Wheelbarrow, gardening gloves and off I go to one of the many gardens in the paradise of Bill and Dawn. I spent three weeks with the couple in their mid-seventies, about 200 kilometers north of Toronto. I could have hardly imagined a better introduction to my time as WWOOFer.
Dark clouds are rising over Big Bay, gray and heavyly filled with rain they hang over the lake, are the harbinger of the showers that are announced for noon. This means it has to go fast this morning. After a few rain-free days, the mowned grass has finally dried. It serves as food and flooring for the sheep in the barn. For me, this means: a shortened breakfast, getting my boots and the rake ready and head off to the field to work together with Dawn to rake the hay together, put it in wheelbarrows and bring it to the barn before the rain sets in.
Keppel Croft is my first station as WWOOFer in Canada. In about four hours, the bus from Toronto brought me here. I don‘t understate when I say: It is heavenly. Dawn and Bill Loney bought the property with the now over one hundred year old farmhouse many years ago. “This was a gravel pit, There was nothing more but stones. All the trees and plants – they didn‘t exist at the time,” explains Dawn. Unbelievable, sitting on one of the many patios, eating Dawn’s rhubarb pie and looking at all the trees, flowers and the birch forest at the north end of the property. Everything is green, everything is blooming, birds are breeding in the birdhouses, which Bill has mostly built himself, chipmunks scurry around the garden in search of food, the cats lolling in the sun. After many rainy weeks and almost no spring it finally became summer in the paradise in Big Bay. I’m experiencing a second spring this year, so to speak. While tulips and lavender in Frankfurt had already faded until early May, the lavender bushes here – and I mean giant bushes – still spread their wonderful scent.
A completely new everyday life
For me a completely new everyday life starts. At nine in the morning, I don’t sit at the desk as usually but we tidy out the bar, or weed one of the countless flowerbeds – and there’s an awful lot of weeds after all the rain. Bill shows me how toI mix old earth, compost and peat moss for a new, rich soil for flower tubs, we dig holes together and plant flowers. Sometimes we just watch the sheep graze, enjoy the plucking noise they make when plucking the stalks, listen to the almost desperate “baa“ of a lamb when his mother gets out of sight for a moment, and amuse ourselves because it’s always the same lamb that doesn‘t find the way back. Little cute silly.
Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of sawdust needs to be pushed across the giant property in order to pave a way somewhere or to cover the soil in a bed. “Then weeds don‘t grow so quickly, and if they do, they‘re easier to pull out,” explains Dawn, as we work on a flower bed. Weeds don’t spare paradise.
The two mid-seventies have an incredible amount of stories to tell. Dawn is from New Zealand. She once came to New York as an exchange student and fell in love with North America. Since it was difficult to enter the US permanently, she made Canada her home of choice, where she met and married Bill. Both were teachers, once teaching First Nations people, Canada’s natives, in the Arctic. Both have traveled extensively, visiting their daughter Margaret all over the world.
Volunteers come to “Weed & Feed”
Bill and Dawn love their gardens, invest all their time and love to make it even more beautiful. Almost every day visitors come from all over the world, admire the flowers, have a picnic or hike up to the lookout point, from which you can look over Big Bay. But not only that, sometimes the local church holds a service under one of the old trees in the lower part of the garden, every year the Bluewater Astronomical Society celebrates the summer solstice in Keppel Henge, a sort of Stonehenge, and on a Saturday in summer, several regional artists gather for “Art in the Garden”.
Bill and Dawn do a lot for the local community in this way – but they also get a lot back. Every Wednesday about 20 volunteers, most of them pensioners, come to Keppel Croft. “Weed & Feed”, they call the whole thing jokingly. First, Bill’s to-do-list for the garden is processed – weeding is usually in it – and afterwards there is a freshly cooked lunch from Dawn. And for another hour, the helpers sit together to chat. A really nice community, which had me quickly become a part of it.
Almost every day, friends come for a cup of tea or coffee. For me this always means: quickly into the kitchen to support Dawn with baking scones, muffins or pie. On Keppel Croft there is no day without cake – much to my culinary delight, less to the joy of my waistband 😉. Neighbor Grace took me to her choir rehearsal, to carpet bowling (more about this soon) and to the village dance. I guess that in the latter case I had seen about a quarter of the 300 guests present at least once before. For me, a sign of how warmly the community has welcomed me. Bernie and Anne, the neighbors on Keppel Croft’s northern border, invited me for dinner. Bernie’s mother was born in my hometown Frankfurt, and Bernie is a hobby musician like me. There was a connection soon. Bernie grew up in Canada, but speaks German. We had a long conversation about the Second World War and the consequences that we still (often unknowingly) have in our post-war generations. And after an excellent dinner (Arctic Char, which was freshly brought from the Arctic by friend Em), I was allowed to share the rehearsal with Bernie’s Fiddle group, which plays Irish music. Music just connects.
I did a lot of work on the farm (which didn‘t make my back any better, but luckily it recovered) – always between breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (of course with freshly baked pies) and dinner. Dawn is a great cook and baker. Many of her friends have suggested her to write a cookbook (I would buy it right now, dear Dawn). But in addition to the work, there were also some trips in the area – to waterfalls, in the forest or in the north in the direction of Lion’s Head. The scenery in Ontario is just beautiful. I look forward to seeing more of Canada’s beautiful nature in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you all for a wonderful time and a gret start in my world trip, which could hardly have been better. Especially a big thank you to Bill & Dawn for your trust, your stories, many inspiring conversations and recipes. Thanks also to Grace, Margaret, Anni & Rudi, Anne & Bernie, Nolwenn and all the wonderful Volunteers and Keppel Croft visitors.