again at the garden. My body is sore every day and there’s still dirt in my fingernails I can’t get out, but I know I’m doing work that I care about so that’s all that matters. Additionally, all the physical labor is making me be more careful about what I eat to fuel my body and about getting plenty of sleep. I can already feel myself gaining more muscular strength. Perhaps all I need are a few more greens and some epsom salts and I’ll be feeling better than ever.
Yesterday was May 1st, a holiday in Germany. Many people go out to drink the night before to welcome in the spring time and “dance into May”. I was hanging out at Amanda’s playing about the most complicated board game I’ve ever played in my life when a few more of her roommates walked in just having come back from a party from the night before, which was confusing considering at this point it was almost sunset. When Amanda and I realized all she had at home to eat was noodles we went downtown in hopes something would be open for dinner.
We ate döners in Yufka wraps in the rain amongst tourists and very hungover people. I had gotten the feeling that it was national German hangover day and I didn’t get the memo.
It’s been raining all weekend and it makes the black forest look magical like an image from a children’s fairy tale. Also this weekend was another FC Freiburg home game. The stadium is one train stop from my WG which means theres an 150% chance that any given time that I decide to go grocery shopping on a Saturday I end up coming back to a Straßenbahn packed like a sardine tin with people decked out in red and black.
I had been debating in my head earlier this week between going to Stuttgart on Saturday or staying home, resting and studying for midterms. I think I needed the rest after all and I love watching SC Freiburg fans on their way to a home game. I think I’m satisfied with my decision.
Today I started out picking out weeds from a field we literally just de-weeded last Tuesday. It felt strangely rewarding, because there were admittedly a lot less than last week. The ground was soft and crumbly from the rain earlier that morning and roots slipped out easily as did tiny rocks that keep magically appearing out of nowhere. While I was working I suddenly realized I didn’t know the capital of Alabama anymore, which bothered me the entire time. I looked it up when I got home. It’s Montgomery in case anyone is wondering.
Lately people who live around Kirchzarten have been coming in to help with the gardening, which I find so inspiring, a community coming together to help out a local farm. One woman is a dancer and I think she has the best sense of humor. She apparently loves fennel, which we were planting together today. She choreographs dance and said that she has a great spatial sense. She didn’t even really need a ruler to know how far 35 centimeters was – the distance we were supposed to leave between the fennel plants. She talked to the plants, saying that they’d grow big and strong some day and asked one fennel plant “where it thought it was going”, that it had to get back in line, like a dancer, between fennel A and fennel B.
(Keep in mind all of this was said in German and I’m incredibly proud to even be at a point where I can understand most things people tell me).
I love when we take breaks, not only because kneeling on the ground all day is tiring, but because we have tea and cookies and talk. Today the other gardeners were shocked to learn that in order to drive comfortably from one end of America to the other it would take approximately 5 days.
The Lebensgarten is considering buying a small greenhouse, which sounds very useful. In other news the rhubarb plants are growing big and strong. I feel myself growing stronger as well!
Here are some photos of the area around the Lebensgarten. It’s a beautiful walk to and from work:
Today we raked stones out of empty plots. It’s difficult because some dry pieces of earth are secretly pretending to be rocks. I was very concerned with getting out all the rocks, which I later regretted once we started shoveling them all onto the tractor. Daria mentions to me that raking the rocks reminds her of the work of zen monks.
The weight of my body did not seem to support the weight of large stones being flung into the air. Occasionally I was told good job when throwing a particularly large group of rocks. It reminded me of playing tennis, that is to say, if a tennis racket weighed approximately 10 pounds and the game was played alongside a small tractor. Trotzdem, hab’ ich es geschafft.
Next we de-weeded the salad plants with tiny tools as Daria and I discussed the difference between the metric and English systems of measurement and the drinking age differences between Germany and America. She told me that de-weeding the salad feels pointless because the weeds are so small and they grow back so fast. It reminded her of a Greek myth of a God whose job was to haul heavy things up a mountain which he must do for all eternity.
I find it to be comforting how elements of something so different can remind me of things I already know how to do. For example, shoveling reminds me of swinging a tennis racket and bending down to pick up weeds reminds me of my job cleaning machines at the Rice Rec Center.
At the end of the day we put away our tools and cleaned up a bit. I walked home sore but accomplished. Today my friend Paige Wallace flies into town and I’m more than excited to pick her up at Hauptbahnhof.
14. April. 2015
Clad in unflattering denim shorts and an oversized t-shirt, I walked around with my face stuck to my iPhone. Google Maps was leading me God knows where (as google maps usually does). Around me were endless clusters of pine trees, a small creek, quaint little homes I could only describe asHäuschen or little homes, (think Hansel and Gretel). In shape locals wizzed by on racing bicycles, waving in a friendly manner as they passed. Had I not been trying to make it on time to the first day of my internship, the whole scene would have been something straight out of a German fairytale.
