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The Dogs of the Bush

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 2 July 2008 | Views [945]

A steady machine came tumbling out of the forest.  Gears grinded shifting to a higher speed.  Eucalyptus branches crunched and disintegrated beneath the tires.  Birds scattered in flocks.  Wallabies bounced through the roughage.  And the smell of burning oil emanated from the engine block.  Behind, left in the dust, dragged a line of steel-enforced chain, whereby three rotting logs followed. 

At the helm of this beast was the driver.  His name was Claus (and the beast’s goes by Rodger).  But the driver here is of interest, for Claus is a brute of a sixty-some year old German man, infamous with his tool shed hands, and even more so with a mind of an engineer.  You want a computer built for you?  How about 80 gigabytes?  Ask Claus…

And how about a water pump attached to a windmill or a solar-heated system for your house, or just maybe a 21-meter tower made from the wood cleared off your property and raised with only hands, pure muscle, a car-wench and some clever thinking.  That’s right.  Ask Claus, and with some patient timing it will come unto you.

    We barreled through the gum tree forest on his 50-acre plot of land, knocking over eucalyptus seedlings, cracking logs hollowed out by pestilent termites and dragging trees across clearings to replant near the watery dams.  Claus was the man, when able, which apparently was not often.  However, since Laura and my arrival, he has perked up, set the bones of his 6’3’’ body in full gear, and made havoc of the priorities needing to be accomplished.  

    Oh…and bees?  You want to know how to farm bees?  Just ask Claus.  

A Disciplined Dog

I remember the first day I worked with him.  Actually, it was the first day I worked for him; standing with a pickaxe in my hand, sweating from the tedious work of uprooting stray gum tree seedlings that encroached upon their gardens.  As I pummeled away, he spoke in a thick German accent as if he just downed a bottle of whiskey.

    “Dah rooowts,” he said.  “Get dawn at dah rooowts.”

    I brought the axe up over my head and sent it hard into the land.  I missed and repeated the process.  Claus continued.

    “It’s all easy, you know?  If I can dwoo it, sheet…anybody can dwoo it.”

    Claus was referring to all things, particularly engineering.

    “I read boowks,” he went on.  I slugged the ground again and sliced the root.  “That’s goowd,” he said, pausing to remark on my progress.  Claus continued: “And then, after reading I know how it vworks—compewter, tractwer, whatever—and I try.  I try like a baby and I make mistakes and try again, yah?”

    I nodded.

    “It’s very, very svimple,” was his concluding point.

    Slowly, I began to realize the man’s intelligence.  He built everything, every element of matter that forms the assemblage of their home.  In fact, he built just that—their home, it’s wood flooring, the furniture.  And he continues to construct, create, design and innovate.  

As Claus barreled through the forest around their property in Rodger the tractor, his wife Helga tended the gardens.  Together, with the occasional accompaniment of volunteer WWOOFers, Claus and Helga complete the circle of their self-sustainable homestead in the Australian bush.

WWOOF, WWOOF, WWOOF!

Laura and I have become just that; the traveling volunteer WWOOFers in search of work.  WWOOF—or Willing Workers on Organic Farms—is a worldwide organization of registered farms offering room and board to individuals seeking farming experience.  

It was simple.  First we joined the international organization online, specifying our country of interest, paid a small fee and received a book in the mail compiling all the farms available.  Divided by regions and states, Laura and I chose Queensland, Australia and perused the pages’ descriptions about each farm.  From then on, we contacted those of interest via e-mail and awaited the responses.  Helga and Claus came through with appreciation and welcomed us to their abode.

And thus we arrived with white skin cleaned and polished.  Our nails were neatly trimmed.  Our cuticles were healthy and elegant.  Palms silken smooth.  Hair shaven.  And feet moisturized with a fine emulsifier containing a base of hemp seed oil with the subtle fragrance of jasmine.  Yes, we were ready for work on a farm.

Rising the first morning in Queensland, the sun was low as long stretches of shadow covered the forest floor.  We were tucked in a eucalyptus forest inside our home-to-be for the next four weeks—a 70’s Pacemaker caravan.  A beautiful morning in the woods as butcherbirds, rainbow lorikeets and kookaburras sung their rituals.  Up and stretching, we drank tea, ate a bowl of muesli (which was to become our dawn staple), and walked three minutes to the main house.  

    Helga was there waiting and from there the tour commenced.  For two and a half hours we explored the property and were given the details of the necessary work.  Then, as our lunches digested, we got dirty.  

    From weeding orchids and bromeliads to tackling spiny date palms and their vicious fronds to burning the collected brush like pagans paying homage to The Mother.  It is nonstop and wondrous: to be outdoors under the grandest blue sky with our hands in the soil and our feet firmly on ground.  Most days, I work with my shirt off, pedaling a wheelbarrow across the grounds from burn heap to pickup—a mule of sorts.  And then with Claus I leap aboard Rodger, station myself in the trailer, and rumble off into the forest to collect desirable debris.

Life As a Dog


The day is regimented, to say the least.  Laura and I rise in the frigid dawn air at 7:15am and drink tea before practicing our meditations and yoga.  Next, a little muesli with fresh honey and garden-grown bananas to reading the Bhagvad Gita to one another like supple little sages lost in the woods.  Work by 10am and we’re ready.  Lunch is at 1pm with a two-hour break before the final conclusion of the day’s work begins at 3 and terminates at dusk, i.e. 5:30pm.  Shower in the outdoor bath under the eve’s first stars, dry-off with goose bumps, return to our humble caravan hermitage, make fire outside, and prepare dinner before the simplistic indulgences of reading and sleep.  C’est la vie.  

    Goodbye to the old, hello to the new.  Our days start anew.

In my mind this is the life: the simplicities of the garden, its freshness and the cold and hot flavors of the day.  I love watching the stars come out as a solar-heated faucet lathers me and the body nearest.  And then the silence of night, the pure darkness, as flickers of shadows dance across the gum trees’ trunks.  I blink.  I realize I am in heaven.  My muscles soon grow tired from the day’s work.  Sleep overcomes my consciousness.  With first light I rise, only to start all over again in an endless cycle lasting a mere four weeks.

I smile upon the banana trees as I recognize their impermanence, for it will all become a distant memory, along with the 65 mango trees that blossom during a separate season when I am far away, and the various selections of capsicums, spinaches, broccolis and sweet potatoes consumed not by Laura or me, but by another when the time for our departure arrives.  However… I choose to blink again, shake my head from its delusions, and walk upright on the land I inhabit for the time being.  I soak up the naturalness, the rawness, the colorfulness of this beautiful earth far from a busy and confused world.  

    Claus roars at me snapping me from my daydreaming.  With his spiky head of gray hair and his grisly short beard, he’s smiling, talking about energy and how he had a plan to forever be off the grid.  He’s self-sustainable, all right.  And he welcomes me aboard Rodger as we spit and gurgle into the forest in search of our prey of foliage.

Tags: australia, cam2yogi, cameron karsten, laura defreitas, queensland, wwoofing

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