This post was contributed by Laura Ng.
I always thought I would die in a city. That I would live a life of fast cars and expensive coffees and job promotions and nights out on the town. That come old age, I’d finish off my life reading books in a cosy apartment on the fringe of a city. Coming to the countryside in Southern France was never a blip on my radar — just something to tide me over until my next corporate internship. Volunteering on an organic farm was never something I wanted to do. It was always things like: be an intern in Berlin; watch a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral; drive a Tesla. One week in on the farm, I told my mother on the phone that two weeks here are probably enough. I’ve experienced the farm life, and I’m ready for the next thing.
It’s been two months, and I will be here for a total of three. The soil and dirt are etched onto my hands—a permanent feature—as with the constellation of little cuts and scratches on my forearms from pulling out thorny weeds. The sun paints my skin brown. We rise at six in the morning when the last drops of dew roll off the plants and we begin to work. When we have coffee breaks, we use our pocket farming knives to spread homemade jam onto our sourdoughs and brioches. When it is 39 degrees and the summer sun burns through our clothes, we mutter, “Il fait chaud!” and pluck ripe tomatoes in shades of red you can only imagine from the greenhouse and let its juice run down our tired arms. I take care of the cucumbers and bell peppers — the concombres and the poivrons.
As we harvest or weed, I learn the names of vegetables in French, the days of the week, how to count to ten, how to say “okay.” I learn that children here stop going to school past a certain point in the summer even though the term has technically not ended, and that’s okay, because there are more important things than chemistry and history, like picnics and hikes. I learn that it’s a lot easier to sell food pumped full of chemicals to faces you never see.
We joke and we laugh and throw water at each other in mock indignation. In cities we don’t do that — our clothes are too nice, we’d have to go home and change, no one walks around dripping wet, we’d get annoyed and angry.
On weekends, we swim in rivers and jump from rocks. We drive with all our windows down and I love it. In the claustrophobic, polluted concrete jungles I’ve lived in, driving with the windows down was never a thing. I spend hours and hours reading. I drink homemade apple juice for breakfast.
I ride a horse bareback (a bucket list item, haha) and build a paddock. My soft, city hands come away with blister upon blister from driving wooden stakes into the ground and hammering them in. The neighbour, a little old lady from Belgium, pops over with fresh peaches and ice water. We pluck nameless, wild fruit off of trees and munch on them, and we cheers with €2,50 artisanal beer in the garden.
This is what it’s like to live a good life, I think.
I always thought I would live and die in a city — the countryside was a setting in Enid Blyton stories; a backdrop of Ghibli films; a faraway place where people didn’t know or care about the newest ride-sharing app or the latest problematic thing a celebrity said. The countryside always seemed too slow, too simple, too unambitious. But now I can’t imagine what it’s like waking up and looking out of the window at another concrete building. I can’t imagine not being able to see the stars at night. I can’t imagine my clothes not smelling like sunlight. I can’t imagine not being able to feel and touch and smell and live amongst nature like I do now.
I’ve always had trouble feeling things. I see my emotion spectrum like a graph that had reached a plateau for the last ten years, its line never dipping or rising in extremes. I end a wonderful three-year relationship: meh. I am accepted into the university of my choice: meh. I move halfway across the world to live alone in one of the greatest cities: meh. Here, I sit on the deck every night and look out onto silhouettes of greenhouses against the surrounding mountains, and my chest swells with something, and I think it may be happiness.
Meet Laura: I’m Laura, a 24-year-old who has spent the past summer working on an organic farm in France (without ever having set foot in the country before). I grew up in a concrete jungle, where 12-year-olds literally kill themselves for failing exams and where you’d be hard pressed to find the open sky because the buildings are so tall. Working on a farm in France changed everything for me. Keep up with me on Twitter!
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