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October 13, 2021 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily

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3 — Wednesday, October 13, 2021 // The Statement
Strawberries and other growing pains

Claire had come

to resent strawber-

ries. The color, the
taste, the way the
seeds got stuck in
her teeth — every-
thing about them
exhausted her. She

stared down at the

plant, nudging the stem

with her foot. She felt like

the berries were mocking her, peering up
from under the thick, green leaves. Claire
reached down and plucked one from the
plant, dropping it into the bucket with more
than a little hostility. By the
end of the day, her hands
would be red and raw
from the scratchy fibers
on the underside of the
leaves, a feeling no
amount of lotion would
be able to soothe. When
she’d finished one plant, she
moved on to the next, follow-
ing the row all the way to the
other end of the garden.

This wasn’t exactly what she’d envi-

sioned for her summer — or her life for that
matter. By the end of her senior year, she’d
been unemployed and scrambling, looking
desperately for something that would be as
impressive as the jobs her friends had taken
in New York and Chicago. That’s when
she found La Ferme Tourrette. Claire had
been mindlessly scrolling online when she
found WWOOF, Worldwide Opportuni-
ties for Organic Farms. It’s a program that
connects people to farms around the world
where they work in exchange for room and
board. She read the reviews posted under
pictures of smiling twenty-somethings
holding armfuls of produce.

Claire had imagined herself at a quaint

but tasteful cottage in the south of France,
reading in the grass, swimming in ponds,
learning to speak French and finding farm-
ers markets that were très adorable. It was
the kind of thing unique, interesting people
did. She imagined herself saying things like
“Oh, I just sort of hopped on a plane and
went.” She’d come home with honey that
she’d helped make on the farm, an amazing
tan and stories of dates with French men on
the back of mopeds.

What she forgot to imagine was the

whole farming aspect.

In theory, she loved the idea of working

out in the sun, being surrounded by plants
all day. Once she had actually gotten to the
farm, though, Claire quickly realized that
her idealized vision was not grounded in
reality. The lavender plants were spiky,
it was impossible to get the carrots out of
the ground and there was no one to talk
to in the field. She had never done manual
labor before (something that had seem-

ingly slipped her mind when applying for
the program in the first place), and she was
quickly discovering that it wasn’t her forte.

As she pulled the berries from their

stems, she thought of Cowbelles, a movie
from her childhood about two spoiled girls
forced to work in their dad’s dairy plant to
learn the value of hard work. Following
the lead of cinematic tropes, Claire had
been expecting some life-changing, “Eat,
Pray, Love” experience, but so far she didn’t
know how much she was really learning
about hard work — other than that she
didn’t like it. She hated getting up early and
going to sleep exhausted. The feeling of dirt
under her fingernails made her skin crawl.
Maybe she just wasn’t the type for “per-

sonal growth.” Maybe she was too shal-

low or maybe she just wasn’t trying

hard enough. And after what felt like
an endless number of strawberries,
Claire got to the end of the row,
putting her hands on her hips to
take a breath.

“Es-tu fini?” Maryanne, the

farm’s matriarch asked.

French fluency was one of the

program’s few requirements — crite-

ria that Claire definitely didn’t meet. So as
soon as she’d booked her flights, she went
rummaging through her parents’ library
and found an old, beat-up French diction-
ary. Claire kept the dictionary tucked in her
back pocket, keeping a mental list of all the
words to look up when no one was watch-
ing. She’d picked up on the basics pretty
quickly: Aller, go. Finir, finish. La ferme,
the farm.

“Non, j’ai deux en plus,” Claire respond-

ed. No, I have two more.

Maryanne was nice enough but dis-

tinctly French. She was quick speaking
and didn’t like explaining things twice. She
would never hesitate to berate Claire on her
poor attempts at the language.

“J’ai deux de plus,” Maryanne corrected.
Maryanne had two children — both

boys ages 10 and 13 — and ran the farm on
her own. She’d been divorced some years
back, but rarely spoke of her ex-husband.
Maryanne never shared any details, not
even his name. The boys, Luca and Paul,
were sweet yet rowdy, used to having free
rein over the property while Maryanne
was working or cooking or dealing with the
vendors that worked at the markets. Claire
had a hard time connecting with them.
Even beyond the language barrier, the boys
were a bit too old to see their new addition
as an older sister, yet the age difference
was a little too large for them to organi-
cally become friends. Not to mention
that while Maryanne slowed down
her speaking so Claire could keep up,
the boys made no such concession,
exchanging rapid-fire French between
themselves all day long.