After 20 minutes of walking Google Maps said I had arrived at my destination. I was in a field somewhere, which could have been correct had there have been people there waiting for me. Please don’t die on me phone, I thought to myself dialing the number of a woman named Clara. I resented having to resort to a phone call. I didn’t want to interrupt anyone’s work, and moreover, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had actually used my phone to physically call anyone, let alone a German stranger.
Our conversation started out in German and then transitioned into English when Clara noticed I was unable to describe my physical location. Then, it became clear to both of us that switching to English wasn’t really helping much either, but eventually we were able to talk me through getting back to the main road, where Clara came to pick me up.
She was there within minutes, and greeted me with a big smile, like a person picking up a relative from the airport. “People always get lost trying to find us. I keep telling Chris we need a big sign or something.”
I apologized profusely for taking her away from her work, and she said that it was nothing. They were about to finish with their Kaffeepause soon anyway. When we parked I was greeted by a few other people. They were all so nice that it was actually confusing. Perhaps that’s what happens to people who enjoy their work and find it meaningful. Upon arriving I was expecting to be asked a few questions about myself to see if I was qualified to work there, but instead I was asked if it was okay that my sneakers would get dirty.
“They’re really nice!” said Clara. “I’ve never seen sneakers so blue before. We have some old hiking shoes here if you want to borrow them.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “They’re pretty old. I’ve run in them a lot so I don’t mind if they get dirty.” I didn’t feel comfortable borrowing the shoes. I had already made her come out to get me with her car. What I hadn’t realized yet was that sharing was the way of life at the Lebensgarten.
Clara’s boyfriend and co-worker Chris showed me to the supply shed, a big wooden box on wheels, where he handed me some gardening gloves and a strange weeding tool with a long handle that somewhat resembled a pitchfork. I was handed off to a temporary worker Daria, a recent graduate of English Literature who was looking for a new direction in her worklife. She was so thin, but it became apparent that work on the farm had made her strong. Today we were going to remove the Kreuzkräruter (dandelion weeds). I nodded, pretending to understand what that meant. We walked out onto a dry plot of land where she showed me how to use the pitchfork tool to loosen up weeds. She stuck the fork into the ground next to a weed, jumped on top of the fork on one foot, then wiggled the tool around and pulled the weed out.
“Easy,” she said. “But it’s important to get all the roots out. Otherwise it will just grow back. Well, some of them are going to grow back regardless, but hopefully less.”
(She was right about the weeds growing back. They always always grew back.) My hands touched the cold wet earth as I pulled the uprooted weeds from the ground. Earth worms crawled between the spaces and I threw the extra dirt stuck to the roots back to the ground, sticking the weeds into a designated bucket. The sun shined brightly across the horizon and I realized I should have brought a hat with me.
An hour later Chris came back to give me a tour of some of the plots. On a few fields, plants grew that weren’t for the purpose of eating, but rather to put nitrogen and other similar nutrients back into the soil. In a different season they would plant crops on them. As we walked through the farm Chris explained the importance of maintaining biodiversity in their farming. I was told to only walk on the sides of the plots to make sure not to step on crops. Good to know.
We stopped in front of a huge pile of dirt next to a parked tractor. Chris handed me a shovel and we began loading compost onto it. Before starting, Chris asked me if I had ever used a shovel before.I lied and said yes. The compost plot we were shoveling was approximately 3 years old and I felt like a three year old pretending to know how to use a shovel. When we finished Chris told me to hop on the side of the tractor, knees facing to the back for a short ride to the other side of the farm. Even though we were riding at snail pace, it was exhilarating. I felt like I was in a movie, or perhaps just a documentary about rural life.
When we got off, Daria was there and showed me how to distribute fertilizer across the soil. The fertilizer was in pellet form and was contained in buckets. We walked all across a plot of land throwing handfuls to the earth in a similar motion that people would throw bread crumbs to birds.
Afterwards, Daria and I poured compost off the tractor to cover the fertilizer, which doesn’t sound difficult, but the tractor was moving the whole time. From the driver’s seat, Chris would tell us when to put more or less depending on how much compost we had left. A comfortable rhythm developed but I felt so self-conscious I was doing it wrong. I didn’t feel accomplished when the day ended, but when we were finished Daria had a big smile on her face. “See all the work we did today?” she said. In that moment it did not sink in that I had in some way contributed, because I felt I had done everything wrong. In time I would come to reevaluate my standards for what an accomplishment was. In time I’d learn that it was never about right or wrong, but about community.