The Deer and The Eagle

It's raining. Hard. The first rain the province of Groningen has seen in almost three weeks, and it hasn't let up all morning. We've just said goodbye. Each drop of rain seems to provoke the formation of tears that are already in my eyes. I am walking toward the train tracks, resisting the urge to look back. She yells my name, "Jessica!" I turn around and see her, still standing in the rain where we'd just hugged for a solid minute. Her passenger door remains ajar. Arthur is waiting, hands on wheel. She waves a big wave. I blow a big kiss and then seek shelter to avoid the downpour as I wait for my train.

The Monday prior to my Thursday departure from Hop en Grut another WWOOFer arrived. The Belgian beauty entered the house with a bag twice as big as her. I showed her to the room we would be sharing. Mentally I had already sort of checked out of my stay at this farm - curious to see where I would be next, a little drained, and missing home - but Aurore's arrival and the few short days we spent together forced a magical reconnection to the original purpose for my travels and reignited my passion for this work.

Aurore, a recent high school graduate, decided after graduation to spend an entire year WWOOFing before moving on to University. WWOOFing half a year in the Netherlands and the other half in the UK, she hoped to improve with both of her studied foreign languages. My English really threw a wrench into any learning of Dutch through conversation with our hosts for her.

Aurore is long and thin, her skin golden, her hair buzzed, and her hazel eyes most prominent on her doll-like face - Aurore is simply stunning. In the garden, I watched her working - so steady, so peaceful. I've never seen anyone be as one with nature as Aurore. Often while completing tedious, time consuming tasks on the farm it seemed almost as though she privately wished the time would move even more slowly. Watching the woman weed a garden was like nothing I'd ever witnessed. She gave consideration to every single blade of grass that grew out of place and every last root that should be pulled with pleasure. In the end, the bed she worked was perfection - the cleanest bed of soil that has ever existed in a chemical free garden. I learned so much from her about moving at nature's pace, not my own. The lesson has proven priceless since.

Aurore usually works and seems most comfortable in silence, but one day we were especially chatty in the garden when she shared that as a young girl in girl scouts an animal was chosen by the group to represent her. She had been deemed The Monkey. I told her I didn't see her as a monkey at all; she was too elegant to be a monkey. We kept working and she became quiet again. Then she laughed for the first time in my company. I asked, "Is that funny?" She replied, "No, but no one has ever called me that before...elegant." It was easy to forget in her presence, but I saw Aurore in that moment more clearly as a very young woman who had not yet discovered how strikingly beautiful and surprisingly wise she was or what kind of power that holds in this world. Even though I knew her young age before, she had seemed so much older. It had been so obvious that she knew something about life and how the world worked that others - myself included - hadn't figured out yet.

Later I told her I thought her personality would more closely be matched to a deer - elegant, soft, peaceful, calm in nature, curious and quiet. She told me that I was an eagle because the eagle can fly high and strong and see all of the land, see many more things than other animals, just as I could see more of people's insides than most.

At the end of another day, walking back from the garden to the house after a long afternoon of work, I admired her deep golden color and I said to Aurore, "You are so tan." She looked at me with a long face and said, "Yes, I know. It's sort of a problem." I was confused but quickly discovered that Aurore, with excellent but not perfect English, had mistaken the word "tan" for the word "thin."

That night, in our room before bed, she clarified the mix up. Just one year prior Aurore had spent 6 months in a clinic to gain weight. She had been battling Anorexia since she was a young teen. She was concerned now of a relapse. When she told me, her giant eyes welled with tears and it was impossible to not follow her lead. In this moment I thought so much about how just looking at someone can never reveal all. Without her confession, I would have never known the hurt she was carrying with her. With tears not falling but gathering in her eyes, impairing her vision, her face struggling to resist further indulgence in emotion, she had revealed all to me.

The morning I left Hop en Grut I shared an early, laughter filled breakfast with Arthur, Benedetta, and Aurore. I was sure to let a few scraps fall to the floor for the pups Hibbe and Alicia. After breakfast I spent a few minutes with each of the 5 cats I'd grown to adore - Chocolat, Apple, Tomato, Koa, and Mouse. I walked out into the meadow to bid farewell to a few of my favorite sheep as well. Before leaving for the train station I wrote a note to Aurore and placed it on her shelf in our shared room:

Dearest Deer,
I'm so happy we were at the same place at the same time. I've never known anyone who understood nature the way you do. Please remember to nourish your body in the same way you nourish the soil and remember just as the garden needs maintenance, so does your mind. If you don't nourish and maintain a garden, nothing will grow. The same is true of you, Aurore. Treat yourself as you treat the earth and you will be fine.
Safe travels,