When Claire had finished plucking

the last strawberry, she went inside to
take a shower. Her room was small but
nicely decorated with yellow walls, rustic
wooden furniture and a vase of daffodils
on the window sill. Maryanne had put the
flowers there before Claire had arrived,
but a month later, they were wilted and
starting to lose their petals. She looked at
the wrinkled stems, thinking about how
much they had changed since her arrival
and how she herself had not. She went over
and started brushing the dry, fallen pieces
into her hand as she looked outside. Claire
knew the house must be very old by the
imperfections in the glass window panes.
New, manufactured glass all looked the
same, but with old glass, when you look
really closely, you can see a subtle pattern
and tiny bubbles, blemishes from the way
that it was set that cause the light to reflect
just a little bit differently. Claire loved glass
like that.

As she looked out onto the fields, she

thought about what she’d be doing if she
were at home. Her mom would be cooking
dinner. Her dad would have PBS News-
Hour on too loud in the family room.
Her mom would make a com-
ment about how the TV was
making too much noise but
only quietly and passive-
aggressively to herself.
Maybe her brother
would come over.
Claire would be sit-

the window bench
in her room,

reading with the win-
dows open so she

could listen to the rain — it rained all sum-
mer in Seattle. She’d be debating how to
tell her parents she was going to bars with
friends, and she’d be out late.

But instead, she was here.
Exhausted and alone in the countryside

West of Avignon. Yet as much as she hated
the strawberries and wished her French
was better, Claire wasn’t unhappy. She
wasn’t all that happy either. She was just

She would say she was content, a word

Claire didn’t use often. At home, every day
either felt like the best or worst she’d ever
had. Some days, she’d go to the grocery
store ecstatic about the week ahead. She’d
elaborate meals and spend

too much money on
clothes online and

get two iced cof-
fees because on
a day as beau-
tiful as that,
how could she

resist? It was
on one of these

ecstatic days that

she’d booked the

trip to France in the

first place. Others, she’d be in bed all day,
completely unable to do more than the
absolute bare minimum. But, on the farm,
she didn’t have the highest highs and the
lowest lows. She just had
days. Sure, she wasn’t
frolicking through
fields to “The



things were alright.

Claire didn’t have

the slightest idea what
she would do when her
time on the farm was
over. The end date was just
three and a half weeks away
now. She felt just the faintest prickles of
anxiety creeping up whenever she thought
of it. She’d always felt an undefined sense
of excitement about her post-college 20s,
never anything as concrete as a job or
where she would live — just an amorphous

inclination towards the exciting. At

some point, she’d have to figure out
what to do, but there were a lot of
strawberries to pick in the mean-


When she was done showering,

Claire went downstairs to help Mary-
anne with dinner. Even with her pocket
dictionary, Claire only had an operational
understanding of French, and Maryanne
had made no effort to learn any English
(almost as a matter of principle, Claire
thought), so these downtimes passed
wordlessly between the two. Over the
summer, the two women had become
accustomed to each other, developing
something that wasn’t quite friendship.
Camaraderie, maybe? Or was it simply a
mutual understanding? Whatever their
relationship was, it made the silence com-

Claire and Maryanne moved around

the kitchen in near synchronization, listen-
ing to the sizzle of shallots in hot oil and
the satisfying snap of lettuce being torn.
Luca and Paul came screaming through
the kitchen, knocking a pile of napkins to
the floor as they bee-lined their way to the

“Casse-toi!” Maryanne yelled, long after

they were out of earshot.

Stop that.
Every day as they made dinner, Mary-

anne poured a glass of wine for herself
and Claire. As the light got softer and their
shadows got longer, she grabbed the glass-
es. Claire handed her the bottle opener, and
they both watched as the sun started to dip
below the horizon.

“Es-tu heureux ici?” Maryanne asked.
“Yes, I’m happy.”


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